I guess it was the Super Bowl that reminded me of a gift I once got for Christmas. It was a Patriots’ uniform, with pads, helmet, jersey and pants. It wasn’t really designed for a real game. But in my young mind I looked cool. I would put it on and play in our finished basement. I would toss a football to myself, trying not to skid it off the suspension ceiling. I imagined playing in the big game (at this point in time the Patriots hadn’t even been to a Super Bowl, much less won one). In my fantasy, I never failed.
It was the same when practicing baseball or basketball. I always caught the final out. If I missed the jump shot, miraculously there were another few seconds to hit the game winner. I suspect I was no different than any other kid growing up. That is the nature of fantasy- you always win the game. As we grow up the fantasy changes- you always get the girl or the really cool job.
But real life was different. When you were playing for real you were afraid you would strike out, miss the shot, or drop the ball. Not all of us are as crippled by that fear as one of the kids in the movie Parenthood. Steve Martin’s character was vexed by his son’s struggles, probably because he didn’t want his son to grow up like him- living in fear of failure and settling for a life of minimal risk.
We all live somewhere between the fantasy and the fear. The most successful athletes live in near perpetual fear of failure. Lou Gehrig lived in fear of missing a game, and therefore his job. After all, he replaced an injured Wally Pip who never got his starting job back. Michael Jordan, it turns out, fabricated the story of being cut from the JV team to build a chip on his shoulder. These men seemed to live a life of fantasy.
But they didn’t. They failed. Larry Bird lost in the finals to Magic. And Magic lost to Larry. Joe Montana won all 4 Super Bowls he played in, but he didn’t win every playoff game. They not only lived with fear but they lived with failure. They are just like us.
At some point we have to recognize it is okay to fail. You won’t always get the girl (though you might wonder if you’ll ever get one). You won’t always win the game, but sometimes you will. You won’t always get the job.
You won’t always prevail, but you have to try. Fear can cripple us by keeping us from even trying. When we realize life is not like our fantasy life, we can become paralyzed. We can give up on finding a spouse because we can’t take the rejection. We can drop out of the work force because we didn’t find the perfect job. We can stop competing and live our fantasies through our heroes. Or we can just become bitter and lifeless.
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15
One of the more interesting titles of God in Scripture is the God of hope. He is the only One, ultimately, who can save us from fantasy and fear. He invites us to leave our fantasies behind for the real thing. He offers real life, real engagement. Yes, there will be failures. He’s not offering unrivaled success. He’s offering you a safe place to fail, and the knowledge that such failure is not fatal or final. But the victories will real even though they won’t make the front page.
For the fearful he also holds out hope. He calls us out of the prison of our own making. The small lives we construct to keep us from feeling the deep disappointments of life. He says, “I’ve got a plan for you. I love you and how you live is significant even if you aren’t _____________.” There is joy and peace to be had when we trust Him who was crucified for sinners. He gives us the Spirit who is not timid but powerful. He changes us by that Spirit as we trust Him. We are ultimately not measured by our failures (or successes) but are acceptable to God in Christ. He calls us to run the race instead of sitting on the sidelines in fear. Losing is not the worst thing that can happen to you- not trying is.
John Newton used to use his own life to illustrate the power of grace because that was the life he knew best. He knew who he was apart from Christ and what Christ had made him. So back to my life. I fantasized of being a famous author one day. In my world that meant the next R.C. Sproul. I was disappointed that I hadn’t written a book by my 25th birthday because Calvin had already written the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion by his 25th. Yes, foolish to compare myself to one of the great minds of the church.
After seminary I started writing books. Some people encouraged me, saying I wrote well. But in publishing to have to write what publishers want to sell. My fantasy was crumpled on the rocks of reality. I tried to write what I thought they wanted to sell. More disappointment. Shortly after that life sort of fell apart. There were a series of personal set backs that required lots of emotional energy. I didn’t have time for writing or publishing. It took all I had to keep trying to keep the boat afloat for my family (and even then it wasn’t enough- ‘seriously loser’ said the voice in my head).
I have the opportunity to write again. Perhaps I’ll be a better writer because of the last 5-6 years of life. Perhaps I’ll publish the book on my own. Hope is not about my dreams for me. Hope is about God’s plans for me. His plan, despite setbacks, has been for me to pastor smaller churches. Perhaps it includes having something to say to help others in book form. I won’t know until I try again. Trying is no guarantee of success. But I can trust that good things are in store whether or not my fantasy comes true.
Where are you stuck in a fantasy instead of real life? That’s where you need Jesus to rescue you. Where are you stuck in fear, paralyzed into passivity? That is where you need Jesus to set you free. Only there will you find abiding joy and peace.