A question that has been asked down through the extent of history is, who are you? How would you answer this question? Some may say I am a teacher, or I am an Alaskan. Still others may express their identity according to their sexuality or their gender. Others will use their main passion and say that that identifies them. I have talked with my children often regarding who they are. You see, since 2003 our family has had at least one of our children involved in either high school or college athletics. This came to a sudden end Monday, March 13, 2023. Our youngest son’s college basketball team was involved in what has been commonly described as “March Madness”, that is the end of the season national tournament. These tournaments happen at all different levels of college basketball. One thing that they all have in common is that the day your team loses a game, your season is over! If you win, you play on; if you lose, you are done.
My son’s team lost in the round with 16 teams left and so their season is over, and being his last year of eligibility, his college career is over. As a parent, I am thinking through a good deal of memories, both wonderfully positive and heartbreakingly difficult. But that is what being a part of athletics brings you, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” I am convinced that being a part of athletics can teach you life lessons that will help you as you mature in your life. I believe that athletics are a microcosm of life wherein valuable lessons are found. Let me give you some examples.
First, you learn the lesson of how to work as a team. You are taught that it is not about you, rather it is about helping the whole have success, whatever role that you can play in that success. Even in individual sports you learn from others as you deal with coaches, competitors, and officials. Realizing how to compete within the confines of a team framework is a great skill to master. Secondly, you learn about hard work. Very quickly it becomes apparent that those who put the time and effort in at their particular craft will reap benefits from it. I have seen some very gifted athletes who have not gone even close to as far as they could have in a sport basically because they did not put forth the effort needed to improve themselves. I have also loved seeing athletes that raw talent wise they had no business being at the advanced level they were, but their dedication and work ethic carried them past what they should have attained. Thirdly, probably the most challenging life lesson to learn is that there are no guarantees. You can be the most dedicated, hard-working athlete and have the end result not be victory or a championship, rather injury or heartbreaking loss. Things in life do not always go as we think they should. We don’t get every job we interview for, and you will not make every team you tryout for, or maybe receive the playing time you “know” you deserve. Athletics has its way of both humbling and maturing people who do not give up on the athletic process.
There are so many things in life that seem “unfair.” It can be illness or injury that happens to the nicest person. Or maybe it’s timing, environment, or responsibilities that keep us from realizing our dreams. Some people chalk this up to “tough luck.” But I would argue that through athletics you will most likely have some unforeseen circumstances that will put you in a place that you did not see coming or challenge your intestinal fortitude. Every athlete is forced to deal with situations that they are not desiring and pose a difficult challenge to them. How they respond to these challenges is directly related to the development of their character. These are valuable life lessons that can serve a person very well.
As you know, part of what often happens in athletics is people have their identity wrapped up in their athletics. They become known as a “football player” or “a long-distance runner.” This can be a problem for a few reasons. First, there are going to be times when your sport is not going well. We have already talked about injuries. Also, there are challenges with teammates and coaches. Or maybe your team is going through a long losing streak, and it is not enjoyable to go to practices or games anymore. If your identity is all about who you are with regard to your sport, your whole identity is now in crisis. Knowing who you are regardless of your successes or accomplishments is crucial in life. II Corinthians 5:17 tells us that we are a “new creation in Christ Jesus.” And Ephesians 2:10 reminds us of the “good works that God has prepared beforehand for us” to do in this life. The world is constantly telling you what your identity should be. But the Bible tells us our identity must be who we are in Jesus Christ. I told my youngest son, “you are NOT a basketball player! That does not define you. You are a child of the King who loves to honor Him with your love of basketball.” I have had similar conversations with each of my kids. One day I received an unexpected response from that particular son. He said, “Dad, thank you for telling me that. I have really struggled with basketball lately and I just kept reminding myself of where my identity lies.” You can imagine how thankful I am that I took the time to share that little bit of advice with him.
If you are saying, “but I am not an athlete. I don’t even want to be an athlete! How can this help me?” Well, if basketball or some other passion is on the throne of your life, you need to reprioritize and realize that there is only one thing that can be on the throne of your life. That must be Jesus Christ! Everything else must find its place with regards to being under the King Jesus who is on your throne. Things that commonly take the place of Jesus on the throne of our lives are, work, reputation, status, money, entertainment, adventures, and one that I see most, our children. It is very common for us, as parents, to have our children on the throne of our lives, and it is very difficult to see this is the case, especially if we are in the midst of parenting. I had the advantage of having five children. I did a much better job of not putting my younger children on the throne of my life than I did with the older ones. God can help us see an accurate view of who is on the throne of our life.
One of the most excruciating experiences to go through is to watch a person who has someone on the throne of their life and they will not listen to anyone trying to tell them this is unhealthy. I have talked with several teenagers through the years who have had either boyfriends or girlfriends on the throne of their life and they would not listen to people warning them. This relationship never ends well! I have seen some “romances” that have ended with horrible wounds which affect people for the rest of their lives. I am convinced that having boyfriends, girlfriends, even spouses, on the throne of your life will bring at least disappointment and most likely heartache. A person cannot meet all of our needs. Neither can a sport or identity for that matter! Only a right relationship with Jesus Christ can fill the role of king in our lives. And the amazing thing about this is, when our relationship with the Lord is the way it should be, every area of our life is better with less pressure and more understanding, or grace.
So I would ask you to ponder regularly the question, “Who are you?” Or more accurately, “Whose are you?” It is my hope that you do indeed have Jesus Christ on the throne of your life!