I know I'm probably in the teeny tiny minority but for years I've held a dirty secret. I never really liked Michael Phelps. I mean I still wanted him to win. 'Merica and all. But I didn't like him.
I respected his chase of perfection. He was a man on a mission but he seemed...cocky, I guess. I respected the way he pursued his passion but he didn't seem grateful. He didn't seem joyful. His relationship with his mother seemed loving but it seemed like a closed circle. He didn't seem loving to others around him.
And then we all saw the headlines about the drug use, the drinking, the DUI, and rumored womanizing. I thought it was a shame. And after 2012, it seemed like he was done.
But something happened to Michael Phelps. You can call it life. You can call it growing up. You can call it realizing that you're not the center of the universe.
It turns out that all this time, Phelps was in pain. And instead of me tut-tutting him all these years, he probably needed prayers. Sometimes, I don't think to pray enough for others when they seem successful in what they're trying to do. It's easy to pray for the sick and the downtrodden. But it doesn't come to mind for those standing on the Olympic podium with the lights of the world focused on them.
Phelps recently said that he was suffering an identity crisis and he even considered ending his own life after the 2012 Olympics. "I thought the world would just be better off without me," Phelps told the Christian Post. "I figured that was the best thing to do — just end my life."
But it was Pastor Rick Warren's book "The Purpose Driven Life" that made him reconsider everything. The book was reportedly given to him by Ray Lewis, the NFL bad boy behemoth who became a out and loud Christian.
And then the greatest Olympian in the history of the games did something he hadn't been able to do before. He asked for help. He entered an addiction treatment center in Arizona. In there, he talked so much about his emerging faith that some in the center nicknamed him "Preacher Mike."
In a recent USA Today article, he said, “I feel like I’m a different person now. Maybe I’m nicer. I like to be able to interact with people, and before I don’t think I would have welcomed that. I’m just in a happier place with where I am in my life. For so long, I thought of myself as this kind of robot. Now that I see myself as a human being, it changed my life.”
And because of that, maybe for the first time he's letting us see him as more than a gold medal earning machine but a flawed human being who can do amazing things.
When Phelps came out of his rehabilitation clinic he reconnected with his long-absent father and started a relationship. And he reconnected with his love of swimming and now that he's back in the Olympics, he seems joyful in a way that I don't think we've seen in him before. In the past we acknowledged his skills. But now I find myself rooting for him on a personal level.
And nobody can miss the affection he's shown to his son, Boomer, and his fiancé Nicole. I've seen some point out that they're not married yet and it's not a good example for children and there's something to that. But the thing we've gotten to see with Michael Phelps is he's a man on a mission. He's growing. He's changing. This is not the finished product.
I cheer him for his amazing skills. I cheer him for his awesome game face and how he didn't let that fool get into his head who was shadow boxing right in front of him. I cheer him for his focus. But more importantly, I'll pray for him. I'll pray for him to find happiness and love. I'll pray that he continues to discover God's will for him. I'll pray that he discovers his new mission to be a man for Christ.