So the football season just ended for my son’s team. They won county champs and I feel like a character in Friday Night Lights, though I am not sure I like the role casted me. I mean, I like the other characters and I like the lights and I like the cheering….but Aidan kicked this season off with a sweet shoulder injury that had him sitting the sidelines. His shoulder, according to our smart, kind, doctor friend was subluxing. I think this is a fancy way of saying, it was popping in and out. Apparently when your shoulder pops in and out when you are jumping on trampolines or putting your seat belt on, this is not good and you should not consider ramming your body into other bodies and calling it a tackle.
For a kid who loves this sport, standing on the sidelines and not engaging in the contact, the plays and the love, was the greater injury. The first game I was able to go to, I sat on the sidelines cheering on his friends as they ran plays, intercepted balls, threw passes and huddled. These little guys looked like big giants in the eyes of a mother and I am proud of all of them. As I watched, I got a lump in my throat as I saw Aidan run out to his team during a time out with the water bottles. He was the water boy. And of course at the same time that I had a lump in my throat, I was also recalling lines from Adam Sandler’s Waterboy movie just hoping that Aidan doesn’t turn out like Bobby Boucher. Internally laughing and crying, I saw my kid have to face disappointment and circumstance head on and be called to find Christ’s character in the midst of this unexpected change in his plan.
We all want to start. We all want the best positions. We all want to make the touchdowns. You are lying to me right now, if you are reading this, saying “not me.” Whatever game we play, we want to win, we want the pick 6’s, we want our own unique touchdown dance. None of us want to be the waterboy. None of us want to lose our starting spot. None of us want third string.
Christ was on a road one day and a few guys on his team were arguing over who was going to have the best positions. Jesus was almost disgusted by their misunderstanding of the game. See, the game Jesus invited them into doesn’t look like any other game you will play in the world. No, the game He invited them into, He said, it is an upside down game. He said: The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
This wasn’t merely a statement of a reality that would one day be true, but more. It was a call from a coach to his team. Jesus calls those who say they are on His team to make themselves last. He calls those on His team to give others water before they themselves drink, let alone play. He calls those on His team to look to assist others to score before they themselves try. He calls those on His team to serve rather than come to be served. This call, frankly is one that none of us want. No one would choose to lose their starting position and hand it to a third string guy and willingly with excitement say “Go crazy, have fun and I will bring you some water when you need it!”
The agony of saying yes to this call has so many implications for our lives and how we live them, that I think it easier for all of us to keep on trying to be first. I saw the agony of this spiritual learning lesson through the eyes of an 11 year old this year. Once his shoulder got better and he was given the ok to head back into the game after 6 weeks of being off, he was more last than being injured. Now he could play, but he lost his spot and he had to battle back to be first. What a mind game… one we play all the time in all sorts of weird ways in all aspects of life.
I couldn’t hear the call of Christ to be last and in my right mind make this whole circumstance for Aidan all about Nike’s mantra “Just do it” and Russell Wilson’s “Why not you?” That kind of inspirational blah blah blah wasn’t what Jesus was inviting us into. It is not that Jesus is a pansy and doesn’t care about us doing our best, working hard and believing upon Him for good, big things. It is just that God is often up to something bigger and deeper than just the success we pursue. He is usually up to something on the inside, in our character, which is often way more challenging to work toward. If I sat down with Aidan and made this entire “opportunity” about what he could do to get to number one, what then am I calling him to? I am calling him to be like the teammates that were arguing with Coach Jesus about their positions. God was calling us to something more. And it was this.
I sat down with Aidan and I said “What stats are you going to celebrate after today’s game?”
He said “What do you mean?”
I said “Normally players measure their stats in tackles, yards run, touchdowns, interceptions, right?… How will you measure your stats now?”
He said “ I don’t know.”
Out of nowhere this idea came to me and I suggested, “You have to change your stats. This can’t be about field goals kicked, plays run, none of that. This has to be about something else…..” Where was I going with this, I wondered. I was learning too. And then it hit me. “What does God care about? He could give a rip if you are a good football player. Do you know that?”
I don’t think Aidan liked the idea that God doesn’t care about being good at football, but he will one day. And Aidan knew I was right. I said “What does God care about?” He said “That I am good to people.” His answer might be a good answer but living it doesn’t come any easier for him than it does for you and I.
I said “Yes, Aidan God cares that You love Him and love others. Jesus summarized all that is important in life in those two things . Those are our stats! After your game the only thing I am going to ask you is, did you love God and love others?”
So our conversations after every game became less about scores, outcome and performance on the field, but more… love. Did you respect your coach? Did you say good job to your teammates? Those kids of things were all we talked about…
So in the midst of injury, disappointment and changing positions, we changed our stats. And I say this out loud, right now, right here, to you because you need to change your stats.
The stats in which you measure yourself are ever changing and when you find yourself failing, when you find your identity wavering because your position has changed, when you aren’t doing what you had hoped you would, those stats, those measurements, those numbers won’t identify your value in the game, if these stats are. Your stats need to be changed so that no matter what team you find yourself playing with, no matter what position handed you, no matter the score, you can always play, you always have a role and you always know who your coach is. When you change your stats, the financials no longer measure your success, the booked calendar no longer calls you by name, the phone that doesn’t ring has no power, the scale’s numbers don’t scream ugly words at you, and the titles behind your name no longer define your worth. You are right, you can keep looking at all the other stats everyone else does, or you can play the upside down game Jesus invites you into and play for different stats. It is then that no matter the position or the game, you will win. The best Coach says so.
Change your stats, its the stud-liest thing you can ever do. It takes more guts than going for the win. It takes biceps beyond what you can manufacture in a gym. It takes courage to follow The Coach and serve the team, to the point of personal sacrifice for that of living Love.
Those are your stats.