Here’s a story I’ve never told outside my family and close friends. (I’m breaking my 500 word rule on this one… sorry)
I was a lacrosse player in college. In my last year, our team made it to the NCAA National Championship Game. It was played in Byrd Stadium at University of Maryland in front of 25,000 fans and live TV. That day, I experienced both the highest moment and the lowest moment of my entire athletic career, in the span of about 7 minutes.
We were trailing by a goal or two for most of the game against the tough reigning national champs. As time dwindled down,we were still behind a goal, despite several extremely close shots by our team. We just couldn’t get the tying goal.
With about a minute to go, the fans are on their feet, the roar is absolutely deafening, and one of my teammates gets the ball at midfield. I push my defender off and pop out for the pass. Once I have it, I turn and run half speed down the sideline and back behind the goal (the goal sits 15 yards in from the end line, for those unfamiliar). I check the clock on the scoreboard. As my eyes quickly scan back to the field, something catches my attention in the stands. I know… how on earth could I be looking into the stands with barely any time left?! I can’t explain it, but I actually see my older brother (my personal lacrosse hero) standing there in the sea of screaming fans. Not cheering, just standing. He was looking right into me.
I come around from behind the goal, give a big stutter-step, and blow past my defender like he was standing still. I beeline for the goal but the window is closing as other defenders are sprinting towards me. I launch my body through the air, across the front of the goal, and shoot back-handed, behind my back. Just after I shoot, a defender obliterates me in midair, sending me into a helicopter spin. I land in a heap. Total silence. Then… an explosion of cheering. I’d scored the tying goal with seconds to spare. I slowly got up, trying to figure out why I couldn’t breathe. Numbness turned to searing pain from the defender’s hit. Pain turned to euphoria when I finally processed that the game wasn’t over yet. We were going to sudden death overtime.
The crowd was going absolutely crazy. Our team was going absolutely crazy. We can win this!! A faceoff started the first overtime period. A brutal battle for the ball at midfield ended with our opponent in possession and running for glory. In what can only be explained as a complete screw-up, the player lobbed the ball towards our goal. No problem. Our goalie will catch it and blast it out to our offense. The ball sailed towards our goalie and he lined up to catch it. It takes a bounce a few feet in front of him. A fateful, catastrophic, horrible bounce off a divet in the grass. The ball ricochets off the chunk of mud, up and over our goalie’s shoulder… and into the goal. Game over. We lose. It was the last game I ever played.
In the weeks and months and years after that game I’ve learned a lot. You see, I’ve discovered that I love being a loser. Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. Being a loser is a good thing. Let me explain. I believe the value of losing is much much higher than winning. And just so you don’t think I’m the sad guy trying to console himself, I should tell you I’ve also experienced some tremendous victories–I’ve been on the winning side of championship games as well. But as I think back over my life, winning has left me with great memories and little else. Losing, on the other hand, has had massive formative influence. But while I love being a loser, I still HATE losing. I can’t stand it. I loathe that gut wrenching feeling of knowing there’s nothing you can do, when it’s no longer in your control.
Control, I’ve learned, is a vapor. I can’t tell you how many times in my life when I’ve felt like I’ve lost control, either through my own choices or just as a result of circumstances. It is a familiar feeling that chides me to give up; to quit. But these days, because of losing, I have no sense of panic when I lose my sense of control. ‘Quit’ just isn’t in my vocabulary anymore. In fact, I think this is exactly Jesus’ point, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Today, my family and I are shouldering some tremendous challenges. I won’t go into the details, but I can tell you that I feel like a pinball, chaotically bouncing around with absolutely no control over what happens next, and rolling dangerously close to the drain. In the midst of this challenging season, Christ brings me back to His promises: He is faithful to those who trust Him. And He knows how the story plays out because He wrote it.
We will feel like we’re losing sometimes. But losers win because Christ has already won.