Playing Hurt (They Need Us)

It was the final game for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1993 season. They entered into the hostile atmosphere of The Meadowlands to face the New York Giants in a deciding battle to determine who would win the NFC East division title. The ‘Boys had already won a Super Bowl under legendary coach Jimmy Johnson and the Giants were now standing in the way of them winning their second straight division title. Dallas was stacked with talent but relied heavily on Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. Smith was on his way to another great performance when he took a hard shoulder-separating hit from the Giants’ Greg Jackson with 1:58 left in the first half. It seemed that Smith’s season and the Cowboys hopes for another Super Bowl win were over. Whether you are a Cowboys fan or a hater like myself, if you remember watching Emmitt play, you cannot deny the heart with which he played the game. He came out in the second half to gain another 78 yards in total offense finishing with 229 for the game. In the final game-winning drive, Smith touched the ball 9 out of the 12 plays they ran including the final 5 plays of the drive. He did this…with one arm. The Cowboys went on to make a run through the playoffs and won their second consecutive Super Bowl.

The sports world is full of stories of athletes who did extraordinary things while playing hurt. Who can forget Michael Jordan scoring 38 points with the flu against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals? I’ll probably always rememer the image of Bella Karolyi carrying Kerri Strug to the Gold Medal platform during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta after she landed a perfect vault with a broken ankle to propel the USA Women’s gymnastics team to gold or Kurt Angle winning wrestling gold that same year with a broken neck. Of course, my personal all-time favorite sports memory was Kirk Gibson rounding the bases pumping his fist after blasting a home run with “two bum legs” off of lights-out closer Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. If you use Google correctly, you can find all kinds of stories of inspiration.

Why then, knowing about all of these stories, have I found myself nearly paralyzed for over a year and a half?

I’ve been hurt. I have felt betrayed. I have felt like I’ve been thrown under the proverbial bus.

Last May, we moved back to my hometown of Toledo, OH and I came here with the plan of never working in ministry again. I came here tired of the politics. I came here tired of the extra dedication it takes. I came here tired of feeling like I need to answer for everything I want to do.

I came here tired.

I came here hurt. I was ready to hang up my ministerial cleats. I was ready to just sit in the back of the church and cheer for the home team and then go home to the safety of my domicile, flip on the tv, and watch baseball.

That was all good and fine until I found myself in the belly of a whale. Of course, that’s not literal. I did find myself, though, and I found myself out of the will of God. It’s a funny thing when you know you have a special calling on your life. Well, I don’t know if “funny” is the right word. It’s definitely peculiar. It doesn’t matter what you try to do with you life. When you have a special calling, you cannot escape it. You can try to bury it. You can try to bury it with extreme things like alcohol and drugs. You can try to get your mind off of it by watching countless hours of tv and movies. You can dive in and immerse yourself in your work, but the calling never goes away, and God has a way of getting you right where He wants you until you finally throw you hands up in surrender.

That’s where I have found myself on this very morning as I sit here jotting down my thoughts. I have found myself tired of sitting on the sidelines watching all of the action. I have found myself tired of nursing an injury that I should’ve never nursed in the first place and letting this injury keep me out of the action.

I sat in a meeting last night and listened to my pastor as he shared his vision with a large group of us at our church. He told a story about one of my childhood heroes that shook me to the core. Rod Farnsworth was one of my Sunday School teachers. He was part of the leadership of the Boy Scout troop we had when I was a kid. He was the father of one of my best friends growing up. He was a great man with an infectious smile. I’ll always remember how he would walk among a group of us and say, “Gentlemen.” He would say that knowing that our conversation was most likely one that “gentlemen” should not be engaged in. Once every few months in Sunday School class, always for the benefit of the new students, he would draw a rectangle on the chalkboard and ask the question, “How do you make an elephant out of this box?” The answer was, “You take out everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.” It was a pretty simple concept of “if you want to be like Jesus, you take out everything in your life that doesn’t look like Jesus”. Our pastor, last night, was talking about a vision that he launched a few years ago. It was a little radical compared to what the church body was used to. People questioned. People doubted. People scoffed. It was Rod Farnsworth who stood up and said that this vision needed to happen because, “They need us.”

They need us.

I have to admit that the words, “They need us,” have been replaying over and over in my mind since that meeting.

Over the years, I have found myself in these spots where I’m ready to give it all up. I’m ready to throw in the towel and just run away to a place where no one knows me and hide from my calling. I have come to the realization that, just like Jonah, the result of this retreat will be nothing more than the captivity of a whale’s belly. As I sat there last night, God did what He does best and whispered to me, “They need you.”

Who are they?

They are my wife and kids. They are my neighbors. They are the men of my church who need another man who can relate to their everyday struggles. They are the misguided youth of the City of Toledo. They are my coworkers to whom I’ve not been a very good witness. They are whomever God directs me to talk to. They are all the ones who cannot afford for me to sit on the bench any longer and whine about my hurting ego.

Who are they in your life? What is holding you back? Are you hurt? Are you tired? Are you ready to give it all up? Before you do…

They need you!

They need all of us.

Playing hurt isn’t a new thing. Some of the greatest stories in history have come from people who have overcome adversity to put on the performance of a lifetime. I’m ready for my story to be written. I’m ready to be inspired by your story. I’m ready. Are you ready?

They need us.