It felt like a kick in the gut. Better yet, it felt like being kicked repeatedly while on the ground. That’s what New Years Day 2015 felt like for every FSU fan. I can’t deny feeling sick to my stomach for a few days. Even a full day in Chokoloskee fishing the saltwater flats couldn’t shake my blues after such a loss. I stayed away from social media, knowing the merciless comments would drive me to feel hatred in my heart for any ‘friends’ who reveled in the defeat.
But, beyond the agonizing second half that seemed to never end, beyond the images that still play in my head of Florida State players fumbling and falling ridiculously and repeatedly, beyond the nasty words that flew from everyone’s lips post game about the team I was taught to stand behind was another kind of pain. A pain that ached inside me but remained nameless until tonight. The pain spoke out the words that had tortured me since watching the playoff game: “Why did they have to lose like that?”
It’s no secret that the entire world wanted FSU to lose that game. The media did a tremendous job painting evil all over a team who happened to win games when others did not, led by a quarterback forever cursed by the spotlight on his own legacy of mistakes (Lord have mercy, Media–Please talk about anyone else already! The SEC leads in player arrests but you won’t hear me ever cursing their players.) The truth is everyone got to watch FSU’s one unforgivable crappy game in the playoffs. Oregon’s one crappy game came in October against Arizona. Ohio State’s dud was in September against Virginia Tech. The Infamous Alabama? Ole Miss in October. But the ugly truth is that FSU’s crappy game also came with a swift roundhouse kick to the face from the rest of the world.
Jameis’ perfect college career had to end with an embarrassing performance. FSU’s perfect season had to end with a horribly played game. Undeniably some of the nation’s best players had to play their worst game on the national stage. Why did it have to be this way?
Although I’ve never played ball in a championship game, I have stood toe-to-toe with what I thought was my destiny and fallen flat on my face. I’ve practiced hard for something I wanted more than anything else in that moment, but when my moment came I couldn’t give my very best. And that felt worse than losing in the first place. I don’t think I would have minded losing in those moments if I could have said I gave my very best shot.
In these times, I remember always asking the Lord why did it have to end that way–if it was His will for me to lose, why couldn’t he have allowed me to lose having done my best work and with nothing left to give.
Meanwhile, about 2,000 years ago, a man died for your sins, my sins, and a guy named Jameis’ sins. He didn’t just die though. He died a slow and painful death on a cross after having felt the pain of being whipped and beaten, the embarrassment of being stripped of his clothes and mocked by all who could see him. To put it in perspective, his death was the death that trumps all deaths. A kick while he was already down. Did I mention the man was blameless, without sin, and perfect?
My faith tells me that a flawless sacrifice was required so that I might be saved from my own flaws and come to know the God who calls for nothing less than His righteous standards. But did that sacrifice have to be so brutal? Couldn’t God have just taken Jesus to some babbling brook and put him to sleep right then and there? Why did Christ have to experience a horrible death when his death alone was what was needed?
The answer that came to me tonight: Pride.
Although Christ was sinless and pure in his actions, God allowed him to die the most humble of deaths as a picture of what its like to be completely rung dry of any drop of pride that comes from performance. As good of a life Jesus lived, Jesus died a death that matched it. No one could say he got away from this life feeling like the righteous Son of God. With every sin of the world on his shoulders, Christ was crucified as though he himself had committed the worst of sins. You can’t feel proud of that, even if you know you’re unfairly accused.
In the moments when I thought I was robbed of my best shot at something I wanted, I was really being blessed with the unseen blessing of being robbed of my pride. God knows the shoots that grow from the root of pride, and he abhors pride for keeping us from trusting in Him completely. I hated that I had to experience defeat in what felt like the worst way, but I do know that the humility that came from those defeats developed my character more than a “quality loss” would have. Furthermore, that humility led me to trust God to carry me out of those dark moments. I honestly don’t think that I would have turned to the Lord in the same if I had thought I had done my best job and still have lost.
To make the comparison, it’s like when I won “First Runner-Up” in the county pageant. I never look back and think, “Man, I was 1st-loser that day!” Instead, I felt proud for losing to the best. No humility was felt from not winning the pageant when I could say I performed to the best of my abilities.
So on the third day of 2015, God finally gave me an answer to the question I’ve asked him for years now. Even after He showed me why my life couldn’t go as I had hoped it would, I still wrestled with why I had to live with the memories of my worst efforts when I could have at least given my best and still lived with the same results. Alas, I think I finally understand why He allowed me to fall in front of everyone instead of fly like I could have.
Pride does not come from winning. Pride comes from self sufficiency and performance. I cannot move or take another breath without God. I can’t type another letter without Him allowing it. My best efforts and worst efforts flow from His hands, and I can’t stop turning in need to Him.
I think it was safe to say that Jameis Winston wasn’t the world’s humblest man before January 1, 2015. Might he have struggled with pride? That’s between him and Jesus. I don’t know that God was teaching the entire FSU football team a humility lesson by allowing them to lose like they did, but I wouldn’t put it past God to use a game like that to teach me one.