Wednesday, January 26, 2005

On the Losing End

While waiting for my son's bus to arrive from an away basketball game last night, I saw that there was a game being played inside the school. So, I went in to check it out. It turned out to be the 8th Grade girls team finishing up their game. I didn't really know anybody playing, but I figured I'd see what was going on since I was just waiting anyway. I walked in the gym and stood beside a couple of men who were watching the game from the corner. I turned to the scoreboard and saw that it was the fourth quarter with 2:30 left. Then I noticed the score. We were winning. Really winning. The scoreboard read 47-3.

I immediately asked the guy standing next to me if the score was right. He assured me it was. I told him that my immediate reaction was that there were some lights burned out on the scoreboard. He and the guy next to him each chuckled softly. But even though we were all pleased that our team was doing so well, we all knew that it wasn't exactly good sportsmanship to be laughing at the other team's performance. In fact, I believe we all were a little awkward -- especially considering we were standing right beside the bleachers containing fans from the other school! But that scoreboard looked so strange.

I've been on both sides of that scoreboard. I don't remember a 47-3 score, but I've been a part of teams who have gotten soundly thumped. And I've been on a baseball team winning so easily that he allowed the starters to play at whatever position they wanted during the last inning. I remember how lousy it feels to get thumped and how good it feels to do the thumping. And there's another feeling that I've experienced. It's the feeling of slight embarassment of doing too well, almost unintentionally rubbing it in.

One of our boys played flag football one year where he was clearly the best player on the team. Now this was a typical team of 5 or 6 year-olds where the coaches try to get everybody a chance to play and to carry the ball. And I could see my son's coach trying to do that, but it seemed that my boy ended up getting the ball every other time. And he'd run for a touchdown almost every time. And as parents we were extremely proud the first couple of times. Then after about the fifth or sixth touchdown we started to feel it. Whether or not it was true, we felt the nasty glances and icy stares of the other parents -- on our own team and on the opposition. It may have been completely in our imaginations but we just knew it. We told each other, "Isn't it time to take him out for a few plays?" Anything to get the focus on some of the other kids for a while.

While winning big can be fun (and occasionally a little uncomfortable), losing big is no picnic. Disappointment is a hard pill to swallow. Failure can almost choke you. But we all experience the lows as well as the highs. Sometimes it seems like forever since your last big win. But God comforts us in our disappointments and our failures.

God doesn't always answer our prayers the way we want. Sicknesses linger. People die. Games are lost. Yet God tells us that He will never leave us. He will never turn us loose.

Sometimes we fall flat on our faces. We fail after putting too little preparation into a project. We lose out even after doing our very best. Yet God provides the comfort. God provides the peace.

One of my favorite authors is Philip Yancey. He has written many books with titles like, Where Is God When It Hurts? and Disappointment with God. And through many explorations on the same theme the answer comes out the same -- He's right there to help you through.

The score of the game ended up as 49-8. The other team hit a couple of late baskets and almost hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer which would have run their score into double digits. I'd bet it was a long bus ride home after that loss.

I'm eternally grateful that God rides that bus with me.

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