Losing and Winning
I like to win.
And I hate to lose.
After 30 years of marriage and watching my husband’s football teams, I have become better at managing my emotions when his/our team loses. If we win on Sunday, experience has revealed that Monday through Friday go a little more smoothly for him at work. So, my reasons for wanting our team to win are not entirely selfish. I do want my husband to have a less stressful work environment.
And I have learned to trust God with football game outcomes. Both the great and not-so-great seasons are ripe with spiritual lessons and opportunities to proclaim His goodness, always!
But where I really hate to lose is on the tennis court.
Six years ago, when I first started playing in local women’s tennis leagues, I lost all the time. I didn’t struggle as much with being gracious in defeat because I had so much practice. But lately I am noticing an alarming trend: I expect to win, and when that does not happen, I turn into a sore loser. And I hate that truth even more than I hate losing!
I had a conversation with a new friend a few weeks ago, a former, high-school football coach. I asked him, “Do you miss coaching?” He IMMEDIATELY answered, “No!” and then said nothing more for several minutes.
Breaking the silence, he clarified his answer, ‘’I do miss parts of coaching, but I do not miss the person I was when I coached. I was too competitive.” He also said that he felt like he was compromising his testimony and ability to share Christ with others because of that competitive nature. So, his answer was to walk away from it entirely and change his profession.
My admiration for his bold choice was immense! But the conviction of the Holy Spirit regarding MY competitive nature was unwelcomed!
My internal self-justification monologue went something like this:
“Surely God, You’re not calling me to give up tennis? It’s my only form of consistent exercise!
You know I have viewed tennis as an outlet and an opportunity to share my faith. And, I have even prayed with partners and opponents when they shared their struggles, things totally unrelated to tennis. God, I promise I will honor You better on the court. Please don’t ask me to quit playing tennis.”
Obviously, if God was indeed telling me to stop playing tennis, I chose not to listen.
And since that “conversation”, I do believe I have done better at honoring God while playing league tennis. I do pray that He will help me see my partners and opponents as His precious daughters. And I ask constantly for a greater measure of Holy Spirit-driven self-control during matches. I am not sure that my partners would even know how I struggle with being a sore loser. Although I’m quite certain that all of them would unequivocally say I was competitive.
But I still hate that it is such a struggle to lose graciously. I felt this discontent quite keenly yesterday after a loss. I said all the right things to our opponents, but immediately after they left, I complained to my partner and teammates about the match. As I was driving home, I confessed to God again that I was acting like a sore loser, and tried to push it out of my mind.
I truly want to have good sportsmanship on the court. I want to admire God’s workmanship in all the precious daughters I encounter. I want the words that I say during the match to come from a place of authentic praise for how He made them and the abilities He has given to them. In short, I want my inside feelings to match my outside behavior. But sadly, I have proven that I am unable to do this on my own.
So, this morning I asked Jesus what He thought about my struggle? He led me to look at Psalm 23. Yes, the familiar shepherd Psalm.
Psalm 23: A psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
On a first read through, I wasn’t perceiving any correlation between my competitiveness and green pastures and quiet waters. I read it a second time and began to see that my sore-loser mentality stemmed from a misplaced focus.
Because the Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. However, when I lose a tennis match, my ego complies a whole list of things that I lack: the win, the approval of my teammates, bragging rights, recognition of my skills… I think you get the point.
Psalm 23 assures me that the Lord provides, protects and directs. He also comforts me, corrects me when I am wandering and promises His presence in the midst of my worst fears or hardest trials. And if that is not already enough, I am seated at a table, one prepared by the Lord – a heavenly banquet that is specifically designed for my tastes!
When I am in sore-loser mode I am choosing to focus on what is not on the table. But Jesus is pointing me to focus on the FEAST!
Of course this truth, to choose to focus on what the Lord has given and promised me rather than on temporary successes is repeated throughout scripture (See 2 Cor 4:17-18 , Hebrews 12:1-3 ). And my competitiveness does need to be refined if I truly want to represent Christ well in all that I do. I am continuing to ask the Lord to redirect my focus in every aspect of my life, because I know that my sin nature wants to embrace what is truly insignificant, when compared to the glorious riches of Christ.
Even after acknowledging my wrong focus, I still felt like there was something else driving my poor attitude in losing. Prayerfully, I asked to Lord to help me get to the root of my sore-loser mindset. He showed me that it started when things in my personal life were just really hard. I prayed and fasted and asked the Lord to change my circumstances, but when things weren’t happening as quickly as I wanted, I thought I deserved a win in something, in anything. I wanted wins in tennis as a reward for enduring these hard things.
What?! Yes, I felt like God owed me a win in something as insignificant as a local tennis match because I had faithfully persevered in some difficult circumstances. I had no idea this lie had seeped into my thinking! And I certainly don’t like how it plays out in my life.
Believing this lie set me up to be disappointed in God and to doubt His goodness.
The TRUTH, clearly stated in verse 6, is that the Lord has a MUCH, MUCH better reward in mind: to surround me with His goodness and love and I get to live with Him, forever!
For now, I am asking the Lord to reveal any other lies about Him that I might be holding onto, especially in regards to wins and losses here on Earth. And I am still playing tennis, but with a much different focus. I still want to win, but I am praying that above all, I will represent my Jesus well, so that even in losing, He is winning!