May 18, 2024
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When is a win not a win?

If we don’t care how we win, we won’t ask the question. If a W is a W is a W, and we don’t care how it finds its way into our life’s “win-loss” column, the question above is nonsensical, not worth the breath it takes to be uttered.

A coach, at any level, can win an incredible number of games and still be a loser if he/she cheats to do it. Those Ws won’t mean anything. At least, not anything good. If he turns a blind eye to deplorable conduct by his athletes off of the field or court, he’s complicit in creating losers whose Ws just multiply their shame and bless no one.

If we find ourselves acting as if “winning” and “success” are dependent only upon a person’s bank balance or power or fame, and character and integrity are only an afterthought, the Ws society awards only show that our culture’s scale of value is woefully inadequate.

It often is. It’s more than possible that a janitor humming “Amazing Grace” as he mops a floor is far more deserving of our respect than a CEO selling not just his product but his principles on the other side of the door. (And, yes, life is not simple. Poor folks can also be eaten up with greed and resentment and CEOs unselfish and worthy of genuine respect.)

My father-in-law, serving in World War II, earned a number of medals, among them, the Bronze Star. You can buy one online for around twenty-five dollars. Winning one, earning it, will cost a good deal more.

Ironically, sometimes a real win looks like a loss. Jesus had much to say about that as he taught us that the only way to truly save our lives is to be willing to lay them down. And then he did precisely that.

Even before the Cross, near the beginning of his earthly ministry, the Lord underwent a long period of temptation in the Judaean wilderness (recorded in the Bible in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Satan tempted him to play by Satan’s rules, the world’s rules.

I paraphrase here, but the devil urges, “Ws should be easy for you! Worship and trust in yourself rather than your Father. Turn these rocks into bread and take the easy way out. Win by wowing the crowds. They’ll worship glitz! Jump off the top of the Temple and let the cameras roll and the ratings pile up as angels catch you. Or just worship me, and I’ll have all the crowds and mobs of this world worshiping you and falling at your feet. You’ll own them! I can give you an easy, cheap, and very large W!”

Satan could also have said, “Just watch as I offer made-to-order variations of the roots of each of these same temptations to rulers and despots, politicians and crowd whisperers, business leaders and office oligarchs, trend setters and not a few professionally religious crowd-pleasers. Not all will play my game, but the world will never lack many who’ll always go for the easy W. You, more than anyone else, should, too! It is your right. Take the W!”

Not all in leadership or authority have taken the easy W and sold their souls. Some in high authority honor those “beneath” them and know how to say, “I’m sorry; I was wrong” without choking on the apology or polling to see how these rare words would play to the public.

And only the truly naive would think that everyone living in humble circumstances is humble in heart. I suspect it’s no harder to find despots in homeless camps than it is on the world stage. Seventeenth-century English poet John Milton put these words into “his” Satan’s mouth: “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.”

In all places, in all circumstances, at various times in our lives, we are called on, quietly or in public, to decide what a real W looks like. The God who has given us the gift and the responsibility of “free will” will never force us to make the right choice. But the consequences of our choices are very real indeed, and we’re wise to seek our Lord’s wisdom and follow his example.

Written almost 150 years ago, the words of the wise Scottish minister and author George MacDonald are still deeply true: “[T]here are victories far worse than defeats; and to overcome an angel too gentle to put out all his strength, and ride away in triumph on the back of a devil, is one of the poorest.”

By Curtis K. Shelburne, Columnist


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