LONDON – Jennifer Nichols admits that the road to this year’s Olympics has been one of the most trying times of her life.
“My faith has been challenged more than ever before in the last few years,” the U.S. archer said. “I really can see how the Lord has used the struggles and hardships I’ve had to deal with to deepen my relationship with Him and my trust in Him.”
The trials, however, have proven to strengthen Nichols’ faith in the Lord and to help her rest on Him in the midst of uncertainty and confusion.
“All I had was Him to run to,” she said. “It has been hard and painful but so sweet at the same time. I can see how He has brought me back to really grounding myself in my identity in Christ, knowing that I am called to come and die and follow Christ to the cross for the sake of love.
“This is a firm foundation that cannot be shaken.”
Photo by Teresa Iaconi/U.S. Archery
Jennifer Nichols, competing at the Summer Olympics in archery for the U.S., faced an abundance of challenges – and gained a renewed faith – en route to the Games in London.
One of the challenges Nichols went through was the changing nature of the relationship with her sister, who got married in December. Nichols’ sister was her traveling and training partner; the two had been practically inseparable for years. And while Nichols’ knows that her sister’s marriage was a good thing, it also meant that the one person who had been her closest companion now had someone else who was a higher priority.
She also faced some other family struggles as well as setbacks in her performance (failing to make the 2011 Pan American team) that took a toll on her confidence.
Through all of the difficulty, Nichols said she started questioning her faith. Was she really a Christian? Was she really walking in the favor and grace of God? She also realized that she had been living more legalistically, focusing on what she could do on her own to gain righteousness before God.
But Nichols said God ultimately brought her to repentance and a fresh understanding of His grace in her life.
“In all of it, the Lord just proved Himself so faithful,” she said. “He showed me that I had placed so much of my identity and my priority in my family, rather than in Christ.”
The Lord blessed her in other ways as well – namely in providing a husband. At age 28, she will marry Chris Hardy this fall and shift her focus away from archery to being a wife and eventually, she hopes, a mother.
“Love requires sacrifice, and love for God requires obedience,” Nichols said. “Because I love the Lord with my whole heart, I want to be able to lay down my life for this calling that He has for me going into marriage and being able to meet that calling as my husband’s help-meet.”
But before that happens, Nichols is participating in her third Olympics. Though the U.S. women’s team failed to medal in the team competition in London July 29, Nichols will compete in the individual event later in the week.
In the archery women’s team competition, the U.S. team of Jennifer Nichols, Khatuna Lorig and Miranda Leek lost to a lower-ranked Chinese team 218-213 in the quarterfinals July 30, leaving the Americans without a medal in the event.
“We came out and had high hopes,” Nichols said. “We felt really good. We were shooting really well all this week and especially in practice right before we came out. However, it just wasn’t our day.
“When our arrows didn’t go in, China’s did. It happens sometimes. China shot really well, and I’m really happy for them.”
From a personal standpoint, Nichols said she gave the results, her expectations and how she felt to the Lord.
“I kept praying, even the whole time during that match, ‘Lord, just guide our hands. Help us to shoot well, and you be glorified,’” Nichols said. “I’m still praying that He’s glorified, even in our loss as much as in our wins.”
In the individual event July 31, Nichols was defeated by Mongolian archer Bishindee Urantungalag. Leek was also defeated. Only American Khatuna Lorig has moved on to the Round of 16.
“Archery is not everything, and my value is not caught up in my performance,” she said. “My treasure is in heaven and is in the love that I receive from my Lord.
“My purpose is to glorify God, and that’s what I want to do at the Olympic Games. Of course, I would love to medal. But ultimately I want to place wherever the Lord has me so that I can give Him the most glory.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth, in London covering the Olympics for Baptist Press, is editor of BP Sports and director of news and media relations for Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)