My husband and I are not athletic people. We don’t know anything about football or basketball, and we couldn’t tell you the name of a single baseball position. But we are casual fans of mixed martial arts. By casual, I mean we only really know a handful of terms and will watch UFC matches if they are on tv. We both enjoy the pre-fight bravado between athletes, and get a certain voyeuristic thrill out of watching grown men beat the crap out of each other. We’ve watched fights off and on since we were dating.
For years the president of the UFC insisted that he would never allow women into the Octagon. He claimed that female fighters weren’t good enough, and that women’s sports were too boring. But a few years ago, he changed his mind due to the performance of one woman named Ronda Rousey. Wil and I have never found Rousey to be boring or underperforming in the least, so clearly the UFC president made the right call by adding in women’s divisions and by signing Rousey.
Since she was signed into the UFC, Rousey has become the most recognizable female fighter in the entire world. And up until very recently, she was an undefeated champion in her class. It was a status that she arrogantly insisted she would always maintain.
And then she lost.
Clearly, Rousey did not expect to lose. My husband and I watched as she appeared visibly shaken while her challenger was declared the winner.
After a considerable amount of time out of the limelight, Ronda Rousey showed up on The Ellen DeGeneres Show this week where she discussed her loss. In the interview, Rousey admitted that she had an extreme reaction to losing her title. She cried on public television (this woman dislocates shoulders for a living, so the tears are a shock), and told Ellen that she felt “worthless” following the fight, and that she even contemplated suicide.
Ronda went on to explain that her identity was rooted in being a champion. In her own words, “what am I…if I’m not this?”
Despite years of her cocky self-promotion, I felt an extreme amount of grief for her when I watched her interview for the first time. I’ve heard many people express glee over the prideful Ronda getting taken down a peg by another athlete. But I just feel an intense sadness for her, mostly because I see a lot of myself in her. And because I see her in nearly everyone I know. We long for an identity we can hide our hearts in and lean upon in our lowest moments. But too often, we find our identity in temporal things like marriage, parenthood, possessions, appearance, fame, intelligence and athletic aptitude.
Yet at their best, those identities will leave us longing and at their worst we will be betrayed by them. Rousey’s reaction to her loss was quite natural for someone who put all her hope in being a champion. How else are we supposed to react when the person we think we are gets ripped out from under us? Despair is only appropriate.
But what if there was another option?
What if there was an identity that was created for us, before we were even born?
What if there was a hope that could never betray us?
What if there was a victory won on the behalf of the loser? What if there was something more in store for the champion?
What if our identity, is actually in somebody else?
My church has recently begun a sermon series on the book of Ephesians, and I feel like the content of this series is meant for anyone who has ever felt like Rousey. The champion, the loser. The insecure and the self-secure. The prideful and the humbled.
If you’ve ever struggled with knowing who you are, why you exist or why you matter then the book of Ephesians is for you.
Which as far as I can tell, pretty much covers every human that has ever existed.