Distraction of Defeat

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

“Take your mark,” shouted the starter, “Get set,” and the gun went off.

I sprung off my starting block into the water, began rotating my arms and kicking as soon as I hit the water. My eyes focused on the black line, determined not to take a breath during the first lap. I reached for the end, executed a quick flip turn, pushed off, and glided into my final lap. As I glanced to Karen’s lane on my right, it appeared we were neck and neck. Kick! Stroke! Darn! I was running out of air and I knew a breath would slow me down.  Breathe!

It appeared that we touched at the same time  but there was only one slot left for state finals in the 50 yard freestyle. We had to wait for the timers had to record and average their times before the winner would be announced. My heart raced with anxiety for  Karen was my nemesis. We had been competing against each other all season long and I desperately wanted the slot. Since it  was my last year to compete, I felt entitled to it.  

When the announcement was finally made, my heart sank. I missed by less than half of a second!  How could this be? I had been competing longer.  I had more wins and even better times in this event. However, the coach announced that all state final decisions would be assigned by the time trials. Oh the agony of defeat! I was angry and humiliated, and it didn’t help that Karen walked by with a gloating shrug. I couldn’t even bring myself to congratulate her because deep inside, I felt she stole my position.

This was not my first defeat, nor my last. There were many solos for concerts, auditions for plays, interviews for jobs, and other situations where I was not the chosen one. Each time, I would prepare and practice, hoping to present my best, but my best wasn’t always enough.  Each time I would fight the feelings of inadequacy and rejection.  Feelings of embarrassment and shame would overwhelm me.

I still experience defeat today, but I now know that it’s not healthy to wallow in self-pity. We have an opportunity to learn from each situation. Many times it’s a lesson in pride versus humility as it was with Karen and the time trials for state.   Sometimes the most disappointing defeats have taught me the greatest lessons in flexibility, perseverance, tenacity, integrity, and dedication.

Christ experienced many defeats by worldly standards from his birth to his death on a cross. But what appeared like a defeat, God had a purpose. Christ had difficulty with the torture and rejection he experienced  at death but He knew God’s ultimate plan for salvation through his sacrifice. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” Luke 23:64.

Even though we ended up at different schools the following fall, I still continued to harbor unresolved jealousy towards Karen over my defeat.  Little did I know that God was going to teach me an unexpected lesson.  It happened  at a Young Life meeting when the leader asked for prayers for Karen’s family. My ears perked up and was suddenly struck with guilt mixed with devastation as the leader explained that Karen had died at the age of 16 from meningitis. My heart dropped because  I had let my harbored negative feelings separate us.  It was one of those experiences where I learned that God has a bigger plan. He allowed Karen to experience that swimming victory and taught me humility. It also has helped me realize that there is a reason for every loss.

Defeats are difficult, and we may not always take the time to see purpose in our defeats, but each defeat builds character.  Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us, Romans 5:3-5.

Dear Lord, When I feel as though  I have lost out on an opportunity, I become self-focused and easily discouraged. From my perspective, things may seem harmful but You may have a hidden promise/purpose to bring good out of the situation. Help me to trust you in these times that seem like defeat, but may be opportunities for growth. For I know that what I see is meant for harm, You may have a hidden promise. Amen.

As always, I appreciate your encouragement and seek to serve!

Peg Arnold

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