Rethinking Our Approach to Adversity

If you’ve been paying attention to sports news, and actually news in general, you may have heard about the football player for the Kansas City Chiefs who killed his girlfriend, and then killed himself in front of his coaches.  I came across an interview ESPN did with Mike Ditka, a former player, coach, and now analyst with EPSN.  He addressed the what those left behind  – his team, his coaches – are now feeling, and how can they play a game after a tragedy like that.  You can read the story and watch the interview here.

Now Ditka is a football guy, and so there’s a lot of “football guy cliches” that get tossed around –

  • “Life goes on, moves foward….that sounds cruel, but it’s a reality.”
  • “You gotta deal with what’s in front of you; what’s it the past is done already, you can’t undo it.”
  • “You live in the past, you die in the past.”

Now, there are a lot of you that’ll wince at this….because well, playing a football game seems so trivial in light of this loss of life.  The mantra of “Get over it and move on” in the eyes of many looks like their avoiding, marginalizing, or dismissing the feelings of others, taking time to mourn, lament, and heal from this.  Some of you will think this is typical of our sports culture and commercial world – pushing aside moments of human tragedy in favor of a game where entertainment and money reigns.

However, this story made me think about the age old question in sports, and in life: “How does one deal with adversity?”   How do we overcome it?  What’s the best method?  There are lots of answers of course, but this story, and this past weekend while I was at a tournament with my wrestlers, made me rethink how we approach adversity. 

I was talking to one of my wrestlers after a rough tournament and I simply asked him “What’s going on?”  I wanted to know what’s going on not just on the mat, but also in his life – family, school, social life.  Not knowing for the sake of being nosy, pointing out problems he needs to deal with, but knowing because all that stuff is happening to one person; it’s all interconnected.  And of course, there are a myriad of things going on.  He’s overwhelmed by it all.  He wouldn’t make excuses, he felt like he just needed to deal with it and get past it all, or overcome it.  However,

Maybe it’s not something to overcome.  Maybe, it’s a matter of keeping things in perspective. 

And so, maybe that means rethinking our approach….and here’s a few nuggets to get you started.

You can’t “overcome” adversity in life: What I mean is that you can’t make it go away.  The things you struggle with, they’re gonna be there.  Some you’ll deal with and they’ll be resolved; others are ongoing.  But the point of facing adversity is not to triumph over it, to eliminate all aspects of it from our lives.  That’s simply not realistic, as I think Coach Ditka would say.  And I agree, our relationships with family and friends, our jobs or school, our commitments and responsibilities…they’re always there.  You can’t just solve them, make them go away.  Adversity always exists in life, it’s a simple, yet sobering fact.

Adversity, is about being present in the moment.  Because everything is interconnected in our lives, we tend to combine it all as one big thing to deal with.  Family issues affect school and jobs; the stress of missing family or doubting choices get brought onto the wrestling mat.  We don’t make any distinguishments; adversity is just one “big thing” we have to deal with.  The problem is when we do this, we tend to try to deal with it all at once.  And when that happens, we get overwhelmed.  We can’t do it. 

I think we have to change our approach.  Just as it’s unrealistic to “overcome” adversity, it’s just as unrealistic to try to face all of it at once. I told my wrestler to simply try to be present in the moment; when you’re on the mat, deal with the opponent on the mat; wrestle as hard and as best you can.  When you’re on the phone with your family, be 110% invested in that conversation.  When you’re studying, be focused 110% on the task at hand.  Even relaxing and de-stressing…give it your full effort and attention.  Deal with what’s in front of you; not what happened 2 minutes, 2 hours, or two days or years in the past, or the future. 

Relationships of faith and trust are important.  At the heart of all this, I think there has to be a relationship of faith and trust in one’s life.  That manifests itself in many ways.  For me, it’s not only other people, it’s also the central relationship of faith and trust in God made known through Christ.  It all centers there for me.  Isaiah 43, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you, when you pass through the rivers they will not overcome you….Do not fear, for I will redeem you.” 

And that relationship isn’t just one that helps us through times of adversity.  It’s a relationship in which someone will be a bit intrusive, coming to us and asking – maybe even being a bit prodding – about where we’re at in our lives.  It’s the relationship of someone that will sense something isn’t right in us, and have the courage to ask – because they care, for whatever reason that may be. 

To wrap it up, stop trying to overcome and minimizing adversity in our lives.  Approach adversity in that it is part of life, but it shouldn’t paralyze us from living life.   Approach adversity in our lives through presence – our own presence in the moment, and the presence of others whom we place faith and trust in, and for those of you who hold to this faith, the presence of the One who is faithful and trustworthy to us – and is worthy of our faith and trust.

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