Misplaced Passion

On Sunday afternoon, some of our church family made the trek to historic McCormack Field in Asheville to watch the Tourists take on the Greenville Drive. It was a hot afternoon, and one of the teams we watched was hot at the plate.

 Spoiler alert: It wasn’t the Tourists.

 “So we’ll root, root, root for the home team—if they don’t win it’s a shame.”

 Yes it was, and yes it is. Losing is a shame.

Losing haunts me. I would be a bold-face liar if I told you otherwise. The teams I have supported have frequently let me down. The teams I have played on have failed in grand fashion (My one moment of glory on the intramural football field occurred when I caught a touchdown pass down the sidelines, only to find that I was without my sweatpants when I reached the end zone). The teams I have coached haven’t fared much better.

 Now, I am most committed to the teams with which I am affiliated. I suppose that it could be said that I have a high tolerance for losing since I stick with lackluster teams. I tend to be loyal to a fault. I am convinced that my NC State Wolfpack should alter their fight song to include the lines from Emily Dickinson’s famous poem: “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.” That way, when opponents see us celebrating with inordinate amounts of enthusiasm, they will know the origins of our joy.

How do you respond to loss?

Perhaps you’re a fighter and you dig deeper when you experience loss. Maybe you’ve arranged your life in such a way that you are insulated from losing. Or, could it be that failure and loss have chased you into the shadows, convincing you that you will lose again if you try? Loss, I believe, is the best catalyst for revealing one’s true character. (Egad…)

In his book, My Losing Season, the late Pat Conroy suggests that times of disappointment and failure can be exceedingly valuable. Losing can be formative – even redemptive – if we allow it to be so. Ah, but there’s the rub. When we lose, when we are disappointed, when we feel like we have failed, it is tempting to think of ourselves as failures and, by default, incapable of any success with future goals. And when this happens, we surrender.

Of course, there are many ways that we experience loss and it is flatly offensive to equate losses on the baseball diamond--or even at the ballot box—with the loss of life, limb or spirit.

In a telling Biblical observation, it should be noted that God’s narrative in scripture has little commentary on entertainment. Unlike our own cultural obsession with the entertainment industry, the story of Israel and the Gospel of Jesus Christ talk about losses with much greater gravity than playoff runs, rivalry games, or even presidential primaries. I think we’ve thus arrived at our point: Maybe we’re too passionate about the wrong things.  

Another way to frame this conversation may be to differentiate between life's disappointments and the experience we have with loss and grief. Perspective can be helpful, here. Our disappointments when things don’t go as we wish are not insignificant—but they should also never be conflated emotionally with the kind of grief people from around the world face each day.   

Let’s recall that Jesus can teach us something about disappointment and loss:

1.) Jesus didn’t expect everything to go as he planned. God’s Son didn’t seem shocked when things didn’t go as he might have wanted.

2.) Jesus didn’t allow his disappointment with people to influence his response to them. People disappointed Jesus frequently, yet he still chose to trust and to love them.

3.) Jesus was able to see the grief that others were experiencing and rushed to be present with them. Let’s recall that other people’s mourning changed Jesus’s plans.

4.) Jesus, himself, experienced grief when he lost his good friend Lazarus to death.

5.) God, Himself, experienced loss when He lost his Son, Jesus, to death.

Jim Valvano was on the backside of a season of loss when he anticipated his own death to cancer. Speaking with the authority of a circuit-riding evangelist, he urged his listeners at Reynolds Coliseum in 1993 to never, ever, give up. It would seem that his message was divinely inspired, as God models for us a redemptive response to disappointment and loss.

You see, God hates loss just as we do. That’s why he redeemed Christ’s ultimate loss by resurrecting him from death to newness of life.

Some perspective might do us some good. A resilient spirit with an uplifted chin wouldn’t hurt, either.

For that matter – and since we’re asking for things – neither would a come-from-behind 6-run inning by the Braves for the win.