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The Devaluation of Second

Yep, it has been too long again. Sorry about that for all those who were eagerly waiting to hear from me again. To get back into things, I have a reflection based on the recent (relatively) Phillies loss in the World Series. I’ve already discussed the odd phenomenon that we care so much about something so removed from our lives (see my last post). My topic for this post comes from the reaction, both of fans of the teams involved, and others with whom I’ve talked. Why are we so disappointed to come in second? By we, I don’t mean the Phillies, specifically. Why do I often feel worse when I come in second than I do when I finish well back in the group?

Certainly, part of the reason is the desire to win, and the frustration of being so close, but not quite being good enough. My belief though, is that this is symptomatic of using the wrong criterion to evaluate success. Yes, the final score is one way to measure success. The problem is that by this measure there can be only one winner. Worse, this means that it is easy to root against the success of others so that I feel better about my lack of success. I encountered many baseball fans who rooted for one team simply to annoy friends who rooted for the other. The hope was that if my team can’t win, I don’t want yours to either. In some cases, this can perhaps be explained by poor sportsmanship on the part of the fan whose team is still playing. If I rubbed it in that my team is still playing while yours is not, it would be natural for you to want my team to fail too. Not that I am endorsing natural behavior. Christ called us to love our enemies, so I certainly think that we should expect He would want me to love my annoying friends. (Yes, even Mets, Yankees, and Cowboys fans!) But the point was that we should find it concerning that we wish for a result that would disappoint others.

Personally, I find this hard. I don’t like certain teams (see above). I don’t want them to succeed. I don’t like their fans, in some cases. I find however that this shouldn’t matter. I should be able to congratulate them on their success, and even rejoice when they rejoice. Unfortunately, I often find myself saying “good job”, and meaning it, but not rejoicing with them. I have to work on that, I guess.

————

But the main point of this post was more of a self reflection. After the Phillies defeat, I found myself disappointed in the season, and wondering if it would have been better to not make the Series. I had to remind myself of several things. First, of course, it doesn’t really matter. (I did blog about that one game into the Series, with my team up 1 game to 0, after all.) I also needed to restore perspective. 28 of the 30 major league teams were in their off season before the Phillies. They had a great year! Why was finishing second, and playing pretty well, a disappointment. Sure, they had performed better at stretches than they did in the series, and the layoff after their previous series may have affected them. But, it could just be that the Yankees were that much better. They certainly played better in this series, and deserved to win. The point is, since when is doing your best and maximizing your use of your talents and abilities a disappointment?!

In Scripture, we are admonished to “run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Cor. 9.24) Note that we are not admonished to win, but to run is a way that makes winning possible. Interesting. Also, we read “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord, rather than for men”. (Col. 3.23) The focus in these passages, and I believe it is a general trend in Scripture, is on the attitude and preparation, not specifically the results. Have I tried my best? Have I prepared adequately, and done all that is in my power to perform well? Then I have met some of the criteria for success, regardless of the outcome. There is no shame in losing to a superior foe, but there is shame in losing because of lack of preparation.

It is my job to follow God’s command to use my talents and abilities as a good steward. In the parable of the talents (Matt. 25.14-30), the servants are commended, not just for the results, but for being willing to invest their talents and work to increase what the master entrusted to them. This is our job. I work to use my abilities, and if I don’t win the prize, I focus on the fact that I have pleased my Master by the way I prepared and performed. I congratulate those who succeed, especially according to this rubric: do your best to maximize your talents and abilities, and perform your best. I hope I am successful according to that rubric as well!

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