By Randy Kosloski
I am never as wretched as I am when I play sports. More than once I have physically hurt friends of mine in an unapologetic and callous way. Even to teammates I am demanding and I do not consider them far beyond what they can contribute to the win. I have often minimized this attitude reasoning that the issue is isolated to sports about which I am simply too serious. The reality is that this attitude is a character flaw that competitive sports happen to bring to light. Under pressure, certain sports push me to act in a way that is natural to me. For instance, it comes naturally for me to use people for my own benefit. It’s amazing what you can find out about people if you add a little pressure. It can force people into behaving as who they really are. For me, that’s an ugly site, but like every good therapist would say, the first step to positive change is admitting that you have a problem.
Greg, like me, had a problem. He was probably addicted to money and to material things. He always seemed to care about these things more than he cared about his wife or his two daughters. I think he wanted to care about people, but he didn’t seem to know how. Greg reminded me of myself in many ways.
Greg’s pressure was to measure up to the level of success that his parents expected of him. For Greg, the way to meet those expectations was to create the image of success, using money, family and possessions. His wife and two daughters were only part of the image he was trying to create and only some of the expectations he was trying to meet. His family felt the lack of priority in his life and was angry with him. He was in anguish over the way he continued to hurt his family, so he came to me for help realizing at some level he wasn’t only losing control of his family, but was also losing control of himself.
In Genesis chapter 31 and 32, the Bibles describes Jacob departing from Laban after taking his flocks and his family. Jacob then met Esau on his journey home. It is interesting how these back-to-back stories detail two very different encounters for Jacob.
Uncle Laban was a user. He exploited Jacob as much as possible. He talked Jacob out of leaving several times in order to further his selfish goals. Laban switched Jacob’s wives, changed his wages numerous times and went back on his word without restraint. When Jacob left without consent, Laban pursued and still tried to force his way on Jacob. Further complicating things, Rachel took her father’s idols, potentially giving Laban a foothold to accuse Jacob. But after Laban failed to find his idols and after exhausting every option, he makes a covenant with Jacob. Only then, does Laban finally cut his losses and preserve what favor he has left with God and Jacob – again, probably for his own gain.
In the next chapter Jacob meets Esau. Despite the fact that Jacob had treated Esau much like Laban had treated him, Esau greets Jacob in brotherly love and respect. Jacob tries to give Esau many of his possessions, but Esau would not take them at first. Jacob and Esau part ways with Esau trying to leave some of his group behind to help Jacob make his journey.
Laban and Esau: two men, two very different dispositions. What about me? Am I more like Laban or am I more like Esau? Am I a user or am I a friend?
In his book Connecting, Dr. Larry Crabb writes about when, “someone sees us as we are and still delights in us, still believes that we could become a responsible, giving people. When that someone sees us as fundamentally acceptable, courage develops, hope appears and we press on with life, eager not only to receive more connection but also to provide it to others.”
Esau did this for Jacob. Even though Esau knew exactly how ugly Jacob could be, Esau’s reception created a positive impact which has already rippled through the ages. Laban, on the other hand, would have fit right in on my hockey team.
Greg would have as well. In as much as he was able to, he loved his family, but he needed to do some personal work before getting on the path to loving them the way God was asking him to love them. Like me, Greg needed to understand his own insignificance, as well as his parents.’ Sometimes to be a new creation in Christ, you must, as Yoda said, unlearn what you have learned.
Greg continues to work with other professionals now and I believe is making positive progress.
Everyone knows who the jerk is on the sports field. Even more so, everyone knows who the gentleman is in the same arena. Those of us who are jerks might say that you have to be a jerk in order to be good at sports. This is, of course, not true. There are many examples of true gentleman stars, such as Cal Ripken, Magic Johnson and Barry Sanders. These are all good guys and great players.
Unfortunately, I am not a great player, so I don`t even have an excuse for being a jerk. What I do have is a Redeemer, a Saviour and a path to light. A little pressure can reveal that Christ`s transforming power is still at work. I hope it continues to work – even after I make it to the NHL!
By Randy Kosloski