Sunday, March 29, 2015

March Madness

It is that time of year when even the least basketball fan is caught up in the tradition and excitement of the NCAA Basketball tournament.  I love this tournament over all the others because even the smaller schools have an opportunity to go for the championship. Many times the “Cinderella” team beats the “Goliath” team and the odds to win their game and continue their quest for perfection. We have seen someone that has no chance defeat teams that are picked to win it all. That is what I love about this tournament. Rarely does a team get all the way through the tournament with a perfect season. This year the University of Kentucky is trying to beat those odds with a record of 38-0 and one of the final four teams.

Many of the games are not decided until the very end and the student athletes give everything they have. The emotions win or lose are there for all to see. This year we saw Arizona defeated by Wisconsin and Notre Dame lose to Kentucky. The old saying “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” was on faces of all the players, coaches and fans. It is emotionally draining to work so hard and be so close but come up short.

The Notre Dame vs Kentucky was one of the most exciting games yet in the tournament and Notre Dame did all they could to beat their opponents. How do we handle the wins and the losses? Do we blame the loss on someone or something? When we win, do we take glory unto ourselves and put down the opponent? We experience success and failure in our everyday lives and how we respond will develop our character. When asked by a reporter if the Notre Dame game was their toughest game yet, the Kentucky coach said not that Kentucky simply played bad. I am not sure if he was trying to challenge his players or if the coach could not have the class to respect the effort that Notre Dame put forth in the game? Proverbs says: "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall" (Proverbs 16:18) and it sounds like the Kentucky coach is getting ripe for a fall.

Are the teams that lose considered losers? Even though it may seem like it to them at the time, character is forged by the times we fail as much as in our victories. President Worthen, President of Brigham Young University, spoke of the difference in failing and being a failure. He said:

“It is a truth that is hard to deny, yet difficult to accept. It is this: We will all fail. More than once. Every day.
“I know that may sound startling and not the most optimistic of messages, so let me be quick to add that this does not mean that you or I are failures or that the quest for perfection is futile. There is a difference between failing, even repeatedly, and being a failure, as I hope to explain.
“Failing is an essential part of the mortal phase of our quest for perfection. We don’t often think of it that way, but that is only because we tend to focus too much on the word perfection and not enough on the word quest when we read the mission statement. Failure is an inevitable part of the quest. In our quest for perfection, how we respond when we fail will ultimately determine how well we will succeed.” (“Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection”, Kevin J. Worthen, BYU Devotional, January, 06, 2015).

Failure is a part of this life and how we deal with it will determine our ultimate success. Unfortunately in a tournament like the NCAA basketball tournament, when you loose you are out and the sting of that loss is a difficult lesson. There will be many sports commentators and fans that will put the blame on the coach or the failure of one shot or something, but it rarely comes down to one play. There are many mistakes and missed shots that put teams in a situation where that one bad call from a referee or missed foul shot costs them the game. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes and improve. The test for Arizona, Notre Dame, and the others that lost will be how they rise up and come back next year and start over.

Our lives are similar to the wins and losses in sport. We will succeed at some things but fail at other times. How we learn from our mistakes (or sins) and improve (or repent) will determine our overall happiness and standing before God. The Apostle Paul compared our lives to a race when he said:

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

The difference between a sporting event and our lives is in sports there is only one eventual winner but in life we all have the opportunity for eternal life. None of us will make it through this life without failing or sinning. But through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can all end up with that perfect record. If we repent when we sin and strive to keep God’s commandments we can be cleansed and Jesus Christ has promised that because of his suffering for us it will be as if we never sinned at all; we will all be perfect and win the prize of eternal life.

President Worthen reminded the students at BYU of the blessing of the atonement and the effect it can have on us:

“…failing is a critical component of our eternal progress—our quest for perfection. And because of the Atonement we can—if we respond to failures in the right way—be blessed with a new kind of learning that allows our failures to become part of the perfecting process. As Elder Bruce C. Hafen has explained, the beauty of the gospel is that “because of the Atonement, we can learn from our mistakes without being condemned by them.”14 What a wonderful blessing that absolutely marvelous and indispensable portion of the plan of salvation provides to each of us, if we will but take advantage of it.” (“Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection”, Kevin J. Worthen, BYU Devotional, January, 06, 2015).

Since 1939 there has only been five different division 1 teams to have a perfect season and win the national championship. UCLA did it four times and Kentucky did it in 1954. We have yet to see if Kentucky can end the season without a single loss, they have two more games to go to reach that perfect season for a second time. If Kentucky does it their season record will be 40 wins and 0 losses and no other team has had to win that many games to achieve a perfect season.

Our lives sometimes may seem to be one long month of march madness, but if we will rise up when we stumble, repent when we sin, seek forgiveness when we fail in the end we will hear the Lord speak the words we all hope for: “Well done thou good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of thy Lord”. (Matthew 25:21) and we will enjoy a perfect season, eternal life with our families.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

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