Life Lessons from Football II: Dealing with Disappointment

I mentioned last Sunday that I grew up near Houston. As Houston sports fan, I'll say life was... difficult. Here's some good news: after two consecutive Sundays of noon Cowboys kickoffs, they do not play until tonight; so I have ample time to share life lessons to share about dealing with disappointment! I was a Houston Oilers fan. I believe the terrible sports legacy of Houston began on a cold day in Pittsburgh. 

That was the AFC Championship game in 1980. Mike Renfro was absolutely, 100% in bounds on that play. Had the clear touchdown stood, those teams would have been tied going in to the fourth quarter, and of course the Oilers would have won, meaning they would have played and defeated the Rams in Super Bowl XIV. Instead, this heart breaking injustice jinxed Houston sports for more than two decades. Think about it:

  • In 1983, the powerful, historic Phi Slamma Jamma University of Houston basketball team lost in the NCAA tournament to a random NC State team
  • In 1993 the Oilers blew a 35-3 third quarter lead to the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs, STILL the biggest deficit overcome by an NFL team EVER
  • Astros consistently lose in the playoffs, even swept in their first-ever World Series in 2005 (they finally won a couple of years ago and are heavily favored again this year)
  • The Houston Rockets of the NBA blew a 20-point third quarter lead in a playoff game in 1994, leading both Houston newspapers to coincidentally brand the the city CHOKE CITY in their respective sports sections (The Rockets overcame that terrible loss to win titles in 1994 and 1995, causing the paper to re-brand the town CLUTCH CITY).
But even having a winning team cannot fully erase the disappointment we feel sometimes. Did you hear about the Philadelphia Eagles fan and the apartment fire last week? Hakim Laws is a former firefighter, and when he saw the fire he ran over to help. A man was shouting from a window, saying his kids were still inside. The screaming man threw a baby out of the window, which was caught by Mr Laws. Asked to comment later by a reporter, Mr Laws said, "We was catching them, unlike Agholor and his mishaps. I’d like to put that out there." He's using the moment of heroism to trash a receiver for dropping passes! That's one way to deal with disappointment! He's actually now selling tshirts and sweatshirts marked #UnlikeAgholor!
Proverbs 14: 13, 16, 29, 30
Even in laughter the heart is sad,
   and the end of joy is grief.
The wise are cautious and turn away from evil,
   but the fool throws off restraint and is careless.
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
   but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh,
   but passion makes the bones rot.
"Passion makes the bones rot." It's amazing how much our sports passion can make our bones rot! I was eight years old when Mike Renfro, Dan Pasterini, and Coach Bum Phillips were ROBBED in Pittsburgh. Forty years later, I am still upset. Hey, the theme for today is Dealing with disappointment, not overcoming it! Here's what Coach Dawson of Austin College had to say about it:

Overcoming our disappointment is key to living a grace filled life. Think about the disappointments we sometimes face:
  • family; children disappointed in parents, parents disappointed in children, everyone disappointed at your uncle who cannot keep his racist opinions to himself at Thanksgiving
  • work; not paid enough, not profitable enough, not rewarding or challenging enough. How much do we define ourselves by our work? What happens when it doesn't go well?
  • spiritual; churches disappointed in pastors, pastors disappointed in churches. Members become disappointed when the church takes a stand they disagree with. SueAnn, Marsha, and I were in Kansas City this week, dreaming for a better, more inclusive United Methodist Church; the disappointment from General Conference in February is tangible! Sometimes people feel lost or forgotten within their covenant community. Ever expressed disappointment in God for not coming through for you? How does God feel about us when we sin?
  • humanity; war, famine, injustice, hate, absence of love

The other day I preached at my grandfather's funeral. He was 97, and was one of the most important figures in my life. This is the scripture I shared:
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
Our bodies may disappoint us; broken where they were once whole, wider where they were once thin, worn down by the Texas sun. But God still uses what we see as fragile or less than ideal to do good works. The disappointments we may feel can be used by God for transformation of ourselves or others. People let us down, institutions become less reliable, relationships bend or even break. Disappointment is a part of our lives. But it doesn't have to define us. The good news is even when we fail, God does not give up on us. Our teams may not come through for their devoted fans. Things may not go our way. But the Holy Spirit is always there for us, rebuilding, reshaping, recreating into something beautiful and purposeful.

The next time you feel ripped off by the referees, victimized by society, let down by family or friends, remember: "A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh." Even forty years after the most bitter disappointment, our crushed souls can be revived. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we play!