“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” – Tyler Durden
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
Last night, our baseball team got ‘punched in the mouth,’ metaphorically speaking. After an undefeated regular season, where they proved themselves the best team in the league, they lost in their first playoff game. My boy pitched and gave up more runs in the first inning (2) than he had given up all year combined (1). Baseball (and all sports, really) is so wonderful because it can be just the best, complete euphoria in one moment, and rip your heart out, stomp on it, and leaving it lying on the floor the next.
So. They lost, and I don’t mind too much. Sure, I’m shocked and more than a little disappointed, but there has always been something more to learn here. It’s easy when things go right, everyone can pitch a 1-2-3 inning, go 4-4. The thing I’ve always been concerned with is what happens when you lose, when you’re in a slump, when you give up a home run. What do you do then?
The passage that’s taking me apart lately is in Romans 5: “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”
Suffering is also translated tribulations, or trials, and that sounds so big and dramatic – but it’s really anything that goes wrong, an obstacle, an illness, a loss in a playoff game for a 12 year old. It’s any and all fights, anytime you get punched in the mouth. And life does it to us all the time.
And it absolutely reveals who we are.
So, who are we? This team will find out – it’s a double elimination, our season isn’t over. We had a plan, and now we’re going to have to have a new one, but this one is much more interesting to me. I can’t wait to see how these boys respond. We are coaching baseball, and that’s important, because baseball is awesome, but the best coaches are (far more importantly) teaching capital-L Life. I don’t pretend to be one of the best coaches, but what I can do is invite these boys into the bigger story, one where this game is preparing them for THAT day (you know THAT day, right?) That day, when the worst-case is reality, when you are buried under an avalanche of pressure, anxiety, pain, drowning in your own tears – when life suffocates and constricts. Now what?
What I’m learning in Romans (and in Fight Club) is that suffering reveals who we are, but it also refines us, shapes us into who we will be. The stressors and tests are too gracious, doling out numerous opportunities for growth, punching us in the mouth, knocking us down, over and over, offering us the chance (and the choice, especially the choice) to pull ourselves up.
Last night, my oldest had a bit of a tough night on the mound (like everyone does), and he also made 2 stellar plays at 3rd base, and had 3 scorched hits.
My youngest made 2 (very uncharacteristic) errors, struck out, and never wavered for a second, in himself or his teammates.
I’m very proud of them, it takes character to lose with class and honor, giving everything and never giving up. But there is another whose character I can’t shake.
This boy, after giving up 2 home runs, stood, visibly shaken, tearful, on the loneliest place in sports – the pitcher’s mound, with everyone watching. But he stood, and came right back with strike one to the next hitter.
We may lose tonight, or tomorrow, and not win the championship I would’ve sworn was ours – the best team doesn’t always win. And maybe we were never the best team, after all, despite the wins.
But I’m more convinced a championship trophy doesn’t matter. It is in that boy, gathering the strength to remain standing, that we all prevail.