It was a muggy September night in Baldwyn, Mississippi, when I led my football team into a third overtime. I had just completed a touchdown pass on fourth down in the previous overtime to take us into a third. I wiped the sweat running down my face and removed my mouthpiece to deliver the play. With confidence, I called the play. “Forty-five veer on one,” I told my teammates in the huddle. It was our most productive, most reliable play. As the quarterback, it was my responsibility to make sure my teammates were lined up before taking the snap. Once the players were in place, I shouted the audible. The next thing I remember is being in a pile fighting for the ball. I fumbled the snap. The other team recovered it, and we had our first loss in six games. After a moment of pure bliss from succeeding on the previous fourth down, I hit the depth of a despair from failing on this one.
My coaches and teammates were as disappointed as I was. But I was upset with myself. Once I recovered from the shock, I began playing the fumbled snap in my mind. I quickly realized how I took such a routine task for granted. I had taken thousands of snaps before and simply ignored the most basic steps. My overconfidence in my abilities had essentially lost the game.
Our team huddled together as we always did at the end of a game for our coaches would offer us correction and encouragement. Our coach’s mindset was to coach us to be men first and football players second. In that huddle, it was like the coach was reading my mind. He said, “No one play or one player wins or loses a game. Winning and losing is a combined effort.” Even though my fumble was the final play, my teammates took some of the burden and blame, saying they could have played better to get the win. Through hearing them, I was reminded that we were never meant to walk through this life alone. We were designed for companionship.
God certainly used this football game to mold my character. He reminded me of the importance of life and relationships. To see the encouragement from my teammates and their individual examinations after the loss was a living example of the character growth that comes from the great game of football. Football is “just a game,” to some. But it is so much more for those who play. For many young men, a football coach can fill the role of a father figure by offering guidance, correction, affirmation, and discipline. A coach once told me it is not the highs and lows that define us, but it is how we respond to them.
Life’s lows are filled with disappointments. But it is in those times we should make a conscious effort to be sensitive to what Jesus is trying to teach us. Each valley, each failure offers an opportunity to learn something about our Savior. Sometimes it is the value of companionship. Sometimes it is learning to lean on Him for comfort. Jesus used my fourth down failure to remind me of the importance of the fundamentals of living life as a Christian: praying to Him, studying His Word, and even thanking my wife for doing the laundry. Every time I have moved away from the fundamentals of my Christian faith I have brought on disappointment, and many times frustration, that could have been avoided. We should allow each disappointment to be a teaching moment in our sanctification process. When we find ourselves drifting away from the foundation of Jesus, we need to be quick to repent and turn to Him.
John 15:1-5 illustrates this beautifully, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”