With the NBA playoffs in full swing, it reminds me of how much I enjoy watching sports. The catch for me is that those sports have to matter. An 82-game NBA season is just silly if you're looking for a sport where every game matters (although it seems like a sprint compared to the marathon of the MLB season), but the NBA playoffs are a fantastic mini-season where there are actual consequences to winning and losing a couple of games in a row. And, incidentally, the decision makers of professional athletics are not looking for games that matter, but only for games that people will buy tickets for, eat concessions at, and pick up souvenirs from, so the more the better, right?! I digress...
The mind of the professional athlete is an amazing thing. Specifically those athletes who find themselves in high-pressure situations. And more specifically, those athletes who don't do well (you might say “choke”) in those situations, and yet come back to overcome those struggles to ultimately succeed. You've seen it. The golfer who misses the tournament-winning putt, but is able later on to sink a similar putt to win a different tournament. The receiver in football who drops the pass that would have won the big game, and the next season comes out and proves his critics wrong with critical catches in critical situations. And, in basketball, it's the shooter who misses the big shot (or worse, the layup) and finds his team on the wrong side of the scoreboard. See, for me and my pickup basketball career, if I miss a couple of shots, I run a good chance of being done shooting for that game. And even if I do continue to shoot, I won't be terribly confident about it, and likely won't shoot very well from there on out.
The great shooters (and athletes, for that matter) are known for having short memories. They rely on what they know, not on what they've just seen. If one shot (or two or three) doesn't go in, they fall back on the knowledge that they hit 100 jumpers during warmups, and eventually they'll make it. If they have three strikeouts in a game, they fall back on the knowledge that they're batting around .300 on the season, and so they're due for the next one. If they miss the putt, they think of all the putts they've made, rather than the one they've missed. I could go on.
In life, I often make the mistake of relying on what I see in front of me rather than on what I know. If circumstances seem to turn against me, and nothing that I'm hoping for seems to be working out, I generally assume that things won't ever work out in a positive manner. If I fail at one project or course of action, I attribute that to my inability to successfully accomplish any project or course of action. If one person is negative about me, they represent the opinion of everyone around me.
So what do I know that runs counter to these thoughts? I know that God promises to work through every circumstance to ultimately bring about my good (Romans 8:28). Not necessarily my comfort, or my wealth, or even my health, but He promises to worth through all things for what is best for me. I know that God calls me his masterpiece (Esphesians 2:10 NLT), and not succeeding in one area simply means I either need to try harder in that area, or move onto an area where I will be more successful. In the same way as a painter's masterpiece wouldn't win a sculpting competition, or a “masterpiece” of a Spades hand isn't going to get very far playing Go Fish with my kids, so I know that just because he calls me a masterpiece doesn't mean that everything will come easily for me. And finally, I know that ultimately the only thing that Jesus promised about others' opinion of me is that it probably wouldn't be very positive (Matthew 10:22). Perhaps instead of expecting everyone to think my every move is wonderful, I should realize that Jesus never intended this life to be a popularity contest. The more often I'm reminded that my first call in life is to please Him (while not intentionally alienating those around me), the more I'm able to adapt, adjust, and move forward rather than feeling defeated when I fail to please someone else.
As I said in the beginning, it's amazing how quickly the greatest of athletes forget their recent history in favor of those things that they know to be true from their practice, training, and repetition. If all they ever focused on were their failures, they wouldn't make it very far in their chosen sport. In the same way, my life simply can't be a constant stream of replays of my failures and shortcomings. Sure, there are plenty to focus on, but when I do that, I shortchange the God who created me and do my best to get in the way of the amazing things He wants to do in and through me in this world. Instead, if I'll let my mind dwell on the truth that I know and shake off those things around me that don't jive with that truth, I'll find myself in a position to follow His calling and leadership, no matter where He may take me.
Image courtesy operationsports.com