The “What If?” Question

For every crowned victor there is a broken looser. And the greater the victory, the greater the celebration.

Roger Federer

And for every battle, 

Kobe Bryant vs. Allen IversonAn elated champion. 

Kaka Uefa Champion

I love sports. And for good reason. It is so full of drama and excitement and adrenaline. The earliest record I know of that includes organized sports is the Gladiator battles of the time of the Ceasars. People would crowd makeshift coliseums around the empire to watch men tear each other to shreds, and watch as animals devoured the Empire’s scum. 

Yet the most glorious home of the gladiators was the coliseum itself, and the movie “The Gladiator” presents this old sport in seeminly-honest colors. 

Maximus

The Astecs also had sports before they were conquered (a game of early style-basketball played to the death), and archer contests were always well-watched events in the past of Europe. Yet none compares to the 20th century–the century of sports. Football, the game played with your feet, emerged out of Europe professionally as early as the 1880’s in England and it swept across the world until it took over as the reigning form of sports. There are few names that transcend most of the cultures of the world–names like Pele and Maradona are known worldwide (except for in America, ironically). And America has given its own stars to be known as well, names like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Tiger Woods. 

But this is the question, what is it about sports that makes it so intriguing to the world culture? The love of sports truly transcends every era and every time and every culture. Why?

We love playing with the unknown; we love the taste of victory after the fear of failure; we love the adrenaline of battle. Even if it is from our home couch. I love sports, they fascinate me. Watching a good game with a close battle, where anyone could win, can be either the greatest part of my day or the worst.  But why? Because sports are consumed with “what if?” questions. 

Superbowl XLII

In every single game, in every single sport, in any competition, we like to believe that we have a chance, that we have hope. That is why so many people like underdogs. If you watched the Superbowl last year, you know what I mean (Look at the picture above). One team was not even worthy, but some people’s standards, to be in the final game of the season. The other team, by some people’s standards, was the best team to ever play the game of football. Yet I rooted for the underdog until I couldn’t yell anymore. I talked statistics and compared the teams. I knew they didn’t deserve to win. Maybe they would win 1 out of 10 times. But I didn’t care, I was going to root for that team no matter what, because there was a chance

They won.

What were the chances? almost non-existent. Yet the other team and it’s fans were absolutely deflated and almost furious. Yet it is what makes sports so great. The teams I support sometimes are the best one year and the worst the next. 

For all the victories, there are always failures.

Cristiano Ronaldo

And the difference between success and failure is many times so very slim.

rugbyThis next picture shows the powerful feeling I am referring to, where one is ready to celebrate while the other knows he failed. 

Superbowl XLAs humans we tend to live in the past, to think about it too much, and let it weigh us down. It is true, in my last post “You Need A Time Out!”, I urged that we all take time out of our day to think about the past. But it is crucial that it this thinking does not weigh us down, but instead that we use it to make us better people. 

I love statistics in sports and I can talk to you about it all day long. I can tell you pretty accurately what is supposed to happen, and chances are it will. Yet many times I am wrong, and I sit there looking at the numbers saying, “Wait! What happened?” It is true, for the most part, the past is the best predicter of the future–the stock market follows this rule as well as sports. 

But life, just like sports, is unpredictable. We all know this. And no one said it better than Solomon: 

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them…There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Ecclesiastes 9:11-17.

Bad things happen to good people, it is God’s will that this happens. Hard times will come to each and every one of us, how will we face it? Will we tiptoe around problems and hope they go away–will we stick them in the backrooms of our mind?

When I analyze a young sports player, in a similar way a professional, paid analyst, I look for intangibles. Take the NFL for instance. Right now the NFL Combine is taking place. Scouts come in droves from all over the country, looking at these physical specimens and determining how good they would be if that player were to join their team in the future. They measure their height, they measure their weight, they measure their arm length, they measure their hand width, they calculate their speed, they calculate their jumping ability, they determine the player’s smarts, read up on his intellect, follow the players background, look at his Collegiate stats, compare him to great players, etc, etc. 

Yet none of these are intangibles. Players may succeed in every single category and come across as one of the best physical specimens ever, yet still fail as a football player. Intangibles are the untouchable and unclassifiable characteristics of a football player that makes him better than the competition. The truth is they are all strong, and fast, and smart, and competitive. Otherwise they wouldn’t be on the verge of getting paid millions and millions of dollars to entertain the country and play professional football. Intangibles are something you can sense in a player: a passion to play, a love for the game, a relentless effort, a win-at-all-costs mentality, a “winner”. The players with great intangibles will play football with relentless effort every day of every week of the year, and they would play if they were on crutches and they would play if they were not getting paid. 

Take Lofa Tatupu for instance, while we are on the subject of intangibles. He wanted to play middle linebacker in the NFL, to be the leader of the defence. His statistics said he was a great player and his intellect supported this. Yet he was “slow” by the standards, and he was too “small” for the standards. So he was not drafted as high as he should’ve been. Many teams displaced him in order to grab other physical specimens. Many of the players taken ahead of him failed, yet one team believed in him and he became their team leader and middle linebacker. He happens to be a Seahawk. He is just one of the hundreds of stories in the NFL that follow this same pattern. Solomon was right. Lofa Tatupu

Life is the same way. How many people have been underestimated and then succeeded? Albert Einstein flunked out of his first grade class. I didn’t even know that was possible! Yet we all know the kinds of achievements attatched to his name. In the same way those that have it made–those that grew up rich, in good families, with good genes–sometimes fail miserably at life. I have no examples of these people because they have all dissapeared from my memory. 

We will always be judged by others, and categorized by them. “He is not worthy of that job…boy he makes a terrible friend…she will backstab you every time!” And we do the same with others. It affects us very deeply, to see what others think of us. And the more we hear it the more we believe it. In a football player’s terms, he may tell himseft, “Yes I am too small and too slow…” He just punched himself in the gut. 

There is a quote that I love to remind myself of by Longfellow, “Ability: We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have done.” It is important to keep this context in view. We have all failed and many people have squewed perspectives on us, and they cannot see our heart, our vision, our passion–they cannot see our intangibles. They see a failed person, or a mediocre Christian, or a lazy worker. Has that perspective affected you? Have you believed them? God knows the heart, he knows your intangibles, he knows your true ability and your true potential. Don’t let even your own view of yourself hinder you from doing what God intends you to do. Be open, listening, willing, and flexible to follow God. 

Many times as people we do not live up to our potential. We fail and do not take advantage of the chances in our life. It was Oswald Chambers in his book My Utmost For His Highest that caused me to begin thinking about this idea when he said: “Whenever we realize we have not taken advantage of a magnificent opportunity, we are apt to sink into despair…Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step.”

Failure is a teacher in it’s own regard. If we never feel failure we will never understand the sweetness of victory. Some of you may remember this moment in history when the United States hockey team shocked the world by defeating the feared USSR team almost 30 years ago. It truly was a moment of glory and renovation for the American heart as their faces were testament of in this picture. Soviet Union vs USA 1980

Life will be full of uncertainty and “what if?” questions. It will be full of failure and sorrow. But the Bible promises that to those who persevere and endure will be given a crown of life (James 1:12). 

If we weigh ourselves down by asking “what if?” we will forever live in a dark and dreary world. Many times I have wondered, “If only I had not said that…” or “What if that never happened…” I will always ask myself questions like this, it is part of my human nature to ask why? Yet I know from personal experience that I am a better person because of the hard times in my life and even because of the bad decisions in my life. Just flip through the old testament and read about the lives of Abraham and Jacob and David and Solomon. They were walking, living failures. Yet God used them in mighty ways and blessed them even in spite of their shortcommings and with their failures. The life of Joseph is testament to this when he spoke to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” 

There are no exceptions. God uses every situation for good, and to bring himself glory. It always has been that way, it always will be that way. God can use you, so don’t live in despair. Don’ t live trapped inside categories and stereotypes. Let us like Paul, in humility, acknowledge our weaknesses before God and lay our burdens at the feet our our Savior. 

What have the bad experiences in your life taught you?

Did sorrowful times in your life form you into a better person?

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