Two of my children, both high school athletes, were highlighted in the local paper this week. The onset of the week brought feelings of euphoria, exhilaration, pride, and excitement as we saw our Jr soccer player extolled for her goal in the season opener. It promised to be an exciting year!
Just a few days later, the big rivalry between River and Skyview would be played out on the gridiron. Tension was high, competition fierce and excitement building by the minute. Particularly because we had almost beaten them the previous year and as this was Remick's last year of high school ball, big things were expected of him. Oh how different it would prove to be.
Correct, that is my son, on the ground with his helmet knocked off, in what would prove to be the most humiliating game of his high school experience. The only redeeming thing about this photo is the fact that he held onto the ball!
So, as a parent, what do we do with the mountaintops of success and pride versus the valleys of failure and humiliation? My initial response was expectedly, anger and bitterness. I have never seen my son so broken, defeated, humiliated. A sobbing 6'2"/220 lb football player, is not a pretty sight, and as a mother, the feeling is visceral. What could I say? What could I do? Nothing, except hold onto all 220 lbs of his sweaty, post game body and cry with him. Now, I am pretty certain that if you took an O-line (I know you are impressed with my football terminology here - that's pretty much all you get!) consisting of mothers whose children were hurting, they would be a formidable opponent indeed! But it wasn't an option for me to slug it out on the gridiron - instead I was left to pick up the pieces and find some redemption in this devastating loss.
I knew there would be no relief that night. I went to bed, slept fitfully and woke the next morning feeling worse than I did the night before. So I walked, and I prayed that God would release me from the bitterness and help me to make sense of what happened, and instead turn ashes into gold from the experience, for Remick's sake. I was reminded of the words to a worship song that seemed so poignant and timely:
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name
Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
We have always tried to teach our children that a humble, gracious, unselfish athlete is much more attractive and likable, than the opposite. Most of us have been witness to both and I'm pretty sure we would all choose the first of the two. Clearly, God wasn't done teaching our family about humility! I am every bit as capable as the next parent of wallowing around in the pit of parental pride but I'm not so enthusiastic about the other pit - humility.
Remick was naturally very subdued and I hesitated to say much except that I knew that God would not forsake him - not even in this. What he actually did with this experience fills me with more pride than any of his accomplishments to date on the football field. He turned this experience into an essay for his college admissions application. As I read his paper, tears of gratitude and yes, humiliation once again, poured forth as I realized that I had a much to learn from my son. One of the most humble and gracious athletes I know, and one which I am so filled with admiration for. I have no idea what the coaches will do with this defeat, or how they will turn it around, but I do know that Remick already made his choice with what he will do with it. He chose joy and peace and ultimate freedom in the knowledge that God has it all under control, and also ultimate victory with life in Christ.
The catalyst for my goals and aspirations can be categorized into one simple word, loss. Out of context this word may seem a little peculiar, but the summation of my achievements accounts for nothing in light of the trials that I have overcome in order to obtain them.
For any serious competitor the idea of loss can seem repulsive. While it may ring true for me as an individual that I hate losing, I have come to realize that the growth from such a loss far outweighs the initial demoralization. Loss is a peculiar concept, one that requires greater introspection. For the majority of my life I considered loss a negative idea, something that if I could control it, would never happen. Throughout my middle school football career I never had the opportunity to be humbled by a loss. It was not until my sophomore year of high school that I ended a season with a losing record. The following year was the same story. Negatives to me, were things that tore away at what I had built up. I saw my life as constantly on the rise and if I could control it, never taking a downturn. But the truth that all of us have heard at one point, is that it is necessary to fall in order to get back up. I would take it one step further and say that one must fall multiple times in order to learn how to get back up with grace, dignity intact.
High school football has afforded me plenty of opportunities to learn how to lose with grace. Grace by definition, is something completely lovely, elegant and poised. Do not get me wrong, there is nothing graceful about losing, which is why I say losing with grace and not, losing gracefully. The latter I see as a fallacy. The former however rings true in the verb that is used; with. The single most defining moment in all my years of playing football, came in my senior year on the wings of a 42 to 0 loss, and the complete massacre of my pride. In the moments following the game I had never felt such a sense of complete perturbation. Grace came later. While talking to a good friend and mentor of mine, I came to recognize the glory in that loss. I found that losses are not what define us; rather the way in which we deal with those losses are what speak of our character.
There are multiple directions my attitude could have gone after that thrashing, the most natural being anger. Fortunately I chose something completely unnatural, joy. As I plumbed the depths of my wounded pride, I found a joy in knowing that out of my humble state there was only room for improvement. The truth is that the greatest losses I have experienced thus far may not be the greatest I will ever experience. But I know one thing to be certain; through every loss there will be opportunity to obtain something greater.
My name is Remick and through grace I have been saved.