More Grist for the Mill

The Title Says it All...

#’s 69 & 70

MAN, WHAT A DIFFERENCE 30 YEARS MAKES. It was early March, 1987, in the back room in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A sixth-grader had the blank sheets from Sports Illustrated at the ready, along with various writing utensils, using scrap paper to scribble down the brackets as the talking heads on CBS revealed each team and where they were seeded for that year’s NCAA tournament. While taking note of the unfolding events, this middle-schooler also listened intently to the commentary, trying to figure out what would be the best way to select the winners of each game all they way through the Final Four and championship game.

When the games tipped off the following Thursday – he can admit now – he had a Walkman with a radio and an surreptitious earbud at the ready to catch what he could of the play-by-play until he got home from school (I think the statute of limitations has expired with respect to my youthful indiscretion!)

A lifetime ago. Even up until 2003 or so, I paid attention to the brackets (although not as much as I did before I went to college) to the point I got 59 of 63 games (including the championship game) correct. However, as life moved forward on a personal and professional basis, my attention waned to the point that I’ll watch the games this year (at least until Anna Catherine has had enough and we have to return to our regularly scheduled Mickey Mouse, Elena, Sophia, and PJ Masks rotation) but have no real passion (other than rooting for whoever is playing Kentucky and whoever is playing Duke.)

For me, this year it is entirely appropriate that March Madness begins during the Lenten season. After all, Lent is a time where we undertake serious prayer and introspection to shed that which keeps us from fully embracing the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. We read in Ecclesiastes that there is a season for everything under the sun, and for me part of the season of Lent sometimes is letting go of a particular season of life in order to embrace what God has in store for me next.

Let there be no misunderstanding – letting go of a season of life is hard in many cases. Especially those things where we have labored long and hard through a sincere love and passion for that season, it can be gut-wrenching and more than a little anxiety-producing to run to something new, especially when it is unknown. Yesterday’s Old Testament reading regarding God’s call of Abram reminded us that God is with us wherever we may be called, even if it is unknown.

In a 68-team field, it is crushing for those who think they are #69 or #70 to be left out when they have poured their hearts and souls for an entire season just for the chance to compete for the title. Every year, the various selection shows will feature the coach and/or players who have been left on the outside looking in, and inevitably there will be raw emotion boiling over. As much as it is an honor to be invited to the National Invitational Tournament, there’s nothing like playing for the NCAA championship.

It is crushing to see your hopes and dreams go up in smoke after all the hard work and dedication you’ve put into a season – whether it is college basketball or any season of life – especially when that season ends in a way that you did not expect, with decisions made by others that directly affect your future.

However, whether it is teams #69 & 70, or whether it’s you and I on an individual level or as a church or as a society, we have a choice to make when it becomes evident that a season of our lives is coming to an end, and an even greater choice to make when that season of life comes to end in a most spectacular way – we can turn angry and bitter, caustic and negative, or we can rest peacefully in knowing that whether it was our choice, someone else’s choice, or God’s choice, there’s a future to embrace where the only certainty is that God is present in that time, watching and waiting for us to discover and embrace the rich blessings in store for us down the road.

Grace and Peace, Lamar

About Lamar Oliver

I am a Christian, husband, father, and United Methodist pastor who is a graduate of Louisiana Tech University (Accounting) and Asbury Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity) in my 17th year of full-time ministry.