It’s been said that football is a religion in Alabama. Sadly, this is often the case.
A pastor I know always gave an exhortation on the Sunday before Alabama’s Iron Bowl game. He told the congregation half of them would be disappointed the next weekend, but they needed to remember it was just a game — it’s supposed to be fun — and they must respect the other side. I was so impressed by this, though I graduated from one of those schools, that I’ve spoken this exhortation most years myself. I’ve seen too many people who enjoy rubbing salt into the wounds of those disappointed over a game.
And since my son played every sport imaginable in high school, I always try to remember that members of the other team are valuable as the children of other parents. Our son wasn’t always on the winning side, but we tried to teach him to be gracious no matter the outcome.
Athletics makes us think about winning and losing.
How often do we see a player having a good game, scoring a touchdown or hitting one out of the park and then thanking God for this victory? Whereas we’re to honor God in all things, does this mean that the losing team experiences God’s disfavor? Is God always on the side of winners? Doesn’t he have compassion for everyone whether we win or lose?
The late New York Yankee, Yogi Berra, coached third base one day when he saw a player kneel before entering the batter’s box, and another player make the sign of the cross on the field.
“Hey, why don’t you guys leave God alone and let him watch the game?” he shouted.
Berra’s word was a bit over-the-top, but maybe there’s a grain of wisdom therein.
President Trump famously said his administration would win so much we’d get tired of winning. But no one wins all the time. I’m convinced we need a theology of losing, for sometimes everyone will lose. People of faith don’t always win, and people of character don’t always excel. And sometimes we learn valuable lessons by losing.
We should respect all who subject themselves to the rigors of competition.
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is better to try great things, even at the risk of failure, than to know neither victory nor defeat.” TR knew defeat when his party denied him a second nomination and his independent party lost, but he’s remembered as a great American. Athletics, and life, should teach us how to reach beyond our limits, how to work as a team and how to contribute to a greater society.
God, the master teacher, has lessons for us in winning and losing.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.