Third quarter. The Auburn Tigers are getting embarrassed by the Georgia State Panthers. On Auburn’s homecoming. The chants emerge from the home crowd: “We want TJ!” “We want TJ!” It’s a desperate plea from the brutal Auburn fanbase to head coach Bryan Harsin: Replace starting quarterback Bo Nix with LSU transfer TJ Finley! Harsin surrenders to their cries. Finley takes Nix’s spot under center in the fourth quarter. Finley leads Auburn down the field in the waning minutes of the game and throws a touchdown pass on fourth and nine to evade disaster. Auburn wins. TJ Finley is the hero.
As an avid Auburn fan, of course I was thrilled we won the game. It was ugly. It was embarrassing. The way Auburn played football made Vanderbilt look like a top-5 team. But Auburn won the game. The coach made the right decision. TJ Finley led the drive and threw the go ahead touchdown. War Eagle.
But. . .
I cannot get the chant “We want TJ!” out of my head. TJ Finley was born and raised in Louisiana. When things weren’t working out for him at LSU he transferred, less than a year ago, to Auburn. Auburn’s starting quarterback Bo Nix? He grew up the son of Auburn quarterback star, Patrick Nix. Bo was born and raised in Alabama as a lifelong Auburn fan. Bo grew up dreaming of being the quarterback for Auburn University. And, for the record, if your name is “Bo” in the state of Alabama, everyone knows who you are named after. The kid was born to play football for Auburn. He worked hard. He practiced hard. He did everything he needed to do to wear an orange and blue jersey and be QB1 for the Tigers. It was all he has ever known. Nix is now a junior and has started every game, even as a freshman. Though he has struggled, his dream of being an Auburn quarterback have been/are being realized.
Then the chants.
From his own fanbase.
They weren’t happy. They wanted TJ. And when called upon, TJ delivered.
Auburn drives to Baton Rouge this Saturday to play in a stadium they haven’t won in since I was a senior at Auburn (1999). Only God (and perhaps Bryan Harsin) knows who will start at quarterback. The storylines are thick and varied.
I have wondered what I would have done were I Bo Nix this past Saturday during the third quarter. I am guessing I would be crushed. I don’t know if Nix will need therapy, but the more I contemplate it the more I think I need therapy! I am not sure if this has bothered me so much because (a) I love Auburn and have been rooting for Nix to succeed; (b) I have a son who loves and plays football; and/or (c) I, in a sense, know how it feels? Probably a bit of all three.
At the end of the day, what happened Saturday afternoon was a clinic on identity. If Bo’s identity was wrapped up solely on being QB1 for the Auburn Tigers . . . devastation. Emptiness. Disorientation. Mental, emotional, and spiritual chaos. An identity crisis of epoch proportions. . . to say the least.
But if his identity revolves around the remarkable reality that he is a son of God, crisis averted. Disappointment, sure. Therapy, probably. But devastation is avoided because the foundation is lasting and secure.
I guess that is why this bothered me so much. Though I know it to be true, I constantly forget it. I can, at any moment, be replaced by someone who can do what I do. In fact, it is guaranteed that I will one day be replaced by someone who can do what I do better. If TJ Finley starts and has success, this time next year no one – NO ONE – will be talking about Bo Nix. Five years from now, very few people will be able to recall the name of the fella who replaced Bo Nix against Georgia State. Six months after I leave a church, Matt Pearson’s name will be a memory. An hour after I am buried, my family will be in the basement of a church fellowship hall somewhere eating potato salad. Two days after I preach a sermon, someone will preach another message that will dwarf what I said from the platform.
I don’t say this to be a “Debbie Downer” or to convey some sense of false humility. I say it because it’s true. No matter what we do, no matter how good we are at it, we will all have a “We want TJ!” moment. If our identity is rooted in ANYTHING other than being a beloved child of God, we will crush under the weight of despair. I also don’t say this to encourage a sense of laziness or invoke a “give up” attitude. No way. Just the opposite. We should work hard, practice hard, play hard, strive, pursue, and live large! But only as we keep life in perspective. Life, true life, is lived in the context of being a loved child of God the Father. Any other identity foundation will crumble. Am I doing what I do to be known and loved at all costs? Or do I love what I am doing because I am known and loved, regardless? Do I enjoy what I am doing because of who I am? Or is who I am dependent on how I perform at what I do?
Without hesitation I urge you to go out there and give it your all. Enjoy every second. But know at some point, the crowd will chant “We want TJ!” When that happens, take a deep breath. It’s okay. There is One who will always want you and will never – ever forget you.