Man- it hurt deep last night. Great love and great investment and great hopes sets a heart to be cut deep- deep- and deeper still.
No one likes to see anyone cry- but there is something about a young man, handsome, so full of life- hugging his brother and shaking in tears that cuts me. It is not natural, but it is a reality.
My prayers are always interesting this time of year. They go something like this- Lord I want to celebrate after the game tonight, but if You appoint this time for me to minister....please give me Your grace and power.
And so last night, where we didn't quite play to the level we needed and the other team did- it was over. They survived and we died- and I went senior to senior, player to player- hugging them harder than I ever had- face to face- their sweat and tears- and I whispered words that I wish would take the pain away:
"I'm so sorry. I love you. I'm so proud of you. Your best days are in front of you."
People who read this and don't have some kind of connection to football won't quite get it. After all, it is just football...
No, if you are in it in any kind of investment- it is a microcosm of life.
The summer is new life.
The boys of summer push hard, everyone is undefeated. Yeah, we know that you only get to wear those pads for a short while- some lucky ones get 4 years of varsity football- most get 1 or 2.
The pictures are all smiles- the days are long- the pageantry is pure beauty.
Then comes the Fall.
Football pain can be cruel. Physical pain includes wraps and ice and crutches and MRI's. Every player, starter or back-up, bears war wounds. I witnessed the most painful injury this season I have ever seen on a practice field. I still hear him screaming in pain- it is a haunting.
But there is spiritual pain as well. Losses, frustrations, 'I'm not playing', relationships can get strained.
I don't get to escape that as a coach. Long hours devoted to football- decisions- slips of the lip- sensitive ears. This life has pain.
But there is also the JOY! Thrilling plays and victories. Headlines and High fives!
But the sands trickle and the hour glass is getting full.
At some point there is a dividing line- some teams qualify for post season and some don't.
Time Change and Whispers of Winter
And then the death matches start- week by week- one is alive and one has died.
When you win those- the thrill is softened a tad as you stare into the faces of the vanquished.
The comes the potential for the biggest hurt of all- you win and win and win- and the big prize is within millimeters. Last night was the third semi-final loss I have experienced in 20 years of coaching. They were all on the road. The trip back home is hollow. You wake up the next morning and it just attacks you- aww man- it did happen.
Then the long winter of discontent.
So what do we make of this? Why expose yourself to this potential pain over and over?
Because of the gospel. The good news of Christ is the only reason I can keep doing it. It is the only reason I can keep doing anything in this world of vain and empty promises and broken hearts and dreams.
How about these tweats from our players last night:
"When we win we praise Him, when we lose we praise Him. As much as it hurts I still love my God, my team, and my school."
"...God will always be with us and we will be strengthened by Him"
"Never hurt or cried so much in my life. We fought hard! I love my team and I'm PROUD TO BE A LION!"
And I could go on and on.
Football mirrors life:
Relationships- complex- important- the need for forgiveness and service
Work to a goal
Highs and Lows
Victory and Defeat
Joy and Pain
It has an end
Here is how I summarize it in a nutshell:
God made everything good, in love He gave man freedom- only in freedom is love possible- but it also makes selfishness and sin possible- man chose sin- and because of sin- we suffer.
Football exists in this world of sin. When we fail, we all think back to decisions, I think I could have done more....
If there were no gospel- then I would stay in this death spiral of thinking that I have to measure up.
But I can't- I will say wrong things- I will do wrong things- life is not undefeated. In my 20 years, I have 3 state championship rings- and I am a LUCKY ONE! But 17 other years have fallen short of the ultimate prize.
One day, my hour glass will run empty- I will walk wounded and defeated to the gates of heaven. I could have done more.
AND STANDING THERE IS THE ULTIMATE CHAMPION- THE LORD JESUS- THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.
He might say, "Why should I let you in?"
What can I say and be honest?"Lord, I don't deserve to be in. My only hope is Your mercy, Your love, and the sacrifice of the cross. I have nothing to add except my sin."
And from what the Bible says- He will wrap His arms around me and say "Come in my Son."
And all that pain will be gone. All the disillusionment and disappointment. All the hurtful words and lies. All the lost opportunities. All the mourning. He will wipe my tears, He will hug me cheek to cheek.
I will see my mom and grandmother with perfect bodies. I will see celebration. I will play football again with my brothers (or something similar but better).
Last night, one of my players, a young man of incredible talent and passion- just sat there in his pads. He did not want to take them off. I know the feeling.
But they recover- quicker than I do.
I had a final group chat with my receivers.
Jay M: It was a great honor to coach you guys this season. Love you and will be praying for you.
Player 1: Thank you coach... I'm sorry I didn't make the play .. it was fun
Player 2: Same here- love ya
Player 3: _____ man. I could not be more proud of you-ur nothing but a baller
Player 4: thanks for everything you did for us coach-loved playing with you guys- wish it didn't have to end
Player 2: yes coach...love you
Player 5: we still have a lot of senior year left. Hate it ended the way it did- but it was a lot of fun. Thanks bros.
SO I will take a break and before long the juices will start stirring- and I will once again work with high hope and big dreams.
And know that only the Lord makes it meaningful. I trust in His plan. Until He returns.
I Corinthians 15:58