It’s been the kind of spring that’s made me grateful to be a sports fan. My soccer team has come with a couple of outcome changing goals in the final minutes of what we insiders call “stoppage time.” I’ve been waiting, since moving back to the Pacific Northwest in 1984, for Vancouver’s Canucks to win their first-ever Stanley Cup (that’s the big one, folks). They too have scored last-second goals that moved them from the loss column to the win, most recently Wednesday night. And then last night, the Dallas Mavericks rose from the grave in the last six minutes of their win over Miami, much to the delight of most of the country, for reasons beyond the scope of this post. Last second—last second—last inning—last shot—last at bat—last corner kick. Last header. Three days after lying dead in a grave. BOOM! In a literal instant, everything changes.
But before the last-second victory, most of us have given up. We’ve determined the outcome, we’ve prophesied the end, we’ve turned off the TV, moved on. I wonder how many people left the room on Wednesday with 18 seconds left in the hockey game, heading off to the kitchen or the bathroom, or out for a smoke, and missed one of the greatest ending in Canuck history?
Whatever. It’s only a game. But if our attitude at the game reflects, even remotely, our attitude in life, we’re setting ourselves for more disappointment than would have come our way if we’d stuck around ’til the end—if we’d submitted the manuscript to one more publisher; if we’d stayed in our job, or church, or marriage, one year longer. If we’d stayed at the table after the food was finished, when the conversation was just coming to the door of intimacy which is locked 99% of the time because we don’t have bandwidth for vulnerability. What could have happened if we’d stuck around and done our part—truth telling, endurance, service, forgiving, confronting, confessing, writing, inventing, healing. One more day—one more conversation—one more paragraph. Who knows? The tragedy is: we’ll never know.
I know there’s a time to call it finished, know too that some people who are reading this perhaps have tried to stay in the game, and final buzzer’s already sounded. I understand that. And do hear me when I say this: If a spouse is abusing you, you need to leave, at least temporarily—and get help. I get that, too. But please hear this as plea for balance: naive endurance is a problem in our world, but it isn’t the biggest problem. Quitting early though? It’s a pandemic.
I’d suggest all of us take a look at our lives and make sure that we’re sticking around until it’s really over, rather than walking out with six minutes left because the Heat are up by 15 and nobody comes back from 15 down with six minutes left. Otherwise we’ll watch a Frasier re-run because our wife’s at a lady thing and we’re too tired to read. Then we’ll listen to NPR news before turning in, only to find out that we could have seen something great, something memorable, if we hadn’t presumed the outcome and walked away.
Stick around and, in some settings, nothing will change—we’ll still feel like we’re coming up short on trust, or meaning, or joy. But at least we showed up. Early in my time at the church I presently pastor, I was sitting with a group of people who’d known each other since college. It was an evening of rich fellowship, as the candles burned low and the wine glasses emptied. Another visitor said, “I’d love to be part of a small group like this,” to which the host replied, “Stick around twenty years and you’ll have one.” As one who’s been in the same church now for fifteen years, I can safely say I now know what she means. The big payoffs come later… but not if we keep changing life’s channels with two minutes left in the game.
How do you know… when to stay in a marriage, job, church—and when the gun’s sounded, the game’s over, and you’re free to leave? I’d love to hear your thoughts.