My 11-year-old son’s regular basketball season ended this week. Their record was an inauspicious 0-11. Not a single win. But their dismal results in no way reflect the amount of heart and tenacity this scrappy team of underdogs displayed on the court. They played to win, even when the scoreboard told a different story. They held their heads high in the face of imminent defeat and kept going to the hoop. On many occasions, I would tell the boys the loss wasn’t due to a lack of shots. In fact, they were crashing the boards like champs, but the ball just wasn’t breaking in their favor. This is something that will undoubtedly begin to coalesce after more time playing as a team.
What I most admired though, watching from the stands, was how this disparate group of 5th graders hustled across the gymnasium floor with their never-say-die-style of defense. When they lost the ball in a turnover, they’d go after it as if their very lives depended on it. You could see it in their intense glares as they tracked their target like a heat-seeking missile. It was thrilling to watch.
My son’s a natural at defense. He’d wave his arms and move in unison with his opponent in an artful synchronized dance spanning the key. Occasionally though, he and the other players would lose track of who they were guarding. The coach could be heard excitedly shouting from the sidelines, “Who’s your man? Who’s your man?” I seem to remember shouting it a few times myself, witnessing a Grand Canyon-sized hole in their defense. When confronted with this pointed question my son would look around a bit disoriented, zero in on the right player and resume defending the basket with pep and vitality, assuming the damage hadn’t already been done.
After one particularly heartbreaking loss in which a victory was snatched out from under us, I put an arm around my kid and asked him, “Did you have fun?” He nodded solemnly. “Great D,” I reassured. “I loved when you swatted the ball out of that one kid’s hands as he was headed to the basket. So exciting!” He flashed a toothy smile.
In the quiet of the drive home, I began considering the coach’s question. “Who’s your man?” Clearly, he was reminding his players to wake up and get the right guy in their sights. “Don’t let your mind wander!” he was urging. “Get on him or he’s going to slip by.” As in most things that play out in my children’s lives, they are often universally applicable in my own life. “Who’s your man?” How would I respond to that question? Have I set my sights on THE Man, the one who is fully God and fully man? Does my focus pull to Christ, or does my mind wander and I periodically need reminding to get Him back in my sights? Am I tracking him with enough urgency? This is for my eternal salvation after all, yet it seems my attention span—(BUZZ BUZZ) Oh, a text message!
Let’s just say I lose focus more rapidly than my iPhone battery runs outta juice. But this elementary sports question was presenting me with deep philosophical thoughts regarding my faith. “Who’s your man?” Do I firmly and definitively claim Christ as mine? Have I been seeking the Lord with the intensity He deserves? This is where the basketball metaphor and theology take divergent paths. As the basketball player tries to get his opponent in the cross-hairs, the other team member does his best to elude the defensive player, dodging, darting and sliding across the floor in an effort to lose his shadow. St. John of the Cross, recognized as one of the Doctors of the Church, reminds us that God does not act like an opponent on the court. When we are pursuing Him, something profound happens.
“In the first place, it should be known that if a person is seeking God, His beloved is seeking him much more.”
The moral of the story is: Find your man! Follow Him as if your life depended on it—because it does. And He will track you with even greater intensity. Pulling your focus to Christ will ensure that your relationship deepens and your focus becomes His focus. And when your mind wanders and you lose him from your sights, he’s always urging us to turn back.
My son’s team has AMDG proudly displayed on the back of each jersey. That stands for “ad majorem Dei gloriam” which is Latin for “to the greater glory of God.” Tournament play will begin for them over the next couple of weeks. I’m not sure if they will pick up any wins, but I’m certain that they will put their heart and soul into each matchup, which is proof of God’s greater glory. And each time I hear the coach’s words, “Who’s your man?” I will be reminded that I too need to up my game. I will follow the stellar example of my 11-year-old son and his unwavering teammates in playing to win, guarding and defending with a never-say-die attitude. When it seems like I’m facing impending defeat, I will keep my head in the game and find my man.
Update: This scrappy team of fifth-grade warriors went on to win 6 games in tournament play. They ranked 3rd in the whole division. AMDG!