Last night, my Atlanta Falcons had a heartbreaking ending to a really great season. Why? Because the New England Patriots know how to finish. How about you? Do you know how to finish? Do you remember just a few weeks ago what you resolved to do in 2017? Perhaps you are a little behind pace or have abandoned the pursuit altogether. I want to encourage you today to resurrect those resolutions. If they were worth thinking about or writing down in January they are worth living out the rest of the year. Regardless of how you have started the year it is much more important how you finish. How you finish has everything to do with perseverance.
When I was a kid I was taught a life altering lesson in perseverance from my parents. One of my greatest joys as a young boy was playing football. It began when I was seven years old with a dream of playing in Tuscaloosa for Coach Bear Bryant and ended eight glorious seasons later. But if it had been up to me I wouldn’t have made it past the first week of practice. That’s where my parents come in.
I had made the second grade team (as did everyone who “tried out”) and was now a member of the Dannelly Elementary Green Bees in Montgomery, AL. One of the very first practices involved a one on one exercise called the Oklahoma Drill where I had to tackle a teammate by myself. I positioned myself to make the smackdown of all smackdowns but instead found myself being the one taking the beating. It was like a semi truck hitting a fly on the freeway and I was the fly. Like the great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
With my plan crushed, I concluded football was not for me and proceeded to tell my dad I was quitting. My military father would have none of it and told me I was to finish the season, give it my best and we could reevaluate at the end of the season. One of the four letter words I was not permitted to say was “can’t”. So instead I said “Yessir!” Over the next couple of months I rarely saw the field, usually playing the minimum number of plays required by our league. But something happened inside me. Rather than getting discouraged, I got motivated. I began to learn the game and by the end of that first season in spite of my performance on the field I had decided I was a football player. And for the next seven years I was.
My second season I chose to wear #39 on my jersey after Larry Czonka, the bruising fullback of the Miami Dolphins. (Why I remember every jersey number from each of my sports teams but forget my computer password I will never know.) It was this season my coach decided my speed, quickness, and fear of getting hit were a good combination for a kick returner and I began to have the opportunity to carry the ball. The following season I became a running back (#22 after Mercury Morris) and then for my last several seasons I played the most important position on the team, quarterback (Uncle Rico had nothing on me). I entered the 10th grade at 5’ 8”, 125 lbs and finally decided to hang up my cleats, realizing my hopes of playing for the University of Alabama would not be realized.
But what I did have were eight years of experiences and life lessons that implanted in me a love for sports that is still a big part of who I am. It all began when the decision was made for me to not quit. Now I am much older and no one is making decisions for me, but the choice to stick with it still must be made on a regular basis. Dreams that begin with excitement still hit walls of discouragement. It is at these moments that the decision must be made to persevere.
Is there an area of passion or calling in your life where you are feeling discouraged or defeated? Don’t let your current lack of progress keep you from pressing forward. There is a reward for those who endure.
I will end with a fitting poem I memorized as a child. Maybe my parents had something to do with this too:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow--
You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor's cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out--
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit--
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.
- Author unknown –