You can’t change the past. Theoretically, you really can’t get rid of your regrets. So the question is not how to get rid of them, the question is how will you respond to them?
Tonight is going to be an incredible moment for me. For the past three seasons I have served the Christian Heritage Lions football team as chaplain. My journey with them through a 1-9 season in 2016, and the loss of my dad in 2017, serves as the personal context for my new book Pulse. Pulse began as a collection of pre-game devotionals I shared with the team. Those talks seemed to take on a life of their own and I quickly penned the book Lionheart to record those talks, document that season, and preserve them as a gift to our team and coaches during that difficult but incredible season.
One of those talks, now refined over the past two years, has made its way into Pulse, chapter 4 entitled Toughness. In that chapter I tell the story of my quitting football after my freshman season. Here’s the story as it appears in Pulse.
Adversity Leads to Your Advancement
The unwritten question in 1 Samuel 18 is this: Will David quit or will he advance to be the king? Most would gladly welcome the advancement to the throne, but very few are fit for the necessary adversity leading to such an advancement.
Earlier, I said I’d share a story of failure from my life. I made a bad decision due to my lack of toughness, and as a result, I did not advance.
When I was in eighth grade, our high school football team had a disastrous 0-10 season. In fact, throughout the 1980s, Ringgold High School was the perennial toilet bowl of Northwest Georgia football. Don Patterson had been head coach for almost 25 years at the time. I remember our school having a special ceremony celebrating Coach Patterson’s 100th win. Of course, that’s a great accomplishment and coach was a great man, but if you do the math you realize that taking 25 years to win 100 games means that he suffered through a lot of losing seasons. All that to say, our team was not very good.
So as my freshman year of high school approached, in an attempt to build a better team, the administration made a change in policy. Students no longer had to try out for the team, and there would be no cuts. Any student who came out would be on the team.
My parents had never allowed me to play “official” football before, but I was involved in the almost daily neighborhood brawls known as backyard football. I loved the game. And so, seeing that there were no tryouts or cuts, I signed up for football on the second day of school. When I informed my parents, Dad was excited. Mom, not so much.
I soon learned that the game we played in the neighborhood was not the same game they were playing in the high school stadium!
On the first day of practice, I showed up with about a hundred other guys. There were so many players that we were divided into three teams. First, the freshman team was full of awkward ninth graders. Next, the junior varsity team was composed of two very good ninth graders, all of the tenth graders, and some terrible juniors. Finally, the varsity team consisted exclusively of juniors and seniors. Unless you were a phenom, you had zero chance of playing on the varsity team until your junior year. Though I had played plenty of sports growing up, the word phenom had never been attached to my name.
Early on, I did hold my own. While not a spectacular athlete, I was well-rounded enough to pick up football fairly quickly. Soon I was the starting defensive tackle for our freshman team. By midseason, I was playing both defensive tackle and offensive guard. That all sounds great, except I had this one little problem—I hated to practice.
When you’re a freshman on a squad of over a hundred players, that means you must spend the first 45 minutes of practice as a tackling dummy for the varsity team.
Every. Single. Day.
I would go to practice with my stomach in knots because I knew I was about to take another beating from the upperclassmen. Yeah, practice was the pits.
Even worse, the varsity team posted a fairly lousy 4-6 record that year. The coaches were always in a foul mood, and they took it out on us. I wasn’t even involved in the Friday night games (I was sitting in the bleachers). Still, I was punished severely the following Monday for what happened on the field! The word hate doesn’t even come close to describing how I felt about football practice.
The freshman team finished our season a few weeks before the varsity team. After our last game, something happened. For eight weeks, the head honcho, Coach Patterson, didn’t know we freshmen even existed. It seemed he had no idea we were on the practice field. I honestly don’t think he even knew we were in the county! His focus had been strictly on the varsity players. But for some odd reason, in week eight, he found us.
Coach Patterson lined us up and told us to take a knee. I momentarily thought that maybe he was about to ask for our forgiveness for the way he and the other coaches had treated us (FYI, football coaches don’t ask for forgiveness). But instead of leading us in a prayer of reconciliation, Coach Patterson issued an impassioned invitation to rise up. He made a deal with us. If we continued to practice the next few weeks, he would allow us to dress out with the varsity team for the final home game.
Several of the guys expressed great excitement about this deal. I was not one of them. In fact, my mama would have spanked me hard if I had verbalized some of the words that were running through my mind in that moment. Did I mention how much I hated practice? Not only that, but I also saw so many other guys ahead of me, and so much hard work. Plus, I wasn’t fond of the idea of enduring so many losing seasons swirling about in the perennial toilet bowl of Northwest Georgia football.
So I turned in my pads and quit. I thought it was too tough.
The next season, the varsity team went 5-5, which I thought validated my decision. All season, I was the guy sitting in the stands on Friday nights telling other people that I “would play” if the team were better and that I was “pretty good” but I knew it would be a waste of time. I criticized the coaches and laughed at the losses. I was “that” guy.
The next season, when I was a junior, the varsity team went 9-1. The only loss came to division rival Dalton High School. Not only did they have a fantastic season, but they also hosted the first ever playoff game in Ringgold football history. At the time, only two teams could make it to the playoffs from each region. In the history of the school, Ringgold had never won the region or even finished second.
I’ll never forget sitting in the bleachers during the last regular season win. The game was well in hand, and the 9-1 season was virtually certain. Then, suddenly, the announcer came over the PA and informed the crowd that Dalton had lost their game that night, finishing their season with an 8-2 record. That meant that Ringgold had won the region for the first time ever and would be hosting it’s first ever playoff game—without me.
When this announcement boomed into the stadium, there I was sitting in the bleachers. The celebration ensued on the field while I was stuck in the stands because two seasons prior, I’d quit. I missed out on advancement because I was not willing to suffer the adversity. That terrible decision to quit remains one of the biggest regrets of my life.
However, something good and formative resulted from the experience. I learned a tremendous lesson. From that day on, I determined that I would never again be a quitter. I’ve already achieved many of my dreams and goals, like publishing books, pastoring a growing church, and meeting some incredible people. But I still have a long way to go before I grab on to all my dreams, some of which seem to be way beyond my reach. But I promise you this, I will not quit.
I hope you join me in that commitment. Men, we’ve got to be tough. We’ve got to endure. We’ve got to face adversity head on, realizing that it’s shaping, forming, and preparing us to fulfill our callings. We must remember that God will use our adversity to advance us for his glory.
Last Friday, in my pre-game talk, I shared that story once again and about the regret of missing that home playoff game during my junior year of high school. Had I persevered through the adversity I would have been on the field with my friends rather than sitting in the bleachers with the fans. That was 1990! That’s a long time to live with regret.
And now here I am in 2018, having constantly replayed that regret in my mind through the years (especially during football season). Now much older and wiser, hopefully a little tougher, I have given my life to serve others; especially into serving student athletes hopefully helping them avoid some regrets. I lost my chance to play in a home playoff game. There is always something lost in our mistakes, but because of my response, here I am 28 years later – tonight I will be part of a team, standing on the sidelines during a home playoff game; the first in CHS history! God is good!
Last Thursday morning our team burned their regrets. Each player had an opportunity to write down a few of their personal regrets and burn them before their teammates. I penned my regret on a small note and shared it with our guys during last week’s pre-game. The guys told me, “Coach, after the game we are going to burn your regret.” Even as we came out of the locker room at the half, down by a touchdown, our players kept telling me they were going to win the game and burn my regret. They came from behind and won the game! Over the past 3 season, our guys have learned how to be tough and face adversity.
After the game, in the locker room, those players surrounded me and we burned my regret! I’ll never forget that moment.
Thank you 2016 LIONHEARTS! Thank you LIONS! Thank you GOD!
You may not be able to rid yourself of your regrets, but the way your respond to them can make all the difference. There is a lot in life bigger than football; never forget that God has an amazing way of bringing faithfulness full circle in every venue of life. Persevere through the adversity – He will use it for your advancement.
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