In this “season of absolutes,” where candidates vie for the title of “Leader of the Free World,” teams battle to be “World Series Champion” and contestants compete for the distinction of “Ultimate Survivor,” we are encouraged, and maybe even begin, to believe one mantra.
Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. -Vince Lombardi
There seems to be no place for second best in the world today. If you don’t win at something, you either didn’t try hard enough or aren’t good enough. Whichever you choose to be the case, doesn’t allow much room for effort, circumstances, grace or heart.
I played sports throughout my childhood, ran for a number of school offices and competed in a multitude of events. Although I would like to think I won more than I lost, there never seemed to be a substitute for first place. I was either a winner or I was a loser. To add to my disappointments when I didn’t win, I was instructed to be a “good” loser.
Even to this day, I hear well-meaning coaches, parents and friends instructing young people in this way, almost apologetically.
Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser. -Vince Lombardi
A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a conference listening to a Christian speaker with whom I was unfamiliar. He perked my attention because he spoke of this identical dilemma he faced as a child of being taught there was no alternative to winning, but in the event he doesn’t win to be a good loser about it. He asked himself and queried us, “Why would I or anyone want to be good at losing?”
That one question he posed made me consider how I pursue winning, success and accomplishments, and how I evaluate losses and disappointments in my life.
At times, it seems as if some of our churches today have propagated the notion that as Christians we should be “good losers,” accepting of failure and tolerate a less than complete effort.
Luke 6:29 becomes the justification for a portion of that mindset, “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” However, this passage speaks of being merciful and loving towards your enemies, not having a lower standard by which to live by or thinking less of yourself in comparison to others.
Another defense is the passage from the Parable of Workers in the Vineyard, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). The landowner was making the point it was his decision and his alone as to what he was to do with his money, and for us to live up to what we agree to do without regard to what others have arranged. This verse isn’t an excuse for not doing our best or striving to be all we were meant to be.
Jesus didn’t come to just “get by,” be a part of the crowd and lead a life that was just satisfactory.
When His mother told Him “John 2,” at the wedding, He didn’t just come up with a bottle or two. According to many He produced approximately one hundred gallons of wine (six pots holding two or three firkins, thought to be about 7-1/2 gallons per firkin).
Jesus was alerted there were five thousand hungry followers in his midst. He blessed the bread and fish He received from a boy and “They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Matthew 15:37).
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break (Luke 5:4-6).
Because we are Christians, it doesn’t mean we should be accepting of a less than hundred percent effort or second best in what we do. In fact, we should be living a life above and beyond how our peers do and exemplary to others.
Over the past couple of years, I have had the unique opportunity to participate in the sport of outrigger canoeing. I joined the only “church-affiliated” team within a highly competitive club league. Even though we are determined and rigorously trained with a winning attitude, we aren’t always the most “competitive” in all of our races; however, under the leadership of our Head Coach, Cy Kalama, he has taught us the importance of being gracious losers, not good losers.
As a result of our attitudes and graciousness in losing, we have attracted many paddlers to our club who are not believers, but want to be a part of a group who paddles, competes and lives in a way different than they have seen in other clubs.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9:5).
Consider those individuals you want to be around. Look about to see who others gravitate to. Do people want to be with those who just “get by,” those who cut corners or don’t put their complete effort into what they do?
Most of us have a tendency to want to be around those who are successful, those who are or strive to be winners, those who work and try hard at everything they do, and those who live graciously and make a difference.
Maybe Vince Lombardi’s quotes can be updated with a positive Christian slant.
“Excellence isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
“Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser, but show me a gracious loser and I’ll show you someone who will always be a winner.”
Striving to win and to succeed is not un-Christian-like. In fact, God wants us to be successful using the gifts he blessed us with.
In everything he did he had success, because the Lord was with him (1 Samuel 18:14).
The God of heaven will give us success (Nehemiah 2:20).
Don’t be afraid to put your best foot forward and receive the success and rewards God has called all of us to, but in the face of disappointment (even in relationships) live graciously.
Cliff Young is a contributing writer to Sandlot Stories (ARose Books), as well as the monthly column, "He Said-She Said," in Crosswalk.com's Singles Channel. An architect and former youth worker, he now works with Christian musicians and consults for a number of Christian ministries. Got feedback? Send your comments and questions to email@example.com.
Publication date: November 15, 2012