When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough
It happens to ALL athletes in ALL sports. There comes a day and time when they just don’t cut it anymore.
For me, that came my senior year in high school. I was expected to be the No. 1 or No. 2 starting pitcher that year, and play 3B when I wasn’t on the bump. We had just completed winter conditioning and had been released by the GHSA to begin to throw and hit and workout before the season. I remember the day vividly. I was in the right field bullpen, and I toed the rubber. I threw a fastball to the catcher, and immediately felt something tear in my shoulder. I knew I was done. As it turned out, I tore my rotator cuff. I didn’t have to have surgery to be able to play some infield and hit, but I couldn’t throw hard or far. I ended up platooning at third that season, and played some DH. My pitching career was over, and for all intents and purposes, so was my baseball career.
For me, an injury ended my playing career. But, even if I hadn’t had the injury, it’s likely I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play at the college level. I wasn’t good enough anymore. And, that is the case for 99 percent of athletes when their careers end. Only a select few leave a sport on their own terms.
Facing the end of your sports career can be tough. If a player gives up a sport because they just don’t love it anymore, it’s another story. But to not be asked to play (not making a team, or not getting an opportunity to play in college) is a humbling experience, and can truly crush your spirit. You wonder, “What am I going to do now? I’ve always played this sport. It’s part of who I am. Now I feel lost.”
When we grow up our entire lives basing our personal value on our skill level in a particular sport (or job), we set ourselves up for major trouble later. We often believe our worth is wrapped up in what we offer to the team, or in personal accolades. When the sport is out of our everyday lives, we can struggle with our confidence and fail to see what else God has put in front of us.
The danger of working in a system of that rewards performance (any sport), is that we can begin to take a similar approach in our walk with God. We can buy into the myth that the more good we do, the more we gain favor with our Heavenly Father. If I pray today, give a tithe, perform an act of kindness, read my Bible or devotional, then God loves me “extra.” When I sin, when I let someone down, when I opt to go to the ballgame instead of my small group, then I disappoint God. And, if I get in a pattern of “not doing the right things,” I fool myself into believing I’m too far removed from God to have communion with Him.
The greatest news ever is that once I accept Jesus as my Savior, I can never do enough for Him to love me more, and I can never fail so miserably that He loves me less.
Paul wrote this to the Church at Ephesus:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)
Thank you God! Your free gift of salvation comes with the assurance that I can never lose my place as an heir of the Kingdom of heaven! Does that mean I don’t do good for others? Does it mean I don’t encourage and provide hope to those hurting? Does it mean I don’t give generously and sacrificially to help reach others with this same good news? Of course not! It simply means that we will ALWAYS fall short in some form or fashion, and that God chooses to offer us grace instead of condemnation.
Are you nearing the end of your sports career? If not, you will someday. If you’ve long been away from the playing field, I hope you can look back on your career – however long or short – and smile. It, too, was a gift.
C.A. Phillips is a lifelong sports enthusiast and youth baseball coach, and currently serves as the Communications Pastor and Director of Men’s Groups at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Ga. He lives in Kennesaw with his wife, Amy, and his two sons, Chaz and Chandler.
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