We Play to the End

In 2019, Eddie Olczyk, the NHL player turned coach turned broadcaster was on his second round of chemotherapy for stage 3 colon cancer, and the effects were so severe he told his wife he couldn’t do it anymore. He recalled, “We had a moment, which probably lasted 30 minutes, where all we did was cry. I needed that. I’ve never quit or bailed on anything in my life. Even if I knew what the end result was going to be, you play to the end. You’re down 7-1 late in the third, you play to the end. So I had never felt anything like that.”

There is the story of John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania. In the 1968 Mexico Olympic Marathon, Akhwari was injured in a fall early in the race, leaving him in no state to run a competitive race. As he limped across the finish line, over an hour after the winner, he was asked why he did not just quit. He replied, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race.”

My cousin, who passed away recently at the age of 45, was a football official. On his last two days of consciousness, he refereed a middle school football game on Thursday and a high school football game on Friday night prior to succumbing to the pain of his cancer that Saturday morning. He battled cancer for 4 years and never once considered giving in. He brought back memories of my Dad who on the day he lost his life to lung cancer, had just returned from his daily 3-mile walk.

The song, “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw, provides a perspective on life when learning that there is limited time. It is meant to inspire experiencing life to its fullest, while also becoming a better person. It is about making the choice to live life to the fullest and the choice begins now.

We all have things in our lives that require us to persevere. Whether it’s suffering, pain from injuries, broken relationships, or even just disappointments. We are talking about endurance. About sticking with a challenge even when it’s difficult and daunting. About not surrendering, even when the odds feel impossible. Always believing there is a chance we can still win. Persisting through these times, produces a great outcome – character. It also produces a legacy for others to model.

A challenging life well lived to the end balances heartaches with breakthroughs; bleakness with accomplishments; grief with joy; perhaps, even, instances of despair with the very moments we treasure most. The one thing we can always do is move forward, even if it is one tiny step at a time. Don’t allow the challenges of life to break us. Don’t allow difficult experiences to derail us from pursuing our dreams

The Australian-born, American-based sibling duo, for King & Country, write and record songs about hope and love. Two of their songs immediately come to mind for this blog, “It’s Not Over Yet” with the lyrics:

“To everyone who’s hit their limit; and even when you think you’re finished, it’s not over yet”

and “Never Give Up” with the words:

“Tears come and joy will follow; Like lightning and the rainbow; Like darkness and the day show; Yeah, the best is yet to come; So never ever, ever, ever, ever give up.”

Their music provides comfort and affirmation, while offering a constant reminder that we aren’t alone, even in our darkest times.

During my time as a High School Football Coach, I used the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Competitor Creed with the team. The creed is a set of beliefs to guide young athletes mental, physical and spiritual character. My favorite line is “I give my all – all of the time. I do not give up. I do not give in. I do not give out.” I would challenge them on the phrase ‘give out.’ Most players could provide an example of not giving up (quitting) and not giving in (to temptation), but they would struggle with not giving out. Giving out is a negative attitude or aura we exhibit when things are not going our way. This can be more damaging than giving up or giving in because mentally quitting while still going through the actions adversely affects those around us.

The Bible has many examples concerning playing to the end. The apostle Paul stated over and over to not quit. He uses the term “persevere,” “press on,” or “strive” dozens of times his letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, and even to Timothy. Paul linked perseverance to character and to faith. Specifically in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up.”

In 2 Timothy 2, St. Paul’s reminds Timothy of soldiers, athletes, and farmers having incredible discipline and hard work to stay the course and produce an outcome. The soldier working within the boundaries of the hierarchy of command to win a battle; the athlete adhering to the rules of the game to win a race; the farmer working the soil, planting, and reaping a harvest. In each of these, quitting is not an option.

Proverbs 4:25, “Let your eyes look straight ahead and your gaze be focused forward.”

When we stop pressing on, we can begin to lose heart. We can even begin to believe that giving up is the wiser decision than seeing it through to the finish line. We have what we need to endure, persist, and persevere. We have a choice to make, we can always move forward and play to the end of the game. Let that be our legacy.

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