St. Louis Cardinal fans woke this morning to a feeling we Reds fans experienced not long ago. Losing three consecutive games when holding a commanding series lead is a tough pill to swallow. Even so, I think my Cardinal-fan friends will agree that there is much to learn from such a defeat.
Here are some lessons from the NLCS.
1. Losing does not always mean failure. This is paradoxical, to be sure, but I believe it’s true. The Cardinals may view this season as a failure, but–and let’s be perfectly honest here–very few people expected them to get this far. It’s not that they didn’t have the talent…they certainly did. The problem was that they were the last National League team to make it into the playoff picture and had a tough road ahead of them. Facing the Braves, who had a much better regular season record, then matching up against the NL-best Washington Nationals. To then be one win away from a second consecutive World Series…hardly a failure. We are sold such lies in our lives. Lies about things like failure. Failure may involve losing, but not always. However, it always involves not being who God created you to be. Failure is trusting yourself, not Jesus. There are no guarantees when you live for the Lord, but in doing so, you are assured you can never fail. You may stumble and you may fall, but because Jesus has won the ultimate victory over sin and death, you will never truly fail if you have surrendered your life to Him.
2. The ball will sometimes find you. It was painful to watch Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma during Game 7. A rookie playing in the biggest game of his life, Kozma misplayed several ground balls that helped open the floodgates for the Giants deluge of scoring. One error is enough to make a fielder want to crawl into a hole, but the ball just wouldn’t leave Kozma alone. It kept finding him. By the time it was over, the young shortstop looked bewildered. Life is no different. Kozma is obviously a great player, or else he wouldn’t be in the Big Leagues. Yet, even great players have rotten days. Even bad things happen to great players. And, you guessed it, even bad things happen to wonderful people. Sometimes, over and over. No, it’s not fair, but, as your parents always told you, life isn’t fair. How, then, do we respond? The simple and difficult answer is that we must trust Jesus. That’s the end game of it all, anyway. The point isn[t that you do life better or figure out how to avoid problems. The point is that you trust Jesus. That’s the essence of Christianity, from beginning to end.
3. Sometimes the manager will leave you in the game, even when the ball keeps finding you. At one point last night, I thought, “They have to get Kozma out of there. For his own good!” Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny thought otherwise. Whether he wants to admit it, I’m sure Kozma entertained thoughts of leaving the game and hiding in the clubhouse. Who wouldn’t? Instead, his manager left him there to work through it. Eventually, he figured it out. Later in the game, Kozma fielded a slow rolling ground ball and made a play to first, a play he had butchered several times in the series. Why was this play different? Kozma went back to basics, back to what got him there in the first place. Here’s the truth for life. I often tell the people at my church that there is usually no way out of your circumstances, there is only a way through them. Sometimes, even when life is bombarding you, God will leave you in the game, but He never leaves you alone in the game. Also, He’s given you the tools inside you (namely His Holy Spirit) and at your disposal (most helpful are the various spiritual disciplines) to help you through whatever you face. He may not take you out of it, but He will always lead you through it.