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Naomi Osaka and Dak Prescott: The urgency and power of community

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Naomi Osaka
French Open Tennis. Roland-Garros 2021. PARIS, FRANCE May 30. Naomi Osaka (Sipa via AP Images)

Tennis champion Naomi Osaka announced recently that she would not speak with reporters during the upcoming French Open. After organizers fined her $15,000 over her decision, she stated Monday afternoon that she would withdraw from the tournament for mental health reasons. 

Currently ranked No. 2 in the world, she said on Twitter, “I never wanted to be a distraction.” She added that she’s “suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018” and gets “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking at press conferences.

Nike and other major sponsors have come out in support of her following her decision to withdraw. “Our thoughts are with Naomi,” Nike said. “We support her and recognize her courage in sharing her own mental health experience.”

Twenty-three-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams, eighteen-time Grand Slam singles champion Martina Navratilova, and thirty-nine-time Grand Slam winner Billie Jean King have also expressed their support for her, as have other athletes such as Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

In related sports news, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott made today’s news with his statements to a reporter regarding depression and anxiety. He told ESPN’s Sage Steele that during the pandemic, “I was going through depression and anxiety, and I was learning what it was, I was talking to friends and trying to figure out why I was feeling the way that I was.”

His brother Jace went through bouts with mental health before his death. Prescott said that he told his family and friends, “We’ve got to talk. We’ve got to talk to one another, because I didn’t know [Jace] was feeling that way, I didn’t know he was like that.”

He added: “That’s why I come out in front of the mental awareness thing and tell people, men, women, powerful, not powerful, whatever you are, we’ve got to talk. And it’s an obligation for all of us to listen and to help.”

Why we were created for community

My purpose today is emphatically not to offer mental health therapy. I am in no sense a professional counselor and would urge anyone struggling with mental health issues to see someone who is. God calls people into this ministry just as he calls people to be missionaries and pastors. I am deeply grateful for the godly counselors I know and would strongly recommend that anyone facing mental health challenges seek the help of such professionals.

My purpose today is to respond to Dak Prescott’s statement calling for us to “listen” to each other. The outpouring of support Naomi Osaka has received from sponsors and fellow athletes is an example of the kind of communal encouragement we are each created to need from each other.

The Lord said of the first human, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). We were made to need each other. We cannot do life well by ourselves. We are “members of the body” of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12); each of us is vital to all of us (vv. 14–30).

This is because, as creatures made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), we reflect the communal nature of our Creator. Our Lord is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three and yet one. In a marvelous sermon on the Trinity, Br. Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston elaborates:

“Experiencing God as a Trinity of Persons makes a profound difference, not only in how we belong to God, but how we belong to one another. We are distinct persons, all of us, and yet our essence is the same. We are all children of God. We all need water and food, shelter and rest, love and safety, education and encouragement, health and hope to be alive and thrive. We are all so much the same” (his emphasis).

He added: “We must be in relationship with one another. We have been created by a God in relationship—a Trinity of Persons—who invites us all to be in personal relationship: relationship with one another and in relationship with all that God has created, because this is the essence of God.”

A prayer I urge you to offer today

Whom do you know who needs the community you can offer?

Christians should be on the front lines of such generosity and ministry. We who are members of one body, children of one triune God, are “beggars helping other beggars find bread.” We are called to pay forward the grace we have received, to share the forgiveness that has transformed our souls. We should be Exhibit A of how community for hurting people looks and feels.

Let it begin with you and with me, today.

To that end, I invite you to pray with me, slowly and meaningfully, this familiar prayer attributed to St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

Oh, Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen?