If it wasn’t for the somewhat graphic way Eddie’s coach compared ski jumping to having sex, I’d encourage you to take the whole family to see this one. If I was going to compare it to another “based on a true story” sports movie, I would have to say Cool Runnings because of the light-hearted humor and feel-good nature of it…but I think this one was les juvenile (if for no other reason alone than that Hugh Jackman plays the coach, vs. John Candy). It was fun. It was funny. It was inspirational, and it has a ton of great launching points for discussion.
The Story (**spoilers**):
Eddie wanted to be an Olympian all his life, but people had a hard time taking the awkward child in leg braces seriously. While he did grow out of the leg braces; he didn’t grow out of his awkwardness. His dad wanted him to get a job, grow up, and start contributing financially to the family. His mother was the only one who supported his dreams. He finally decided to try his hand at ski jumping, largely because there wasn’t any competition in that sport from Britain. It had been years since England had had anyone compete in that sport. To get there, however, he had to learn how to jump in a quite literal crash course (most people start jumping by the time they’re 6 years old). He had to convince someone to train him. He had to then convince the British Olympics committee to send him when they were dead set against him going and trying hard to railroad him.
He does manage to get to the Olympics, proving everyone wrong in the process. And while he doesn’t win a gold, he becomes much beloved for his courage and his joy and ability to celebrate doing HIS best.
Power of Life or Death
We’ve heard it said that the “tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21). In this movie, there are a lot of people speaking death to and over Eddie, his father chief among them. All his life, he told Eddie that he wasn’t an athlete, that it was ridiculous to try to for the Olympics, that he should give up on his dreams and be realistic, practical, get a job. His mom was really his only supporter.
When Eddie was on the top of the 90 meter jump, he nearly froze, and what he heard was his dad, in his head, telling him he wasn’t an athlete and he couldn’t do it. It’s sad and somewhat astounding to me how easy it is for us to hear all the negative things people say, and how equally hard it is to hear the positive things.
We have been told that we need to be careful what we say to others. Certainly, watching Eddie the Eagle, the horror of his Dad’s death-giving words was obvious, just as the beauty of his mother’s life-giving ones. But perhaps less obvious but even more critical were the words Eddie was speaking to himself. We have a responsibility to speak life and blessing over others, but we can’t control the words others speak over us. What we can control is the words WE speak over OURSELVES. We don’t often think about our responsibility to speak life to ourselves. So often we say things to ourselves we would never actually say to anyone else. Our words, even the ones we say inside our own heads, to ourselves, having the power of life and death, so we need to speak them carefully.
Everyone told Eddie he’d never make it to the Olympics, but those words didn’t define him because he had a better dialogue going on to himself, and that’s the one he listened to. He said he was going to be compete in the Olympics. He said he would represent his country. He said he was able. He said he was better than average. The world tried to hold Eddie back, but the one thing that never held him back was himself. He was never his own enemy. For so many of us, unfortunately, the only person holding us back is ourselves. Our words, our thoughts, the things we tell ourselves…it’s the power of life and death.
- When you speak to others, are you speaking life or death? Can you think of specific instances when you’ve done both? What drove you to the words you used?
- Who has spoken life to you? How have they done so?
- When you speak to yourself, are you speaking words of life or death?
- How can you change your inner dialogue to ensure you only speak words of life?
When Help Comes
So often we know we need help to do something, so we wait for help before we begin. Like when the Israelites got to the Red Sea and waited for the Lord to help them escape the oncoming Egyptians. When He parted the sea, they walked across. Other times, however, this is not the right tactic. There was another time the Israelites came to the sea, and this time they were commanded to go ahead and walk across and trust God to do something as they went. Now, I don’t know how deep they waded before God again parted the waters. Were they ankle deep, or did they need snorkels before it parted? I don’t know. But I DO know that help came after they moved forward in faith.
This is what happened with Eddie. He went to train in Sweden (or wherever it was?!)…not knowing how to jump, having no money, no coach, no place to stay… He just went. When he got there, he started jumping. He just tried. He nearly killed himself, granted, but he tried…and he tried…and he tried. He’d met a man who he’d asked to coach him, but Bronson Peary wasn’t interested. He wasn’t interested until he realized that Eddie was serious, and that Eddie would kill himself without Peary’s help. Eddie stepped out into the water and just kept on walking until it parted. In fact, it was this very thing, his moving forward with or without help that brought help along. The tricky thing is to know when we are called to “be still” and to “wait on the Lord” to bring help, and when we are called to walk out into the water before help comes. I can’t tell you how to know the difference, but I can give you a hint—“without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Given that, I suggest to you that it’s usually the choice which requires the most faith.
- Is your tendency to wait on help, or to move forward and trust help to come? Can you think of an example of a time you’ve done each of these?
- Have you ever felt God telling you to move forward and trust that help would come along the way? Eddie had to risk his life before it came… How far out on the limb did you have to go before help came for you?
- How do you know when God is telling you to wait, vs. when He is telling you to go forward first?
- Which normally takes more faith for you? Waiting or moving ahead blindly?
Infectious Joy, True Humility, and Perspective
When Eddie jumped his first Olympic jump, he set a British record. He also came in dead last. Which one of those took precedence in his thoughts and attitudes was a choice. It’s a matter of perspective, which, I believe, was greatly affected by his humility.
True humility isn’t about denying your greatness, nor is it about competition or self-flagellation or making yourself small in any way. It’s more about being able to celebrate your best, your greatness, JUST as you are able to celebrate the best and the greatness of others. Eddie was out there to do HIS best, not to be THE best (unless and except that was a result of his being HIS best).
When he got made his 60.5 meters, it was the best he’d done and he celebrated wildly! And the crowd loved it. Others were less enthused. They misunderstood his joy, and perhaps the crowd’s reaction to him. Some thought Eddie was going to become the laughing stock there. That was like a rodeo clown—fun for a moment, but not the real event you are there to see. The thing is, Eddie wasn’t taking himself lightly (as a joke), he was truly humble, and a humble man can celebrate his victories with a pure heart (just as he can celebrate another man’s victories with a pure heart). And in the Olympic arena, surely that kind of humility was so rare it was easily misunderstood.
C.S. Lewis writes:
To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.
Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.
If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
In so many ways, this was Eddie. Cheerful. Taking life easily. A cold drink of water in the desert. He didn’t think he was nobody at all, in fact, he celebrated becoming somebody with a pure heart. He worked hard, suffered, sacrificed, but responded with such joy to his record in last place that it was as if life was easy, even though it hadn’t been.
That pure-hearted joy that he had, it was because he chose to see that he’d set a record, and beaten his personal best…in the Olympics, his life-long dream, and to ignore the fact that he was the least among the Olympic jumpers. And he celebrated that was such an exuberant joy that the watching world was caught up in his joy, transformed.
Matti Nykänen who had set a new world record and was first among the ski jumpers congratulated Eddie on his jump. Eddie assumed he was being patronizing, as was usually the case, but Mattie was not. He saw that he and Eddie were actually very alike. The best and worst among the group, but both had the same need to do their best. He’d set a record, but he didn’t feel he’d done his best. He’d have been more pleased to, like Eddie, come in last but do his best. “You think I’m being patronizing? No, we are like 1 and 11, you and I. We are closer than the others…. Winning and losing doesn’t matter. We jump to free our souls.… We are the only ones with a chance to make history…. If we do less than our best with the whole world watching it will kill us inside.” At the end of the day, those are the two jumpers everyone remembers—Mattie who came in first, because he was amazing, and Eddie who came in last, but did so with joy and exuberance and innocence…both doing their best, both setting records, both being as absolutely extraordinary as they were able and created to be.
If only we could grasp hold of this concept a little better. If only we could let go of our need to be THE best and learn to be OUR best. That is the most remarkable, truly beautiful thing we can offer to the world. And if that was our goal, if it wasn’t about competition with others, then we could truly celebrate ALL victories. What joy and freedom that would bring!
- Why do you think Eddie was able to celebrate coming in last?
- Have you ever celebrated doing your best, even when your best put you last?
- Why was success (itself, alone) not enough for the Mattie or for Eddie?
- Have you ever celebrate success, even when you didn’t have to do your best to have success?
- Eddie had a perspective that focused on the wins, not the losses. How could that help you in your life?
- What is true humility? How did Eddie demonstrate humility as he celebrated his jump?
Eddie was surrounded by people who had sold out, for one reason or another, most notably his dad and his trainer, Peary. (Peary, had had incredible talent, but lacked the discipline and became a drunk and a nobody.) They all encouraged Eddie to give up.
Eddie said he loved to prove people wrong, and I want to speak to that for a second. Just proving people wrong is a horrible compass to guide your life. What if proving someone wrong means you have to become a failure, because they believed in you? (I’ve seen it happen.) The better compass is to become what God created you to be, and if proving people wrong is a natural result of that, then so be it. But when your motivation is to prove someone wrong, then you are holding on to bitterness and letting resentment drive you. You may become amazingly successful, but you’ll also become hard and defensive if you’ve done so out of spite. Spite is never a good motivation. It’s much better to be motivated by grace and love, to respond to God’s love by stewarding well all He’s given you and becoming the greatest version of yourself…the one He intended when He made you.
I know that Eddie loved proving people wrong, but in the movie, it never felt spiteful. Instead, it felt kinder than that. He wasn’t out to humiliate the naysayers, but rather to inspire them. He wanted to show them they were wrong about life, that more was possible. He wanted them to believe in good things, in joy and miracles and excellence. Maybe I’m naïve and attributing more grace to him than he was conscientious of, but whether or not he had thought this through, it was the result of his success. His pure heart wasn’t out to shame anyone. He wanted everyone to enter into his joy, even his dad, who had never supported him. Eddie was like the prodigal son’s father, who loved his dad and welcomed him back with love. (When Eddie came home, his dad, wearing a sweater that said “Eddie’s my son” or some such, apologized, and Eddie hugged him and celebrated with him. A spiteful person would have walked away or reminded them of all the mean things they’d said.)
As far as his coach, Peary was transformed by Eddie. He quit discouraging him and started encouraging him. He got on board. And HE began to give HIS best for Eddie’s best. (Something he’d never done for himself.) He was so transformed that his former coach who had spoken out against him in a book, apologized and said he was wrong and affirmed Peary and the man and coach he was becoming. Everyone around Eddie was transformed. His vision and his success didn’t just change his life. What’s that saying, “a rising tide raises all boats”? That was Eddie. When he rose, everyone around him was elevated as well.
When we show up for life, and become the best WE can be, it’s not just for us. If we do so out of spite, bitterness sets in and tarnishes everything around us, but when we do so for the right reasons, for the glory of God, we became a rising tide and the boats around us will be lifted as well. In God’s Kingdom, everyone benefits together.
- How did Eddie change the lives around him for the better?
- How would bitterness have changed Eddie and his relationships negatively?
- Why was it important for Eddie to be his best version of himself, to have success, for the lives of people around him? How would things have been different for other people in the story if Eddie had quit and gotten a job with his dad?
- Have you ever been positively affected by someone else’s vision and excellence?
- How have other people benefited from your vision and excellence?