As I sit down to write this, the TV in the background is filled with footage of the Golden State Warriors celebrating another NBA championship. They just swept Lebron James and The Other Ones. I’m not a big fan of the NBA, but I watch the Finals with my son because, like every other basketball player his age, he wants to be the next Steph Curry and never shoot the ball inside the 3-point line. Some of the games during the Finals have been exciting, with some good competition coming down to the wire.
With half a quarter to go, it was clear the Warriors were going to emerge victorious. The announcers knew it, the fans knew it, and worse, the Cavaliers knew it. And they played like it. They played like a team that knew it was inevitable. They weren’t going to win. They pulled their stars out of the game. They didn’t fight. Just rode out the last few minutes. They played like losers. It was not inspiring.
In less than 48 hours, a group of 4th and 5th graders are going to take the court for their last game of a long basketball season. They’re probably going to lose. I’m not saying this to be negative – it’s just how this season has gone.
Allow me to explain. FAITH has a great Upward Basketball sports program over the winter months that helps develop players’ skill and prioritizes sportsmanship. Toward the end of our 2018 season, one of the older boys’ coaches approached me and pitched the idea of taking a few players to be “ambassadors” into the public County Rec League. The idea was to create a team of Upward players to go and represent Christ in the County League, emphasizing good sportsmanship and healthy competition. Out of 11 games so far, we’ve won one game. ONE. And it was the second game of the season. After a big, confidence-building, second-week win, the team showed up every week and got their butts kicked. Some games weren’t massacres, but there was a run right in the middle of the season in which the boys were pummeled week after week. One game, the score was 20-0…in the first 2 minutes. Mercifully, the score was turned over at halftime, otherwise a County record would’ve been set as the first game to have a team achieve a triple-digit score. It was devastating.
But a strange thing happened during the second half of the game. Oh, no…they didn’t mount a great comeback. No, no. …no that didn’t happen.
It was so weird. They ran back onto the court after halftime and, despite the fact that there was absolutely no way they would best their opponents, Team Upward took the court and for 20 minutes played like the game was close. They ran. They hustled. They pressed and defended and rebounded and challenged a clearly superior team, and there was zero chance they were going to win. The last two minutes of the game, with the score somewhere around 185-18, our Upward Team turned up the speed and made their opponents work for their win. As a parent, it was fun watching these boys who clearly knew they were losers play like they could be winners. The losing team’s supporters were cheering louder than the winning team’s.
It was a stark contrast to the NBA players who just gave up tonight. The Upward boys fought hard all the way to the last whistle, because giving up – playing like a loser – is not in them. And it is a little surprising. More than half the players were on Upward teams that never lost once in our regular Upward season. In fact, they were the teams that pummeled the other teams. But now, they were the ones that were continually being humbled.
While we would love to have had a winning season, the boys are walking away with something better: a healthy understanding of the meaning of perseverance. They have learned to lose with dignity. That there will always be people who are bigger and better than you, but you still give everything you have because giving less than your best is not in you.
These young men have inspired me every week as they go out, face tough opponents, know when they are outmatched, and still fight. They are a reminder of how we are to live out our lives in obedience to Christ. We will fail. We will be challenged and face hardship. The question is, do we just take the ‘L’, give up, ride out the remaining time we have, and act like losers? Or, do we understand that the challenge is difficult – and even seemingly impossible – and fight with everything we have to keep going and do our best?
Proverbs 24:16 tells us: “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin.”
I find this verse so encouraging. It is a great reminder that just because you follow Christ does not mean you are going to get everything right.
We will fall. Get back up.
We will fail. Start again.
We will stumble. Keep going.
We will struggle. Don’t stop.
We won’t be strong enough. Keep fighting.
The road will be hard. Press on.
You will get knocked down. GET BACK UP.
Persevere! In the face of adversity and defeat, you can still choose to give everything you have. That’s what Christ has called us to. Tonight, I won’t remember how the Warriors won. But I will remember how the Cavaliers lost. They gave up. They had more to give and they didn’t.
But the Upward Giants (an ironic name we’ve adopted – ironically, we are the smallest team in the league by a good 5 feet) – they fight and struggle and keep their composure – even in the face of taunting – and they never, ever, ever give up. They get back up, they fight, they push back, and they inspire. Be like that. Follow their example. Press on with everything you have – even when you fall – and watch God shape you into who He has created you to be.
2 Corinthians 4:17: " For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”