Many of you may be aware of my great love for football, but I must confess that my first athletic love is basketball, and has been since I was a kid. My love for basketball was such that it was how my family and I learned I needed glasses; one night I pulled the chair so close to the television to watch ESPN’s Big Monday basketball lineup that no one else could see the games. (Of course, with Dick Vitale on the call who needed pictures?) One of my favorite coaches from that era was LSU’s own Dale Brown – I loved watching his unique strategies and unorthodox approach (who could ever forget putting Ricky Blanton in the pivot and heading to the 1986 Final Four, much less his work with Shaq and Chris Jackson?)

So, when Erin and I got home from our trip to Houston this weekend, I was excited to see Louisiana Public Broadcasting showing their interview with Coach Brown as part of their “Louisiana Legends” series. Listening to his words was a joy as he took us behind the scenes of his 25 years at the helm of LSU hoops, sharing his insights and philosophies. And yet, it was something completely unrelated to his coaching that hit me square in the eye, and it happened in two different places in the interview:

“What hit me as I looked back at my long career were my limitations, my mistakes, and my distance from the ideal.

What’s the next mountain for you to climb? “…[B]efore I die, I would like to say one night before I go to bed, ‘Hey, I lived the perfect day.’ I’ve tried so many times…I’ve said to myself night after night in and out I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better grandfather, a better human being. And, so, we all have imperfections…I’d to say just one time, ‘Hey, I finally got it right, even if it was one day.’

Let me say first that until I watched this interview, I had no idea how much I had in common with Dale Brown, for in my own life what I allow to hold me back so much from embracing God’s grace even more is that I, too, focus way too much on my limitations, my mistakes, and my distance from the ideal. Those who truly know me well know that I am my own worst critic. I say this not as a badge of honor – although I do believe that it is important that we don’t fall into self-delusion, we do tend at times to take self-flagellation a little too far. While it’s easy to say this is a good thing, when we do not allow it to be tempered by God’s grace, we can doom ourselves to being spiritually crippled. Do we need to consistently engage in what our spiritual mentors might call the examination of conscience? By all means. May we never, though, allow ourselves to go a place where we don’t finally look at our shortcomings through the lens of redemption, realizing that by God’s grace there’s nothing in our lives that falls beyond redemption in one way or another, even if it is impossible for us to see now.

It was the final part of his interview, though, that really captured my attention, for when he talks about the pursuit of the perfect day, I fall right in line with so many others. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t want to be absolutely perfect at everything – personally and professionally. I, too, want to live a full day where it can be said that I hit the mark without fail. In fact, it’s very Wesleyan for us to constantly and consistently push to live a life where we live out Jesus’ words to “Love the Lord our God with [everything we have,] and our neighbors as ourselves.” However, in our pursuit of perfection we must not allow ourselves to think we are beyond God’s grace and redemption, no matter how badly we may have screwed up in a particular day, situation, or relationship.

Lord knows that there’s not a day that goes by that I do not fail in some way – as a Christian, as a husband, as a friend, as a pastor, as a colleague, as a member of society. And like most people, I know it, either instantaneously or when I look back. The question I must be willing to wrestle with though is at the heart of our Christian faith: Which is more important and more consistent with the Christian faith – to focus on my failures or to focus on the redemptive power of God’s grace through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit?

I could write an additional column extending this to others – allow me instead to offer a challenge to us all: When someone, no matter who they are – spouse, teacher, colleague, guy on the street, pastor, friend, whoever – let’s see how we might be able to change the tone of our lives and those around us if instead of focusing on shortcomings and failures we instead focused on each other’s need for divine grace and understanding, and were intentional about focusing not on the wrongs done to us or others but instead focused on the possibilities of God’s redemptive work in and through any situation.

Thanks, Coach Brown, for providing More Grist for the Mill. May God bless you now and always.

Grace and Peace, Lamar

P.S. You can find the entire interview at LPB’s website.