A Losing Perspective

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Twice in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus talks about the necessity of losing in order to find, losing in order to gain. His message was counter-cultural then and would be greeted with scoffing and shaking heads now. After all, losing is for losers, right? Why attempt anything if you’re not going to end up on top?

Jesus’ words were focused on the thought-line of surrender. Surrendering means giving up control, losing the control. It’s taking my hands off the steering wheel and letting someone else, the One, direct and drive me. (Side note: I confess that I’ve noticed my uneasiness when I sit in the passenger seat and my wife is driving the car. I’m impatient and irritable, feeling every bump in the pavement! There, I admitted it!)

The Winter Olympics had brought the issue of losing to the news spotlight again. Sports Illustrated predictions on who was supposed to win and place in each event or team competition did not play out much of the time. Long on-air discussions on what happened to certain athletes who lost, consumed much of the broadcasts. The disappointment was evident in the commentators’ voices. The viewer got the impression that losing was either unpatriotic or the result of unfairness in the competition.

The reality, and the basis for many life lessons, is that we all lose, and losing reminds us that we’re not all that! Sometimes we need to lose in order to gain perspective. Losing shows how grounded we are, and whether we can accept being humbled. My college basketball team was 4-22 in my senior year. We were experienced in the art of humility. But I learned so much during that season about supporting one another, striving to be a better player, and the bond of brotherhood. In our situation losing brought us closer together instead of pulling us apart.

I was watching an episode of The Andy Griffith Show a few days ago that was actually the seed thought for this writing. Andy’s son Opie was in a 50-yard dash race. He dreamed of winning the race and having a medal pinned to his shirt. Barney Fife, the Sheriff’s deputy who often pretends he knows it all, trained Opie for the three days or so leading up to the race. Opie, however, finishes fourth out of four, and stalks off, refusing to congratulate the winning runner. His dad is disappointed in him, not for losing but rather for his conduct after losing. His dad tells him that no one wins all the time and it’s how we act following a loss that is a telling feature of who we are. It takes Opie a day to let the message of his dad’s words soothe over the misery and anger of defeat. Finally, he comes to Andy and tells him that his heartache is about his father’s disappointment.

There is a long list of things in life that are more important than winning. For us to admit that, however, means taking our hands off the steering wheel and losing the power that we thirst to always have. In essence, it’s not it means to be a follower of Jesus, not the one that Jesus follows.

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