Glory, tragedy, and lessons…from the final minute.

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.

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  • Jon Foutz

    Even though I only saw the replay on, that Mavs win was something else. I wasn’t surprised, though. The Mavs seem to have accessed a collective passion within themselves: they’re playing like men possessed. Although, I’ve seen Dirk go off in the playoffs before. I remember a couple years ago when Dirk dropped 51 points on the Suns in the 2006 playoffs. Anyway…
    As far as finishing goes, I am about to graduate from college, so I understand a little what it feels like to have the desire to quit. There were a lot of moments where I felt completely inadequate to get the things done that I needed to. I remember a couple moments throwing books across the room; Derrida and Foucault have that effect on a lot of people I think. College can be really frustrating, but I have to say that God helped me in completely surprising and unorthodox ways – encouragement, peace, strength and wisdom when I needed it. I have no shining accolades – honors, magna cum laude, etc – but I’m glad that I stuck it out. Thanks for this sports-related post Richard.

  • Sherri

    It sure isn’t easy to know when it’s time to leave something or time to “pull up your socks” (famous mom-saying in our family) and stay in the game. If it were, there’d sure be a lot less people in counseling or with various addictions or other vices we use to numb or distract ourselves from situations, decisions to be made, etc.

    Single, divorced mom of two, I certainly have had my struggles with whether to hang in there or hang it up! What have I learned?? Well, initially, that individuals are sooo complicated! Yet not only complicated, but — lest we forget — we’re tremendously fallible too.

    Sometimes we don’t think enough; sometimes we think too much; sometimes our thinking is so skewed by our life experiences that what seems normal and healthy thinking or behavior at the time, wasn’t — we find later down the road — normal or healthy at all!

    Sometimes we try to figure things out by ourselves without asking God for his guidance. Sometimes we ask God for his guidance, yet then we’re too stubborn to hear what he’s telling us.

    Sometimes we may want something so badly, and perhaps legitimately believe that we deserve it, that we justify our leaving (or staying in ) the game by convincing ourselves that it’s God’s will, when perhaps maybe it’s not at all…. Maybe it’s just ours.

    With all this going on, it’s crazy-making! So yeah…. Good question! How does one know? How does anybody know with assurance when the final round is over and it’s time to leave the ring?

    The only thing I’ve to offer (after years of struggling and battling) is that though there’s not an easy truth, there’s a simple truth: Ask God, seek Him diligently… in all things. A really cool pastor I’m familiar with 😉 recently preached on the importance of focusing less on our “context” and more on “values.” I think therein lies the answer. I’ve found that when I’ve stopped obsessing over things like: should I allow this divorce or not; should I stay in this job that’s agonizing for me or leave it; should I stay in this big house or pack up and move my little family to a small rental; and when I start focusing on simply His love, grace and unfailing provisions, the anxiety lessen and the clouds begin to clear from my mind.

    I remind myself of the reality that I value Christ, and what I want more than anything is to model my day-to-day life’s values, my outlook and choices following His example. Acknowledging what’s truly important to me– love (God’s love, my love for Him, for others and self), humility, seeking that which is just and true– I can then start charting out one step at a time…. And in many cases this “next step” was just figuring out how to make through the next 5-10 minutes.

    One of my mantras throughout recent years became, I cannot deal with or solve this whole thing all at once, but I can “do the next right thing for the right reason.” Kind of makes me think of Sunday’s sermon again with the integration of the artist and artwork. It was “one stroke” on the canvas, and then another, and then another. Live each day with Christ at your side to chart your course according to your values…. Even if it’s just to get you through the next 5-10 minutes.

    Eventually — in God’s timing — as impossible or incredible as it may seem, you’ll stand back in amazement to find yourself amidst a new context– one of unbelievable beauty. It’ll be something that will have emerged without your willful controlling of it or demanding of it to do so. Just lean on the Master Artist and take that one stroke at a time. One day, providing you’re paying attention, the unfathomable beauty of your new context which surrounds you on all sides will render you breathless in awe and thankfulness.

  • raincitypastor

    your answer is beautiful – especially since you shared it in the larger context of your story. Thank you.

  • Sherri

    Thanks Richard. But my bigger “thank you” is for your teaching. Genuinely want to thank you for sharing so much of your story in your messages– written and spoken. There are those of us out here who are inspired and strengthened each day because of what you share. My heartfelt thanks to you.