Every year, there comes a time that coaches dread. It's like clockwork. You work like crazy trying to avoid it; trying to squeeze one more moment out of one more play in order to avoid that sinking feeling. It's a feeling of helplessness. You realize you are not a basketball wizard, that your team was not as capable as you thought, and that it was not, after all, "your year." All the miles traveled scouting, all the hours spent practicing, and all the eyeball rubs from hours of late game watching culminate when the time you have been trying to avoid arrives. It's the time when you look up at the scoreboard, notice that there are only zeros on the clock, and, for some reason, you find yourself at least one point behind. Your season is over. Now, it's time to face the troops, muster up the right words to put a positive spin on a disappointing moment, and then go ask yourself many times, "What might have been?"
There is a familiar frame that many express to make sense out of the end of a season, "Well, there is always next year." Ah, yes. Next year. Next year is full of hope, optimism, and, as it currently stands (with last season just ending), we are undefeated. Maybe next year will be the year.
What can we learn about following Christ from "There is always next year?"
1. Endings are natural. Ecclesiastes 3 states that there is a time for everything, a time to be born (the beginning of a season) and a time to die (the ending of a season). Henry Cloud, in his book Necessary Endings, points out that healthy people understand endings are natural. I used to stew for weeks after a season because I could not let go of what could have been. I actually grew as a coach when I started to let go of the past and focus on the future. We grow as Jesus-followers when we realize that much of life is cyclical. We embrace a moment while it lasts, grieve when it passes, and look forward to God's next assignment in our lives.
2. We are called to "Press On." In Philippians 3, Paul told fellow Christ-followers, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." I believe one of the saddest scenes from a movie occurred in Hoosiers. The character, Shooter, was in a bar reliving the glory days of how he received his nickname. (He missed a game winning shot at the buzzer that would have won his team a sectional championship. Thus, the nickname, "Shooter.") Sadly, Shooter had allowed that moment to shape his life; a "what might have been" athlete turned divorced alcoholic. I wonder how different Shooter's character would have been had he forgotten what was behind and strained for another higher, more noble goal. As a Christ-follower, you are not anything in your past. You are a treasured child of the Most High God. Work to process the past and then press on towards the prize for which God has called you heavenward.
3. Followers of Jesus have a "next year." Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected. Scripture calls his resurrection "first fruits." First fruits indicate that there will be "second fruits." Jesus was the first to defeat death. If we follow Christ, we too will defeat death. Our "next year" will include a place where no tears or heartaches exist. No more scoreboards indicating that we lost. We will live with God and others in Shalom; perfect peace. A Christ-follower's next year is full of true optimism and hope.
In 1992, many Kentucky fans grieved Christian Laettner's last second shot. That shot marked the end of a magical run for a fun-to-watch, over-achieving team. What would have happened if Rick Pitino and the Kentucky program spent the 1992 off-season focusing on "what could have been?" Fortunately, they focused on the next season and a Final Four run began.
An additional thought to "Pressing On"--The Need to Process the Past
As a person who is working towards a degree in counseling, I want to point out that "pressing on" simply does not happen at the snap of fingers. "Pressing on" often requires that we first pause to confront that which is holding us back. We must first look within to identify where our hearts are sick and held captive. If our hearts are sick, pressing on is not possible. Pressing on or embracing "next year" requires that we first process the past. Want to know more about processing the past? I encourage you to read Henry Cloud’s book, Changes that Heal, or Peter Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. You can also check out a sermon I delivered this past Sunday at HBC at http://www.hardinsburgbc.org/current-sermon-series.html. (Scazzero was heavily referenced in the sermon.)
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Hardinsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.