February, 1988. Keystone Athletic Conference League Tournament.
Championship Game. 3 seconds to go. Down by 1.
Like every athlete, I’ve dreamed of this scenario since I was a kid. I’ve hit hundreds of “buzzer-beaters” in my driveway. At the park. In the empty gym when no one was looking.
3 . . . 2 . . . 1. Pass goes to Naz . . . He takes the shot! He hits it! The crowd goes wild!
But this was no fantasy. I was here and this was real. I shook off the flashback and focused on my coach. We were in the huddle; he was drawing up the final play. The dry-erase marker was moving over the clipboard. Screens here and here; pass here or here. Hit the shot. Let’s do this, guys. Hands in. Ready . . . team!”
We took the floor. I was the in-bounder. Part of me wanted to be the one taking the winning shot. But secretly and honestly, another part of me was relieved that the pressure wasn’t on my shoulders. But Craig had better hit it. He was our top scorer. He could do it. Or Alvin. Those would be my primary options coming off their screens.
I stood under our own basket. Perfect position. The shot would be a short one, maybe a 10 or 12-footer. The ref blew the whistle to signal the start of play, then raised his hand to alert the timekeeper. He handed me the ball and stepped away.
This was it. I swallowed hard.
Instantly, the guys sprung into their patterns. Screens were solid. Craig wasn’t looking at me yet. I saw Alvin rolling to the free throw line. Open! I passed him the ball. Straight shot.
The space right in front of me opened up. I stepped in bounds and took a perfect position under the basket. Left side. Maybe if Alvin missed, I would have just enough time for a quick tip-in. And I’m left-handed, so that’s perfect.
I saw him jump to shoot. Man, he can jump! I turned my head to the basket. No need to follow the ball; I know where it’s going. Focus on the rim. Box out. Look for a tip-in.
Then, it happened . . .
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the ball coming at me! Fast! Time slowed like in the movies and a wave of emotions went through me in a microsecond. Confusion . . . What was he doing? Anger . . . We have no time for a pass! Panic . . . Catch the ball! Split-second of relief . . . At least it’s a left-handed layup. I’ve been making these easily since I was 6. Panic again . . . I’m off balance! How much time was there? Couldn’t be more than half a second! Get it out of your hands! Shoot the ball!
I took the shot.
I didn’t think time could move any slower, but it did. The ball banked smoothly off the backboard and rolled three quarters of the way around the rim. Then it hung on the edge, spinning softly. The horn sounded while it was still spinning on the rim.
Then it fell.
Off the rim and right into my hands. The crowd went wild, but not our fans. The other team ran and tackled each other. Hands in the air, pointing to the ceiling. Their cheerleaders rushed the court to hug the players.
I stood there holding the ball. Frozen.
What just happened? I missed a layup? A left-handed layup? I had a wide-open, left-handed layup to win the championship. And I missed. We lost. The championship.
Because of me.
I walked to the bench in a haze. I think my teammates said, “Don’t worry about it.” But I knew the looks on their faces. I had let them down and I knew it. They knew it. But they were good about it.
I know my coach consoled me. He was a good coach and a good man. And it hurt me even more that I had let him down.
How in the world could I miss that shot?
I have no idea what was said in the locker room. I mostly stared at the floor. The guys were good. They gave me space. Eventually, they began talking and laughing with each other, slowly returning to normal. One by one, they left to catch the bus or go home with their folks.
I just stared at the floor. And my shoes. And my bag. No shower. I don’t deserve one. I just got dressed and sat there. I didn’t want to go back into the gym. I didn’t want to see anyone.
I was the last one out, and when I went back into the gym—no other way out, unfortunately—it was pretty empty. Lights were dim, bleachers pushed in, and only a few people were there, sweeping and putting things way.
My dad was there, standing quietly off to the side. Seeing him, I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. I knew how much he loved me. How much he supported me. How much he always, always encouraged me, no matter what. I knew I hadn’t let him down. If that were even possible, it wouldn’t be because of a missed shot. He was a giant of godliness and strength. And I knew that his belief in me was so much stronger than any athletic disappointment.
And he was wise.
“You OK?” was all he said. It was all I needed at that moment.
“No.” I mumbled.
He put his arm around me. We walked out of the gym and to the car.
He let me drive. He probably knew I could use the distraction.
We started in silence. Then he eased into some small talk about nothing in particular. Certainly not about the game. After about a half an hour, when he decided I could probably handle it, he broached the subject.
“Well, it was a tough game . . . “
C’mon dad, not now.
“ . . . and I won’t say much . . . “
“ . . . but do you know how many layups and easy shots your team missed in that game?”
“I don’t know, a couple?”
He chuckled at that. “No. More than a couple. You guys missed 12 easy shots. 12. The other dads and I were counting. You guys were off the whole game”
“Jonathan. You didn’t lose the game. If you guys had made any one of those 12 easy shots, it would be a different game. Pull in over there, we need to get some gas.”
And that was it. We filled up the tank and never spoke about that game anymore after that.
But I thought about what he said. A lot. Dad had a wisdom that always put things in perspective.
Of course, my shot would have won the game. But did my miss lose the game? Then again, would my shot have really won the game? Or, would we have won or lost because of ALL the shots we made as a team? And ALL the defense we played? ALL the passes? ALL the effort? In a team sport, you win as a team and you lose as a team. Sure, there are certain moments that seem to “turn the tide” or change the momentum, moments that seem more pivotal than others. But in the end, it is the total sum of ALL the elements, of BOTH teams, that determine the outcome.
Everything we do matters.
For every “turning point” in history, you can look at a thousand smaller moments that led up to it. That made it possible.
Every moment matters. Not just the “big” moments in life. But every moment. Every thought. Every word. Every action.
The wisest man to ever live, King Solomon, understood this. Early in his life, as a young king newly enthroned and replacing his legendary father, King David, he cried out to God for help. He knew he could not handle the pressures of ruling a nation. God honored his godliness and granted him divine wisdom. But over the years Solomon strayed. He became distracted by the wealth, the women, the pursuit of knowledge, the building projects. All of it. His influence was diminished by his pursuit of lesser things. Late in his life, as an old man, he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. He spends 12 and a half chapters cataloging all the things he sought after in life. Things he thought would fulfill him and give his life meaning and purpose. Things which, 3,000 years later, people are still pursuing to find meaning. And he declares them all meaningless. Vanity. Empty. Chasing wind.
Anything in life, done without a proper connection to the Creator, is meaningless.
Solomon ends his book with this declaration:
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.
Everything we do matters. Everything we do makes a difference in our life and in the lives of others. Even the hidden things. The secret things we think no one sees. The small things we’re sure no one notices. The tiny choices that couldn’t possibly be that important, right?
Solomon’s declaration is a truth echoed throughout Scripture.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Sometimes we do the right thing. And no one is there to see it. No one says thank you. No one gives us the credit. But God sees. And no good deed, no act of obedience, no right decision ever goes unnoticed or unrewarded.
And sometimes we fail. We fall short. We make a poor decision. And no one is there to see it. No one catches us. No one puts the blame where it belongs. But God sees. And no sin goes unnoticed or unpunished. We, as humans get our judgements wrong. We prejudge and misjudge others all the time. But God is the perfect judge. He sees the action and knows the heart attitude behind it.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Everything we do matters. Not just the big things. And the joy is that we have a loving Creator who takes all of those things in our lives—the victories and the missed layups--and weaves them together to bring about something miraculous for His glory.
Follower of Christ:
In what ways has God used your mistakes or failures to bring about something better?
When you find yourself slipping in the little things, how do you respond?
How can you challenge your students to see all things from God’s perspective?
What lessons from your own life can you share with them?
Do you ever wonder if your failures can ever serve a greater purpose?
Have you examined the character of God as He is revealed in the Bible? What stands out to you most?