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Desire: The Will to Win

1 July 2009

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The Epistle to the Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB)


Between football workouts at the Air It Out passing camp, qb popped over to his hotel room to relax out of the heat with a pulled-pork sandwich from Sharon’s BBQ.  Wimbledon is being played this week, and the Hewitt/Roddick quarterfinal was closing in on 4 hours in the fifth set.  Hewitt was visibly exhausted, fighting hard but dumping routine groundstrokes midway down the net.  qb started to wonder, sympathetically:  why does he continue to slug it out?  What is so great about winning that an otherwise secure person like Hewitt would continue to try to put himself in a semifinal, when clearly that semifinal is going to bring more and more difficulty and exhaustion?  

What is the piont?


I dunno, but it’s a force of nature.


Last July, 43-year-old qb decided he had something to prove to himself, so he entered the men’s 4.5 singles draw in the Amarillo Open.  After a three-set first match, which I should have won in two, I cruised through a two-set semi and ended up in the finals against the top seed, a somewhat younger man we can call “my opponent.”  Acquaintances in the tennis community whose kids I had coached in soccer several years back said they were hearing a lot of murmuring around the tennis center because the guy I beat in the first round was supposed to be in the finals, not me.  And even though we were acquaintances from soccer days, they said they had to root for their buddy, my opponent, a well-known, well-liked fixture in the tennis community.  I laughed and said I understood.  I really did; I’ve never liked interlopers myself.

Sunday morning was uncharacteristically cool, damp, and foggy, with almost no wind.  Not exactly July weather, and uncharacteristic of Amarillo for sure.  We warmed up as usual and got started, and 35 minutes or so later, my opponent had won the first set, 6-2.  I could have blamed a sore right shoulder and an errant first serve (<50%) for my travails, but the deeper truth was that I was overmatched, and I knew it.  I’d give it my “best” in the second set, but it would go just as quickly, I was sure, and I would be home in time to shower and make it to the airport well in time for my flight to Kansas City.

Then Robbie and Brian showed up.


I don’t know how they knew about the match, but there they were, strolling slowly and thoughtfully into the bleachers, taking in everything.  

I should piont out that Brian was recruited by a number of big-time D-1 schools out of Midland High as an O-lineman, and Robbie – now a 5A track coach – won at least one NM state championship as a quarterback.  They know athletes, they know what it is to win, and they know how to size up a situation.  In any sport.  ANY sport.  

I remember thinking:  you know, Brian doesn’t look happy with me.  And Robbie doesn’t either.


Something about having a few buddies looking on brings the element of shame into the picture.  Respect.  A holy sort of pride.  Nobody rolls over in front of his friends – nobody with any self-regard, anyway.


So there we were in the second-set tiebreaker, a 12-piont affair as per USTA rules.  This would be over soon, and I’d be able to say I at least put up a fight.  So let’s go out gloriously, I thought.  My rotator cuff be damned, I’m going to reach out a little more after my first serves, pound them a little flatter, go for the corners, go for the body shots – it won’t make much of a difference, it’ll be over soon, and Brian and Robbie won’t have any reason to be displeased with my effort.

Eight or nine pionts later – I can’t remember if the tiebreaker was 7-1 or 7-2 – qb was walking back to the clubhouse to get a new can of balls for the third set.


By this time, I really was exhausted, my shirt soaked to every fiber, a raging inferno under the ball of each foot.  I didn’t dare take off my shoes, but I did it anyway.  The circular flaps of shriveled, white skin were identical in each case, at least 4 cm across, and maybe 2mm thick.  With a couple of snips of some surgical shears – I know how old I am, so I bring a first-aid kit to this stuff – I had a couple of trophies for the trashcan.  Neosporin, gauze, athletic tape, fresh socks, shoes, third set.  I slowed everything down to conserve energy between pionts, but for some reason my shoulder wasn’t protesting any more than usual, so I kept hammering away.  My opponent was clearly rattled and displeased – I even suspected it was getting personal, as he was really more quiet than he was gracious.  

What am I doing?  Why does it matter?  What am I trying to prove?  Why prolong the inevitable?  What purpose is served by any of this?  All of those questions kept blowing through my mind.  But somehow I believed I could pull this thing off, and that it was worth it to give it everything I had, mentally as well as physically.  This youngster had more physical weapons, but at this piont I wasn’t sure he had the mental game to withstand what I had left.  I had been here once – no, twice – before, the first time in the 1981 AAA State Finals, and the second in the finals of the All-University intramural tournament at Texas A&M, sometime in the late ’80s as a graduate student.  The third set, I thought, belongs to me.

Robbie and Brian kept quiet.  I couldn’t tell what Jennifer and the boys were thinking – except perhaps, “let’s get on home and grab some lunch.”


Maybe the Hebrew writer had something to say to us, a counterpiont of a sort to the otherwise prevailing NT critique of unholy ambitions, comparing ourselves to others, raising ourselves up at the expense of others, and all that.  Maybe the Hebrew writer was appealing to our guts.  How badly do you want to be a disciple to Jesus?  How much does it mean to you?  What are you willing to endure to gain it?


Yes, that’s it:  how badly do I want it?


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