(Image courtesy of http://pixgood.com.)

As I said in yesterday's post, I have been coaching an elementary-aged basketball team for the last month or so. Last night was our last practice, so I decided to do it the old "Cougar Camp" way and have competitions with prizes awarded to the winners. ("Cougar Camp" is a week-long, summer baseball camp in my hometown for elementary school kids that my dad has organized for over a decade. Prizes are awarded each day to kids who win competitions or display great character.)

Before I went to practice, I went to the store to buy some prizes for the competitions we would be having: timed dribbling races; free throw contests; rebounding competitions; and shooting contests. I was actually standing in the checkout line at Wal Mart with a prize for every player: a couple sponge balls; a couple decks of trading cards; a few toy cars; and a couple packs of gum. I was next in line when suddenly the debate I was having in my mind came to an end: I just couldn't give every kid an award. That would only be feeding the lies that our culture is promoting, saying they are all "standout stars" and that "everybody is a winner." Well, the world doesn't operate like that. Some people are more talented than others and some people work harder for things than others. The reward should match the talent and effort, at least on this earth. So I stepped out of my place in line and began putting many of the prizes in my arms back on the shelves on which I had found them.

In the back of my mind, I felt bad. I knew that some kids' feelings would be hurt that night when they didn't get a prize but someone else did and I didn't like that thought. Yet it was a sacrifice that I needed to make for the betterment of these kids. I would not be another enabler in their lives, teaching them that they are entitled to everything simply because they breathe the same air as the person next to them. It was a necessary evil, if you will.

Of course, last night at practice, some kids did cry. But I only withheld the prizes at the end from those who lost the competitions; I gave my love and encouragement to everyone equally. In the end, every kid left with a smiling, sweaty face.

After I had finished handing out the prizes to the winners of the competitions, I told them a valuable lesson that I had been told by my college football coach, Ordell Walker. Coach Walker once told the team at Greenville during one of our meetings: "Winning is not what defines you. Neither is losing. What defines a man is his character and integrity. The scoreboard simply tells the score; it does not tell your worth as a person." These words I took with me in the back of my mind, knowing them to be absolutely true. I shared them with my elementary players tonight. Realistically, most probably had no idea what I was talking about. But I wanted them to know it regardless.

Head Coach Ordell Walker told the Greenville College football team, "The scoreboard does not define who you are on the inside."
I had a similar experience with a high school football player last week. The football team was "maxing out," which simply means that each player was trying to do as much weight as they could on each lift. One player was very upset and even a little depressed that his bench press max was not as high as some of his teammates. I know he felt this way because I asked him: "Jerry, what's the matter? Why are you depressed?"

"I didn't get as much as I had hoped, Coach," was his solemn reply as his head hung to his chest.

"Jerry," I said, "a man is not defined by how much weight he lifts. A man is defined by his character and his integrity. It's what's on the inside that really matters."

Almost immediately he lifted his head and looked me in the eyes, and a smile slowly came back to his normally joyful face.

After a few days off from school, Jerry found me at football practice and told me: "Coach, a man is not defined by how much he lifts. He is defined by his character and his integrity."

At first I was puzzled. I knew this sounded familiar, but I had honestly forgotten all about the conversation we had had earlier that week. I responded, "You're right, Jerry. That's exactly it. Where'd you hear that?"

"You told me, Coach," was his reply.

Needless to say, I was very humbled. I was also reminded that sometimes the disappointments of life can teach us the most. Why? Because we are humbled in times of disappointment. We realize that we are not as "big and bad" as we think we are. We realize that we really don't have it all together. This is a great place to be.

Are you kidding me?! A great place to be?! But I feel like a loser! How is feeling like a failure and a loser a great place to be? Here's why: God gives grace to the humble, but He opposes the proud (I Peter 5:5, Proverbs 3:34).

Here's what I mean:

Entitlement is a dangerous thing, a very dangerous thing. It teaches us that we are above others because we deserve something; everyone else should be making sure we get what we want when we want it. We are the center of everything, not other people, much less a deity. This idea is built and formed into the minds of the most innocent of humans: children.

A child's natural instinct is to be selfish (Parents.com). If a child's every want and desire is catered to the majority of the time, they will turn out to be narcissistic, selfish grown-ups.

But when times of difficulty come - like when a few of the players on my basketball team didn't receive a prize for winning a competition, or when Jerry didn't achieve what he thought to be his best max - it opens up opportunity for growth. Times like these humble us. Only in times of humility can we truly be taught and transformed. Pride and selfishness only breed a false sense of reality.

Similarly, the Bible says that our faith is refined through fire (I Peter 1:7). This means that in times of difficulty, our faith is molded and refined to be even more like Christ, who was completely selfless (Philippians 2:5-11). Peter uses the analogy in I Peter 1:7 of gold being refined. The purpose of refinement is to remove all the impurities from the gold; thus, you have an end result of solid gold. What a great analogy! When we go through difficulties, we are humbled. When we are humbled, God gives us grace. Grace not only saves us, but it also makes it possible to know God more. When we know God more, we become more like Him. When we become more like Him, we leave our selfish, narcissistic ways behind.

People, it's time to start living, not just doing what everyone else is doing.

Pray for opportunities to be humbled - God's grace will get you through - and you'll end up stronger than ever!

May you and I both be blessed with humility!

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less" (C.S. Lewis).