More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).

Since the Winter Olympics ended last Sunday, I’ve been thinking about trophies. The medals those athletes won came at the price of great sacrifice, both from themselves and their parents. The effort to acquire them meant total commitment, pain, and putting aside everything else. Some competing faced deep disappointment, as they crashed on the bobsled track or the ski slope or were disqualified. For others, the competition brought no medals, but the thrill of accomplishment simply at being in Vancouver, achieving a personal best as parents and friends looked on.

Only an elite few will ever be Olympic athletes. But any number of people and businesses win trophies. Perhaps the award will be for excellence in service or commitment to ethics in the workplace. Maybe a student will come out on top in a scholastic or athletic competition at school. Could be a dog owner is proud when his or her animal is awarded “best of breed” at a show. A scholar gets kudos from colleagues for a presentation or an article in a peer-reviewed journal. And of course, there are the degrees on the wall.

Such trophies are to be commended. They represent the outcome of hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, there are people who regard others as trophies. The man or woman who considers wife or husband to be the reward for climbing the ladder in business or gaining acclaim in sports. The businessperson who, having reached a level of leadership, now lords it over others as if they were his or her slaves.

But people are not trophies. The latter never change, except for some tarnish on the cup or fading of the ribbon. People, on the other hand, are dynamic, never quite the same from moment to moment; they grow, and their growth needs to be respected. Trophies don’t have opinions; in fact, they don’t talk at all. People have voices that need to be heard, their ideas respected. And trophies are reminders of the past and its glory. The people around us, by contrast, travel with us into the future, helping us to grow, prodding us to change, to adapt.

Whatever the trophies we have, there will be a Day when they count for nothing. That’s a good lesson to remember this Lent. We are invited to sing the old gospel song: “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down. I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”

© 2010 Tom Cheatham