What does opportunity look like? Sometimes it looks like opportunity. A college offers you a substantial scholarship. An acquaintance recommends you for a job with good pay and better working conditions. Or a co-worker retires and you are asked to assume her leadership position. In all these cases, opportunity looks like opportunity.
But sometimes opportunity doesn’t look like opportunity; it looks like bad luck, adversity, or even the end. A young man dreams of becoming a great athlete. But at an early age he is diagnosed with a rare illness that stunts his growth. As a young man he is only 5 ft. 1 in. tall and 108 pounds. What does he do? Lament his bad luck? Give up on his dreams? No, he channels his desires, determination, and self-discipline into a sport where his small size is actually an advantage: ice skating. He goes on to win countless skating championships, including an Olympic Gold Medal in 1984. His name? Scott Hamilton.
But bad luck strikes again. He is diagnosed with testicular cancer and later brain cancer. He undergoes numerous treatments and several surgeries. And, after a few years, he returns to skating. But because of his own illness, he now starts to focus on helping others with cancer—especially children. He raises money for the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Institute. And he becomes active with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Special Olympics, and St. Jude Hospital for children. He eventually marries and has two children of his own and adopts two others from Haiti. Where many would have seen only bad luck, Scott Hamilton saw opportunities. A devout Christian, he says, “God is there to guide you through the tough spots. God was there (for me) every single time. Every single time.”
When we look at Scripture we see individuals who, when opportunity knocked, opened the door—even when opportunity didn’t look like opportunity. Take Abraham. He had an encounter with a mysterious God who asked him to pack up his family and journey to a land he didn’t know. This opportunity looked a lot like foolishness, but Abraham embraced it.
Then there was the shepherd boy David who, with only a slingshot and a few stones, stood up to the giant warrior Goliath standing in full body armor and wielding a mighty sword. Instead of saying, “Goliath is so big, how could I ever defeat him?” David said, “Goliath is so big, how could I ever miss hitting him with one of my stones?”
Jesus saw opportunity when he called his first disciples. Where someone would have seen a fiery and brash fisherman named Simon, Jesus saw a man filled with passion who, once he learned humility, would become a great leader. Where others saw only “lost causes”—Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the woman who anointed him during dinner—Jesus saw individuals capable of tremendous love.
The greatest disguised opportunity for Jesus was his death on the cross. At first he saw no good coming from such an awful and seemingly meaningless death. In Gethsemane, he begged Abba to take away this terrible death. Yet, he added, “Not my will but yours be done.” When everything looked bleak and looked like the end, Jesus trusted in God. And we know how God transformed even this horrific event into an opportunity for love and goodness and salvation.
I like what Robert F. Kennedy said about opportunity, “All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don’t. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.”
Yes, opportunity does not always look like opportunity; it can look a lot like adversity. But if we face our adversities with trust in God, we will see that many of our struggles are really opportunities for us to become stronger, wiser, more humble, more patient, more prayerful, and (above all) more loving.
Have you ever embraced an opportunity that looked like an opportunity?
Have you ever embraced one that at first looked like adversity, misfortune, or even the end?
I’m offering two short videos today. The first focuses on Hamilton’s return to skating after his second brain tumor. In the second video Hamilton talks about his recent diagnosis of another brain tumor:
Scott Hamilton’s comeback:
Scott Hamilton on his cancer diagnosis:
PS: I can’t thank you enough for your condolences and prayers for me and my family on the recent and sudden death of my sister Mary Ann. I really appreciate all of you, my “blog community”!
Is there anything about this week’s blog that you would like to comment on or anything you’d like to add?