I grew up in a house with sports on the television more than any other programming. Before picture in a picture was developed, it wasn’t at all uncommon for my dad to have two televisions perched in the front of the room so he could watch two games at the same time. Fun for our family typically involved being at a sporting event and we followed my brother’s baseball career all the way through college (then my son’s and now my nephew’s as well)! I chose my alma mater as a sophomore in high school when I attended my first University of Tennessee football game with little to no interest in what could be provided for me academically. Thank goodness I still got a good education, as well as getting to watch a lot of really great football games. During my time there, the stadium held close to 100,000 people and every seat was filled (ah….the good old days!) It was an energy like I’d never experienced before and I still get teary when our guys take the field running through the famous “T”. I love sports, I love the SEC and I love the Tennessee Volunteers.
In recent years, my favorite team has been in a “rebuilding” state as the media and coaches like to call it. In other words, we haven’t been very good. In my limited football knowledge, one of our greatest weaknesses has appeared to be our offensive line and as a result our quarterback has been blindsided way more often than anyone would want. Each time we see him flat on his back behind the line of scrimmage, I always hold my breath a little. I tend to watch as a fan AND as a mother. I’m always reminded in those moments that these are just kids….someone’s baby out there. I can’t stand to see them get hurt and my heart always bleeds a little with big hits. It’s a tough sport. As much as it hurts me to watch the quarterback go down, I’m equally touched by his ability to get up and get back in there play after play, even after taking hits he never saw coming. It’s grit and perseverance on full display. But sometimes, the blind side can take a player out of the game for a few downs, a season, or forever.
One of the reasons I love sports is because I think they so often provide such great metaphors for life. The blindside is no exception. Unfortunately in life we can almost guarantee that we are either going through something, coming out of something or about to go through something challenging and, at times, debilitating. Job loss, difficulties with children, personal illnesses, crumbling marriages, failed friendships, or death of loved ones are a few things that can take us out of the game for a while. Those are some of the “big hits”. But often, a blind side simply comes in the form of another person behaving in a way we never saw coming that’s not nearly as serious, but can have paralyzing effect nonetheless. For example, how do we respond when someone says something that hurts us to the core, but it’s completely unintentional or unrecognized on his or her part? What about when we are feeling particularly lonely and we hop on social media only to see a few of our friends together at an event we weren’t invited to? Or when bosses, pastors, politicians or other people in positions of power behave poorly and leave us disillusioned with something we’ve put our hope and trust in? Those situations can sometimes hurt just as badly.
Knowing that life is full of blindsides, what are we supposed to do? Do we bunker down in our homes with no interaction with the outside world in hopes that we can avoid them all together? Do we harden our hearts so we never love other people who might be capable of destroying us emotionally? Do we take ourselves out of the game all together?
Athletes never walk in to a game without logging hours of practice first. They are prepared and anticipate what might happen once they take the field or the court. They are taught to practice exactly like they’ll play in the game. If they practice lazy or ignore the plan the coach gives them, chances are they’ll play that way. Our lives should be no different. In Ephesians we are reminded to: “Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.” (Ephesians 6:13-18 Message translation) And in James we are told, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4) We are not told in Scripture “if” tests and challenges come our way to be prepared, but “when” tests and challenges come our way. None of us is immune to the blindside, but we all have a chance to be ready for it.
How is your practice looking these days? Are you making the effort to be sure you are putting on the right spiritual equipment and preparing your mind for the perseverance that living in faith will take? Are you encouraging others so none of them drops out of the game? Are you coaching those who have less experience than you and reminding them to keep going even when it hurts?
On Saturday, my team was able to beat a ranked SEC team in a game that was arguably our best performance of the season. After a “hail mary” play that resulted in a touchdown close to the buzzer heading in to half time, our quarterback let loose emotion that could only be described as pure joy and happiness. He was later captured by the camera only to hear him say, “This is why I came here!” It’s likely in those moments that all of the time on the ground from blindsides seems worth it. The hits don’t hurt nearly as badly when the outcome is a win. Life is full of heartache and pain. But it’s also full of joy and abundance and an eternal hope if we are believers. We can dwell on the moments we are lying on our backs, or we can celebrate the victories and focus on the end game. If you’ve read the back of the play book….we win!
I pray your blindside days are behind you.....but it's best to be prepared as if they are not. Practice hard, put on the equipment, encourage others and stay in the game. An unexpected celebration may be just around the corner.