Monday over Coffee: Taking the 'L'

Need Some Words of Encouragement?

Taking the 'L'

South Main Baptist Church and The Church Without Walls have been meeting online the last few weeks for Bible study. Our joint exploration of Scripture has been deeply rewarding. Last week, as we dialogued about finding the right perspective on life in the face of suffering, one of our new friends, Rod Richardson, mentioned something that really resonated: “We hate to take the ‘L’,” he said.

Good athletic metaphors typically ring true to me and this one did in particular, because, like most of us, I really hate losing. There are a few little league losses my boys sustained years ago that still sting when I think about them, which I do with laughable regularity. 

There’s a great line in the baseball movie, Moneyball, in which Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, following a devastating defeat in the American League playoffs, responds to a colleague’s suggestion that he’ll get over the loss soon. “I never get over these things,” he responds, and he’s not alone. Why is that?

Maybe it’s because losing delivers a unique kind of psychological blow to us. Here’s my theory: we’re told and believe the world operates according to certain rules. In addition, we always see ourselves as the heroic figure in the narrative of our own lives. Everything we experience, as the late writer David Foster Wallace puts it, we experience from our own point of view as the center of our little universe. So when loss occurs, it doesn’t seem right or fair. There’s a moral character to it, and losing violates it. That is, we always think of our team as the team that should win, and we feel likewise, that as individuals, we ought to always prevail. And when it doesn’t happen, it strikes us that things haven’t turned out the way they should. In this way, every loss, in a sense, presents to us a mini, or sometimes not so mini, identity crisis. What does this mean if I lose? And what does it mean if I keep losing? Who am I? What rules are really operable in this world? Our psychology doesn’t seem to allow truth to leak in, to convey to us that indeed, if we’re human, we’re going to lose sometimes; in fact, we’re liable to lose often. 

I’ve begun to think of the experience of losing not as something I should get over as inconsequential, but as something I should try to better integrate into my life and identity. As a mature adult, this might seem counter-intuitive because it treats even minor losses as more existential in nature than perhaps merited. Actually, the little experiment serves a larger purpose. 

After all, we lose a lot. We lose our innocence. Growing up, we lose boyfriends and girlfriends. Our youthful dreams are lost. We may lose our jobs, our money. We may lose our faith. We lose family, our health. Some of us lose our memories. In some sense, life is just one loss after another, until eventually, we lose everything. We lose our lives. 

Perhaps these other losses we suffer — in sports, in arguments, in political rivalry, with respect to matters at work, or even with respect to the lives of our loved ones — are all concentrically growing crises which offer to us chance after chance to practice the integration of grace into our lives. That is, they’re a series of sequential dress rehearsals readying us for the biggest loss of all when we learn the ultimate power of grace. 

My point here is that we ought to give some serious thought about how we handle and approach loss because, in some ways, all of life is a question about “how we take the ‘L’.” When I think of how I’ll look back on this season, and on whether I bore it well or didn’t, a lot will depend on my answer to this question.

Learning to lose doesn’t mean quitting, risking no more, or losing hope. It doesn’t mean getting to be ok with it, and it certainly doesn’t mean feeling nothing or programming yourself spiritually to want nothing. But it does mean integrating adversity and loss into your life, continuing to live, continuing to lose, while coming to know yourself better, re-balancing, and finding grace within yourself. This is crucial. Maybe the only thing that counts. It’s where our humanity grows. And in it, we find not only that there’s value in losing, but we just might find, it’s the most important lesson in life.

God — 
 
I know I’m going to lose sometimes, probably a lot, and whether I benefit or not from these experiences is up to me. Stir up grace in me to grow. Help me take the ‘L’.

Amen.

—Greg Funderburk 


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