“I’ve seen the flame of hope among the hopeless, and that was truly the biggest heartbreak of all. That was the straw that broke me open.”
The day I cried at my five year-old son’s soccer game began like any other. Late spring in suburbia. Soccer fields undulating with short people playing their last game of the season. For my son’s team, who had not lost a game in three seasons, it was presumably just another victory.
But when we got to the field, the day changed.
The kids on the other team were bigger, more aggressive. I swear one was wearing a mouth guard. One of them looked like Pele and another one was bending it like Beckham. I asked for birth certificates but no one complied.
When the game started, the onslaught began. Our kids played as hard as ever, but the goals started to mount up. My heart was in my throat. Because it’s never fun to watch your kid taste defeat for the first time. And because I’m a sore loser.
When one of the opposing kids dribbled near me on the sideline, I considered tripping him. Just kidding. Sort of.
With only minutes remaining in the game, my son’s team was down by five—victory seemed impossible. I looked around and our team’s parents were hanging their heads and kicking the dirt. I stared at the grass and wondered how I would comfort my son.
When It Makes Sense to Give Up
I think many of us live our lives feeling like we’re a few goals behind and time is running out and the deficit is insurmountable.
The silence in our marriages rings out like a siren, reminding us we’ve just repeated the same argument for the countless time. Our children bury us beneath an avalanche of needs and wants and we wonder how we will dig ourselves out. The demands at work are mounting and the hours are getting longer but the pay is staying the same and there’s no end in sight. The mortgages that once seemed like a good idea now hang around our necks like a millstone. We lay awake at night, wrestling with demons that have haunted us for as long as we can remember, but their howls are getting louder and it makes the mind spin faster all the time.
For me, there are days when a sink full of dishes and a dryer full of clothes and a million other demands of life feel like a hurdle I can’t help but trip upon. Some days, I want to trip on the hurdle and land on my face and simply lay there.
In the game of life, we can fall behind quickly and the urge to quit playing can be overwhelming.
I think many of us succumb. And we don’t even realize it.
In the game of life, I think giving up looks like twenty television shows a week, three beers a night, sleeping with our backs to our lovers, serving our children while never really looking them in the eye, shopping for sport, internet porn pastimes, smart phone infatuations, and every other kind of inertia we swallow like a drug.
In the game of life, when the deficit seems insurmountable, it makes sense to give up.
Which is why I cried at my son’s soccer game.
Why I Cried
As the parents on the sidelines were wincing and hanging heads, something happened on the field. You could feel it, like a wave of electricity rippling through the spectators.
Our kids decided the game wasn’t over.
Suddenly, they were making passes that belonged in the Olympics. They moved the ball down the field like it was their job, and they scored one goal.
And then another.
Little five-year-old fists were getting raised. Smiles were spreading from ear to ear. My son looked at me with a wink and threw me a thumbs-up. I have never watched a bunch of kids have so much fun playing a game. The comeback was a frenetic, furious dance of joy and excitement.
Then time ran out. The final score was 9-8. My son’s team had lost.
And I started to cry.
Not tears of sadness. Tears of joy. My son and his friends filled me with joy, because I’ll take a heroic comeback that falls short over a massive victory any day. Because what I’ve come to love in this world is people who have no reason to feel hope, insist on it anyway, discover it, and begin to live it.
My heart is broken open for people who refuse to stop believing in themselves.
Don’t Call It a Comeback! (Call It Hope)
I lived most of my life as a pessimist and a cynic. I was raised to believe people are basically rotten and broken at their core. I wasn’t raised with much hope for what people are.
Therapy has healed me of my pessimism. And by that I mean, being a therapist has radically and forever altered the way I understand humanity.
Sitting with people, day in and day out, who are in the most hopeless situations, I have discovered people have an inherent desire to fight, to be resilient, to mount a comeback of epic proportions. The desire is simply lying dormant beneath layers of shame.
For most people, hope is ignited when they begin to discover the goodness and beauty at their core. And when it’s ignited, it doesn’t flicker like a candle, it rages like an inferno in a drought-dry forest.
Because we are wired for hope.
We are wired for redemption.
We are wired for comebacks.
As a therapist, I’ve learned the final score doesn’t really matter. Because I’ve yet to see the official scoreboard of life, and because winning is overrated anyway. What really matters is that we never stop playing, never stop fighting, and never stop thrilling at the rush of a comeback. What matters is that we turn our deficits into opportunities, so when the final whistle blows, we can smile and remember how hard we fought.
And we can leave the spectators in tears of joy.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.