A couple of weeks ago, a former student of mine was involved in a game-ending play that he “messed up,” which allowed the other team to secure their victory. Feeling like he had lost the game, along with the embarrassment, disappointment, and shame he felt afterwards, I wrote him this letter. Whether our perceived failure is in an athletic event or in everyday life, God has a perspective that may be different than our perspective, and what we may be feeling at the time. The young man gave me permission to print the following.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
- 1) Humility is always, always a good thing. It makes us tread a little softer in how we deal with people… how we love them and treat them. Humility helps us get back to our foundation, our core beliefs, and challenges us to throw away every lofty and inaccurate thought about who we thought we were or how we think we are perceived by others. Our core beliefs must remain: what God thinks of me is all that ultimately matters; He loves me; He has enabled me to play something I love; He will never, ever leave me alone; and if He allows something difficult in my life, He won’t let it be something that I can’t handle with His strength. He knows what is best, and He deals with me out of His love, not out of spite.
- 2) There is an old saying, “That which doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger.” I believe this but with this one addition: the key is what we do with our disappointment, defeat, failure, and loss. Do we turn inward, or do we turn to the Lord? If we turn to the Lord, then we are responding in a healthy manner. We are turning to the One who is in charge, and we are acknowledging that He knows what is best. If we turn inward towards ourselves, we are responding selfishly without a godly perspective. Proper perspective comes when we seek God’s face. A failure or defeat will make us a better person as we submit to God, acknowledging Him in our life.
- 3) We grow the most through difficulty. We just do. It doesn’t feel good, but that’s where growth can best happen; hence the phrase, “growing pains.” It just fits. That’s why the Bible often says things like “do not lose heart” and “do not grow weary” and “do not be discouraged”, because God knows that sometimes, in our difficult times, we tend to want to give up and throw in the towel. We also can get discouraged. Instead, let’s look to God and encourage ourselves in Him. He has everything under control, and He loves us.
- 4) It is perfectly natural to feel sorrow and disappointment when we are competing and striving to win, and things don’t work out on the scoreboard for us, especially when we are part of a team. But, as I mentioned before, remember that no one person ever loses a game, ever. Each person on your team had multiple opportunities to make a play (a steal, a pass, a defensive rotation, etc.) and did not. There were 100’s of mistakes during the course of the game, 100s!
Also, I can’t ever remember, when my team lost, when I “felt” like shaking hands after the game. But I knew it honored God and was an example to others of what a Christian competitor looks like, even in defeat. Even though our insides are bummed out, our trust in God is reflected by our gracious response towards the people around us, even our intense rivals.
- 5) Many, many times in your life you will look back, remember your trials and difficulties, and gain strength from the ways God has pulled you through each one. Don’t worry for one second what others think of you. The only thing that matters is what God thinks of you. Also, your loved ones love you not based on your performances, but based on who you are! You are a son, grandson, brother, and friend. The people who love you don’t think of you as a just an athlete, or just a midfielder, or just a point guard. That’s NOT who you are… that’s what you do– there is a big difference.
- 6) Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? If you do, then you are a success in life. Why? Because you have found the secret to life! You have gained eternal life, and what could be more important than that? You are a success, Jacob, because of God. Keep playing humbly for Him, returning the gifts and talents He has given you back to Him in order to honor Him.
- 7) Lastly, once I felt as if I single-handedly “lost the game” in high school. I felt this so much so that in the locker room after the game I told my friends that I would “never smile again.” Do you know how many times I have gone back to that moment and reminded myself of the things I learned from that disappointment during the next four years of college baseball and the subsequent 34 years of coaching? A lot. More than I can remember. Something that was once so painful for me has been a valuable teaching tool for me and others throughout the years.