Finishing Strong

US_men's_soccer_team_trains_in_NJ_2010-05-20When I coached, especially basketball, I often talked to my team about finishing. It’s great to jump out to a big league, but if you let down, if you start to go easy, your lead can evaporate and you end up in a close contest which you can easily lose. I’ve had teams lose by any manner of lucky shots, such as the three-pointer which ricocheted off the backboard and into the net.

Even more certain that lucky shots can win games is a sport like soccer or hockey. Ask the Anaheim Ducks who lost to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the LA Kings. They gave up a goal in the closing seconds of regulation and eventually lost in overtime.

Or ask the US World Cup soccer team who just yesterday gave up a goal in the closing seconds of extra time—time added on because of delays during regulation. After 94 minutes and 30 seconds, playing in the heat and humidity of the Amazon jungle, the US led 2-1. After 95 minutes, they were tied.

Some players, to be sure, were playing to finish, but others appeared to be going through the motions. The ESPN radio announcers accused Portugal of going through the motions. In fact, he said they already had their bags packed. Yikes, I thought. I didn’t see it that way. They were still playing hard, still challenging for the ball in midfield, and winning it far too often. All the US had to do was possess the ball for one minute. All they had to do was play keep-away. All they had to do was finish.

How like life games are. I’ve thought of that many, many times, even calling sports a microcosm in which much of the human experience is played out: success and failure, team work, integrity, discipline, attitudes toward authority, toward an opponent, jealousy, contentment, hard work, trust, obedience, humility. And finishing.

I hadn’t thought about finishing until yesterday’s tie. But how interesting to realize that sports teams don’t reach the end of a game and retire the way chess players do. A team losing badly still needs to play. A team winning big still needs to play. Those ahead in the score can’t assume they know what the final score will be simply because they’re up big at half time.

Painfully I recall my Denver Broncos being up big against the Indianapolis Colts at half time, then losing that game.

Those losing can’t assume they have no chance.

Just this hockey season, the Kings were down 0 games to 3 in a best-of-seven series. The San Jose Sharks couldn’t finish. The Kings took the next four games and advanced to the second round. In their game seven against Chicago, they fell behind by two goals, but they didn’t stop playing. They finished. And their efforts put them into the Stanley Cup finals.

So why does our society say people reaching sixty-five should pack it in and go on an extended vacation? Why should people who have gained wisdom and understanding and knowledge and experience not be expected to finish and to finish well?

To those who have been given much, much will be required—except apparently not of older folk. But why not?

Oh, sure, the hockey player will one day need to step aside from the game he loves and has excelled in. And so shall all retired folk. The day will come, apart from the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we will all step aside from this life. But up until that moment, ought we not to be giving life our all?

“Our all” might be little more than serving as a prayer warrior for others on the front line of our faith, but that’s a significant role and ought not be disparaged. I would love to see every retired person more involved in prayer than in daytime TV.

We can finish and we can finish well. And the difference between going all out and easing up as the seconds tick toward the final whistle just might be significant.

Published in: on June 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm  Comments Off on Finishing Strong  
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Used To Losing

This weekend some football coach or player was being interviewed, and he said something like, Losing hurts more than winning feels good. This, he concluded, was what separated champions from the pack.

I don’t think so.

My mind went first to my growing up years. As the youngest in my family, I didn’t experience a lot of winning, whether it was board games or the outdoor games kids used to play, like Mother May I or tag. Later my family got a ping pong table, and playing that game became one of my all-time favorite activities, though I seldom won.

Why? Why would I play and be content to lose? Well, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t content to lose, I just did it very well. 😉

Actually losing pushed me to improve.

Later when I became a coach, there were losses my teams took that I knew were a good thing. By losing we faced our own vulnerability. We knew where we needed to improve. And we had more drive to get better.

Easy victories can be deadly, I think. They can foster pride. After all, how good am I if I won so convincingly with such little effort?

That kind of thinking is sure to bring defeat down the road.

Easy wins can also mask problems. How do I know where I am weak if what I am doing seems to be working so well? How do I know what area to spend extra time practicing and improving?

In many respects losing is like the suffering the Bible indicates will be a part of the Christian’s experience. This from Paul:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Phil 3:8-10 – emphasis mine).

The point is, however, that losing or suffering is not to be without purpose. For me as a child, I learned with every loss. I grew in determination and steadfastness. Losses gave me something that winning couldn’t. So too with suffering.

In the passage above, Paul spelled it out clearly: he said he suffered the loss of all things “so that I may gain Christ.” Wow! Gaining Christ seems well worth losing out on some temporal pleasure.

Especially because I’ve left out the best part. I mean, being conformed to Christ’s death is the “taking up the cross” part of discipleship, but it’s not an end in itself. Here’s what Paul said next:

in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

I know it may sound strange, but I’m thankful for all that losing I did when I was younger. I can’t help but think God has used it to help me understand His application of suffering. Not that winners can’t learn the value of suffering, too, but it might be a little harder for them, especially if they hate losing more than they love winning.

Me, I love the winning part and nothing can be sweeter than gaining Christ!

Published in: on September 26, 2011 at 6:20 pm  Comments Off on Used To Losing  
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