If you were ever an athlete or merely attended a local high school, you know trophy cases. Trophy cases aren’t ones to be kept in the back next to the janitor’s closet. They demand attention, respect, and admiration for the legacy of winning. Victory is the name of the game: mausoleums reflecting youthful grins, forever frozen in time, covered with sweat and grit. Success preserved – should you forget. However, as beautiful, shiny, and transparent as the glass cases of magnificence are, there is certainly a weight to be shouldered.
Athletes fly through the air with the strength of a linebacker and the grace of a ballerina. Excellence pumps through their veins because of their inexhaustible sheer love of the game. They sacrifice time with friends and family, are disciplined to spend extra time on academia, and push their physical boundaries in the name of realized potential. There is nothing more devastating than a promising athlete being taken out of the game too soon.
Bones snap, muscles tear, and medical conditions are dealt. Every athlete knows it only takes one wrong move – even in the tiniest of missteps – to hear the final buzzer. And once it’s all over, the silence, the free time, the limitation is deafening. So many athletes struggle tremendously after hanging up their jersey for the last time – whether of their own volition or through gritted teeth. Purpose seems to slip through the fingers of these once conquerors of the field. Mortality tastes acidic when you’ve savored the flavor of the remarkable.
Such a transition is heartbreaking, no matter the circumstances. However, it is a million times more painful when you have a distorted view of identity. “Athlete” is a title, much like “Accountant,” “Barista,” “CFO,” “Friend,” and “Mom.” The danger starts to eviscerate when we turn these roles into our nametags. If what we do is more important than who we are, we will be torn from the inside out when life inevitably comes knocking at our door – ready to knock us down. This looks like doubt, anxiety, stress and in some cases cancer. Speaking from personal experience: there is nothing more painful than disillusioned identity, for it has the ability to skew your perception and impact your entire experience. The enemy will go first after your identity over anything else. Convincing you you are anything other than a child of God is the jugular shot, and he is mercilessly ruthless.
In Matthew 3:17, after Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus’ identity is firmly established, and the audible voice of God reigns down on the feathers of a dove, “ This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” IMMEDIATELY after this public proclamation, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” (Matthew 4:1). The first thing out of Satan’s mouth is, “If you are the Son of God…” this is a direct attack on Jesus’ identity (Matthew 4:3)! Can you imagine attempting to make the Son of God forget His Sonship – and with whom God was well pleased to boot? The devil has gumption, but he’s not very crafty. He threw the same things at Jesus that he throws at us to question who we truly are. Yet, Jesus doesn’t entertain the enemy’s lies. He stands firm, doesn’t waver, and sends the devil on his way. You see, the wildernesses, the temptation, the heartbreak, the sports injuries we go through are purposeful to further establish our identity in God the Father.
Ephesians 3:20, “[He] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us,” is my favorite scripture and promise of God because of the incredible work God can do through us! What we do is important, and our wins should be celebrated! Just as there’s nothing like a sore loser, it’s almost worse to have someone who can’t celebrate their personal wins. The key is allowing God to be the captain and power working within you. As humans, we can only do so much. We can conjure incredible sports plays, weave beautiful sonnets, but we cannot begin to grasp eternity’s reach – unless we are tapped into the Supernatural Source Himself. All of heaven is cheering you on!