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. This year UMBC (The University of Maryland, Baltimore County – I had to look that one up) a #16 team beat the #1 Team Virginia; the first time ever since the NCAA tournament began seeding teams. It was interesting to listen to the ESPN commentators before the UMBC vs Virginia game. They almost joked about UMBC. They said there was no chance of them beating Virginia. As the game progressed however their tone changed and UMBC ended up beating Virginia by 20 points. Loyola Chicago, a #11 seeded team, has reached the final four for the first time. That is what I love about this tournament.
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 teams that were supposed to go all the way including Virginia, Xavier, Perdu, North Carolina, and Cincinnati defeated by teams that should not have won. 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.
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 Virginia, Xavier, 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.” 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 teams to have a perfect season and win the national championship. UCLA did it four times and Kentucky did it in 1954. This life is meant to be one of learning; through our successes and our failures. Heavenly Father knows we cannot live a perfect life and he has provided our Savior Jesus Christ to help us overcome our imperfections and help us have the courage to get up when we fail. Our greatest lessons can be learned when we fail and get up and try again.
When life seems to be difficult or impossible we need to remember that we have many who are cheering for us to succeed. Even if those around us are prophesying our defeat don’t listen to them. UMBC and Loyola Chicago did not pay attention to all those that said they had no chance of winning and they won in spite of all the negative talk.
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.