Monday Over Coffee: "Approaching Lent"

Published February 20, 2023 by Greg Funderburk

Never fail to attend in victory that which you would certainly address in defeat.
— Jeff Van Gundy

After my first year in law school, interested in the field of sports law, I took a summer job with the Texas Rangers baseball club. Though it was an unglamorous entry-level position during a losing season for the team, it gave me an opportunity to gain some basic knowledge about the business side of sports. During the day, I toiled in the box office selling tickets, and in the evenings I worked as an usher at the games. And while I was a good usher—helping folks to their seats, answering questions about the stadium, and ensuring no one was injured by a foul ball—it wasn't long into the summer that I discovered I was really bad at selling tickets.

At the end of every day, when my supervisor reviewed the number of tickets I'd sold and counted up the money I'd taken in, it would come out wrong. I'd either have given someone too much change or not enough change for their tickets. Another variation on this theme might involve having accidentally given a buyer an extra ticket or shorting a family a ticket at some point during the day. I don't think my supervisor suspected me of stealing or anything like that, but as the summer wore on, there was little doubt about my lack of skill at the ticket window. Consistently, either the team or one of its valued fans was being shortchanged.

My ineptitude reached its zenith on a day that, to my surprise, the dollar total in my till and the number of tickets I sold actually matched up for once. I felt the thrill of success. Finally, I was getting better at my job. However, the thrill, these hopes, were quickly dashed when upon closer analysis it was revealed that I'd managed to charge one customer for a ticket he'd not received and later in the day, given an extra ticket to a customer that he hadn't paid for. When I suggested to my supervisor that at least the number of tickets and dollars received lined up, she replied I had no cause to feel good about this.

Jeff Van Gundy is a former NBA head coach and now a basketball analyst for ESPN. He lives in Houston with his family and also serves on the board for a highly regarded, state-authorized charter school in Houston's Third Ward serving at-risk youth. Over the years, in listening to Van Gundy's postgame press conferences as a coach and his analysis during the NBA games, he's always seemed to me to be a keen observer of human nature, a deep thinker with an exceptional mind. This view was reinforced in an interview he gave on a local radio show a few years ago. The subject of winning streaks arose, and Van Gundy asserted that winning often papers over what, in truth, might be poor performance. Winning hides things that losing readily reveals, he said, then went on to explain that there's only one way to avoid this trap of thinking you're doing better than you really are—stress the importance of always honestly examining yourself without regard to external results. He then added philosophically: "Never fail to attend in victory that which you would certainly address in defeat."

The approaching season of Lent, which directs us toward an honest consideration of our shortcomings, really is a time for all of us to reflect, especially when we think things are going right, going well, and matters seem to be squaring up for us. As Ash Wednesday arrives this week, give some thought to the possibility that even if the scoreboard might look the way you want it to right now, maybe you're still missing something important, something deeper about yourself. Or perhaps give some consideration to the possibility that even though your till is coming up with the right amount each day, you might still be short-changing someone. Maybe even God.

Look, I know an offer, an invitation, to critically examine one's self is not always a big box office draw. It sort of feels like agreeing to go to a game you know you're going to lose. But Lent can be an important moment if the self-examination it draws from us is conducted in light of a faith that assures us that God loves us and desires that we flourish. Approaching Lent with this belief, with this philosophy in mind, should be a ticket that we all want to buy.

God — Lead me into an honest evaluation of myself in this approaching season so that I may flourish. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk