Stop Chasing Your Dreams

By the time a basketball or football player gets to Division I or Division II, they’ve already been a star in their own town and community. They have been elevated to celebrity status at such a young age, before their frontal lobe has even fully developed. It creates a high confidence level, but also a delusion around what’s actually possible.
— Dan Lebowitz, Exec. Dir. of NE University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society.
 Photo by  Abigail Keenan

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Last year, at the start of the 2014-2015 school year, I took an impromptu poll with some of my students. 

The question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Kid #1 - "A pro football player."

Kid #2 - "I want to go into the NFL."

Kid #3 - "I want to play in the NBA." 

Kid #4 - "I wanna play pro football." 

Kid #5 - "A nurse." 

Is it just me, or do American kids need a new, more realistic set of standards?

As a new school year begins, this also means the onset of a new football season. And with football season, comes all the fan fair one might expect: fantasy sports leagues, tailgating, pep rallies, devoted fans, sportscasts, endless analyzations, and so on.

At the end of the 2013 school year, it was determined that some 1,088,000 high school kids were actively participating in high school football. Many, I'm sure of which, like my students, had or still have big hopes to play in college and some day, even in the NFL.

But of those 1.08 million students, the NCAA says only 6.5% will actually go on to make a college team and only 1.6% of players in college will ever even see themselves rostered in an NFL jersey.

This is America, where Jesus is Lord, and football is king. Actually, Lebron James is king. Wait, or is it Tom Brady who's king? 

*Sigh. Never mind.

No, I'm not a hater, I'm an athlete.

I grew up with my dad exposing me to nearly every sport an American kid might try. 

Football.

Baseball.

Basketball.

Running.

Soccer.

I did it all. 

My best sport was soccer, and in the end, I received a scholarship to play NCAA soccer. In college, I was a competitive, four year starter with the build and knack for my position. 

So, yes, I've played at a very high level. In fact, I'd venture to say that I've played at a higher level than most of the kids I grew up playing with or against.

But let me ask you, if our kids are our greatest legacy, if they are the greatest record speaking to our existence, then what are we doing?

Are we instilling them with core values, as taught by lessons learned on the athletic field?

Or is the American dream of sports fame and grid iron legacy leaving millennials a bit delusional about what it takes to actually stand among the world's greatest talent?

As a sports nation, are we addicted to hope?

Let's use Daniel Eugene Reuttiger as an example.

Here's a story of a young man who's one of 14 children, dyslexic, and drastically undersized. He has but one dream: to play Notre Dame football. Despite being severely outmatched by other players and academically challenged, "Rudy," as many came to know him, would spend the bulk of his early life vying for an opportunity to play at least one time in a game for the Fighting Irish.

If you've seen the film, Rudy, then you already know that during his last year at Notre Dame, on the last game of the season, Rudy finally saw his dream realized. Coach Dan Devine put him in the game for the last three plays of the season and on the final play, he sacked Georgia Tech quarterback, Rudy Allen. 

Its a brilliant story. It sings to the human soul. 

As Americans, we love a good underdog.

Every March, the madness overwhelms us and we have a chance to witness David slaying Goliath, as small teams face off against the giants of NCAA basketball. 

We love the stories and we herald its victors, but even in the case of renowned examples like Rudy, we have to ask ourselves if this was the best use of a young man's resources? 

Now, bear with me and let's consider the possibilities...what is the likelihood that a young man standing 5'6" and weighing 165 lbs would ever play in the NFL? 

Zero.

Let's be honest, its just not going to happen. 

The world of sports is built around numbers. And numbers don't lie.

The reality is that most kids with big league dreams will ever see their dreams realized is exceptionally slim.

The "Chase Your Dream" philosophy is an idealism born out of the American Dream. It says, "I can be whatever I want to be as long I put my mind to it." 

Right. 

But the fact of the matter is that if you're not genetically predispositioned, networked to the right people, and zoned in to the right geographic region for the sport of your choosing, then as an athlete, the odds against you are huge.

And still...the dreams live on for many.

Some guy on American Idol wants to be the next "American Idol" because he thinks he can sing and his momma convinced him that he actually could.

We all watch in horror, as he cackles his way through a brutal performance, and to his own dismay, gets laughed off of the audition stage because the skill he thought he possessed he actually did not. 

Now, comes the reality, that said singer, who hung his hopes upon this bright and shining star, finds it to come crashing down. And this train wreck of emotion is witnessed by millions of Americans as they watch his world unravel on their television.

His embarrassment is our entertainment.

But we'll bare it all to see that one, exceptional talent emerge from the rest.

When can we start being real with ourselves? 

We are creatures hardwired for worship

Every ounce of affection and passion that so many of us possess for a talent on display has been given to us by God. This zeal was given to us by Him and for His sake alone.

We're all programmed to chase, not our dreams, but rather God.

God does not share in His affections. He is jealous, and righteously justified in being jealous for His own name (Exodus 34:14).

Still, God is not jealous or desiring of our worship in the manner we all might think. He desires our affections in the same manner a master takes on an impoverished servant girl, then forgives her,  loves her, covers her shame, and elevates her to the same privilege as a family member...even as a husband unto a wife.

And He does all of this, not for our sake but for His own.

Our deepest satisfaction is found not in the celebration of our gifts, but in our delight in Him. (Tweet This)

Don't you see? He is the dream.

In the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, there's a particular scene where Eric Liddell is being scolded by his sister for neglecting his duties towards God.

He responds by saying,

I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.
— Eric Liddell

Our gifts are not an end unto themselves. He who hoops the best is not endowed with such a talent for the sole sake of self-glory and sneaker domination. Though anyone prescribing to the "Ball is Life" philosophy would be inclined to say differently. 

The investment in our passions is a reflection of who and what we serve. (Tweet This)

If our level of interest for God and His local church would someday match that of sports fanaticism, its possible that the world would change drastically...perhaps even overnight. 

I enjoy sports, but the day my competitive spirit drove me to want to assert myself above others – to win; to beat a man and to be the best regardless of the costs, was the day my priorities were called in to question. 

This was the day I walked away from the athletic field and gave my life in service to others. 

I have no regrets.

[Note: I still love the game of soccer, but my perspective is different. These days, its a means to connect with other people and instill godly values into those I coach and encounter.]

Soon, stadiums will be filled with thousands of adoring worshipers chanting their favorite "worship" songs, all to the glory of their teams and its sainted athletes. 

I wonder, in our spectrum of interests, where is the celebration over the victory found in the Cross?

Where is the jubilation found in the resurrection?

Where is the worship in our hearts for the one who gives us life?

The generation to come will model our worship, so let's raise them to glorify God in their gifts and strive for godly character above talent.

And if their efforts see them to a higher level, then it will be because God is gracious in His giving and not because they were inherently amazing or untouchably awesome. 

If we play, let it be in the spirit of community, and if we hope, rather than trusting in the quarterback or the coach, let's hang our hope upon the one who is worthy of such hope and can sustain it eternally – Jesus. 



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