This past spring I had my first experience as a parent sitting on the sidelines and cheering for my son as he played organized team soccer. I have to say it was quite the experience. I got very caught up in the games and became as excited or more than watching professional sports playoff games. It was very thrilling to watch my son’s team make it to the championship game, come from behind, and then tie the game to send it into overtime. The game was a heartbreaker—they resolved the tie by going to a shootout, and my son’s team held their own but the other team was able to nudge them by one shot and take first place. I could tell that my son and his teammates were devastated—to come so close yet come up with second place was tough. I sat down with my son and told him that he did well and had nothing to be ashamed of. I also talked to him about the importance of losing.
I told him it’s easy to win—there’s no disappointment or sadness. It’s easy to be humble when you’ve given the other team a drubbing—it’s easy to shake their hands and say, “Good game!” But when you lose, it’s a lot tougher to receive that handshake from the winner. When you lose, it’s difficult to be humble and not want to walk off the field in anger or frustration. I can’t help but think of some professional athletes who walk away from press conferences in anger after losing the big game. In a word, losing reveals your character, and it also can be a tremendous tool for shaping character.
Reading providence is difficult, even in hindsight, but I can’t help but think that the Lord prepared me for losing early in life by putting me on multiple losing sports teams. Regularly facing loss prepared me, I think, for facing loss in life, and more importantly, in ministry. I think that many new ministers have a difficult time losing votes when it comes to decisions at presbytery or classis. It’s difficult because, unlike a sports game, ministers believe they’re standing for the truth. But what they don’t realize is that men on the other side of the aisle also believe they’re contending for the truth. The votes get tallied and one side loses and the other side wins. It can be difficult to do the “post-game” handshake after losing such votes, but it’s absolutely vital.
All too often ministers who lose votes take it personally—they get offended. Worse yet, they fail to see how others could possibly disagree with them and thus believe that their colleagues have somehow compromised the truth because they opposed you. While such things are certainly possible, the vast majority of the time the matter may be one of wisdom and there is no clear path. You must vote on the proverbial equivalent of, “Answer a fool according to his folly” vs. “Don’t answer the fool according to his folly.”
In ministry, and even in life, you have to be prepared to lose, and when you do, you must be prepared to handle it graciously. The way you handle losing reveals the degree to which you understand the way of the cross. Handling loss graciously is not about being a good sport but rather revealing the cross of Christ and accepting God’s providence rather than responding in anger, crying foul, or thinking the worst of others.