The NFL preseason is upon us.
The time of year when Fantasy Football fans are drooling, waiting for the “real” season to start. They move past the “fake” games of the preseason schedule and have their eyes on the prize, the regular season.
Most armchair quarterbacks fail to realize that these preseason games are the heart and soul of a determined group of 90 players striving, hoping to make the 53-man roster.
There really is unparalleled drama in training camp and preseason. Need proof? Watch Hardknocks, an entire HBO real-life drama of an NFL training camp and preseason. Going from 90 players down to 53 can mess with even the most confident of athletes. That’s why, in times of adversity, challenge, pressure and stress, we need an old fashioned lesson in the power of language.
Language is powerful. Details matter. Let me prove it to you.
“Let’s eat, Grandma!”
“Let’s eat Grandma!”
See what I mean? (And Grandmas everywhere said “Amen!”)
In the same way, by changing one little letter, we can reframe any failure, setback and disappointment to make them work FOR us instead of AGAINST us.
Adversity is second nature in athletics. Without opponents, stadiums remain empty. Without pain, inspiration is dormant. Without struggle, victory loses its luster.
So, why when we face personal pain, struggle and opposition do we shrink back and allow the setback to define us? Why do we wallow, shrugging our shoulders and saying things like the following:
“I’m just a failure.” “It’s just politics, that’s why I’m not playing.” “My coaches suck. The administration is against me.” “My life is over after this injury.”
As an NFL Chaplain, I hear the same version of this story every year.
Midway through any given preseason, I’ll see a usually optimistic player after a chapel service with his head down, making carpet patterns with his Jordans on the fancy rugs of the team hotel.
We make eye contact and I’ll say, “Hey man, what’s going on? What’s up?”
“I don’t think this game’s for me, man.”
“Yeah man. I’m not getting the playing time they said I would be getting. They are letting undrafted guys play before me. I’m not used to this Chap. I’m used to winning national titles in college and being the starter. Maybe I’m not cut out for this anymore.”
Then I insert the same speech I’ve given to dozens who have gone down that same well-worn pity party pathway.
“You have one letter. That’s it. One letter between success and failure. One letter between making this moment into your turning point or your death sentence. One letter, Bro.”
“Well, what is it?”
“D to R. You’re letting your temporary setback, circumstance or failure DEFINE you. You have become a victim. You can stay in this pool of ‘poor me’ all season but it’s not going to do anything for you.
Or you can replace the D with an R and allow this situation to REFINE you. Allow it to burn away the impurities in your character. Allow God to chisel you into His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) and accept this as pruning (John 15). You are God’s vessel. He is the Potter. You are the clay. Become broken so that the Lord place you back on His wheel and whirls as He likes. And by the way, did you think the NFL was going to be easy? Embrace the suck, man. Grow up and play for an audience of One.”
Crickets usually follow this conversation for a few seconds.
Then I remind them that my role as their Chaplain is not to tell them what they want to hear. Everyone else in their world tells them that. I’m here to tell them what they need to hear.
At the end of our conversation I’ll bring up a famous devotional by Oswald Chambers. On the July 28 reading he says:
We are apt to imagine that if Jesus Christ constrains us, and we obey Him, He will lead us to great success. We must never put our dreams of success as God’s purpose for us; His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal. He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process, God calls the end.
Over and over, Chambers’ daggers pierce my soul and still give me perspective: “What we call the process, God calls the end. . . . It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God. . . . What men call training and preparation, God calls the end.”
When I think about these words, I often draw a simple line with two points. Left point is where I am now. Right point is several inches above the left—it’s my goal. Then under it I draw another line with two points.
This one, however, looks more like the stock market. Ups. Downs. Peaks. Valleys. Plateaus. This is reality. Our view of success and God’s view of success is measured by the two contrasting lines.
We often point to the line that goes up and to the right with no resistance as God’s favor and his will. In our warped view of reality, we feel that God, because he loves us, wants us always to succeed.
If this describes your thinking, your view is skewed. Your view of God dictates your actions and your view of success. You probably view him as a genie in a bottle, at your every beck and call.
Ups. Downs. Peaks. Valleys. Plateaus. These are all tools in the Master’s toolbox to prune us and shape us more into his image. It is in the valley where the dream of God is made real. And God looks at you and me in the midst this refining process, where his fires and floods seem at their worst, and says, “This is my boy! This is my girl! They have made it! Look how they handled that problem! Look how their attitude is! Look how they reflect my Son’s image onto everyone around them! Even though they think that they haven’t met their goal yet, even though they think that they’re a long ways off, to me, they have already reached it!”