Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Coping with defeat...


We have all had those moments, either as a player on the field or as a fan in the stands: the game does not go our way, and in fact the loss we find ourselves enduring winds up as more than just "not winning;" there is in the defeat no small measure of shame, it's beyond awful. We haven't just lost a game...we have failed.

That is a tough place to live. Harder still to recover from its sting, its venom. 

Brazil, in this year's World Cup, lost its semi-final game with Germany in an embarrassing defeat. The final score was 7-1. You can google the game and find out more details. It is now a part of sports history, as are the images of weeping fans and mourning players. At that level, you just don't see games like that happening. I am not judging the Brazilian team. They lost two important players before the match, and the German offensive line is one of the strongest in the world right now. 

What I am pointing to is the "what happens now" moment that Brazil, the national team players and their fans have to face in the coming days. They are absorbing a horrible experience, and my heart goes out to them, mostly because where they are now is a place I have been before in my life. As player in my youth, as a person making their way in life, as a priest in vocation I have known defeat like that moment....when a "7-1 loss" means more than just a lost game. It means defeat. It means shame. It means sorrow and grief. It means broken relationships. It means broken pride and shattered hope.

When I was a soccer player, and we faced losses like that, I knew what would happen the next. Our coach would declare silence on the bus or in the locker room. No talking. Absorb fully what had just happened. Understand it, take responsibility for it and start learning from it. After that, the very next day, we would begin to work back from the loss, the defeat. The coach would meet us on the practice pitch and take us back to basics. Simple drills, basic practice and lots....and lots....and lots of running. Learn, embrace, condition...understand that defeat means an opportunity to reset, to learn and to grow as a player and as a person.

That lesson has been with me ever since. Every time I have faced defeat in my life, when loss overcomes me, I have either been mindful enough to "reset," or I have been blessed with a mentor or life partner who coaches me to that reset point....get back to basics, embrace what has happened, learn and grow from it. When the patterns begin to reassert themselves, when bad habits threaten to kick in...when defeat looms, know it and see it as an opportunity to prepare for the day that is to come. 

Defeat is not an end...it is a doorway into renewal.

That is a very hard lesson to learn in a world that is focused on the winner, the champion. It doesn't make sense when the loser is relegated to footnote status, among the "also rans" who are forgotten. As people of faith, though, I would remind us that we follow one who took on the most abject of defeats, death on the Cross, and turned it into Resurrection. From death? A new creation.

My heart goes out to Brazil...but so also go prayers that this loss means renewal for them. My prayer as well for all of us is that when defeat looms, our manner of coping might align with the example we have in Christ himself (and for me, as well, a few well placed words from an old coach who never let a loss go by without reminding us that new life is to be found in the very next moment).

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