The formal definition of perseverance is "the continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In writing, this definition looks simple, but to all of us who have experienced dark times, we know that continuing to put forth effort despite difficulties is far from simple. What, then, does it look like to persevere? How do we press on when the seemingly easiest option is to give up?
Allow me to share a personal example. I was inwardly dreading basketball season--not because of anything that was already in place. I absolutely love basketball, my teammates and coaches, and the excitement that comes with games and being part of a team. My dread stemmed from the barriers that I set up in my own mind, which caused me to feel insecure and incapable. For example, I was worried that I would be too out of shape and would feel nauseous after every full-court layup drill. I compared myself to my talented peers and doubted that my skill measured up to the expectations of my teammates and coaches. I allowed my insecurity and fear of failure to control my thoughts and make me question my identity. Why would I put forth the effort when it seemed much more comfortable and safe to give up?
Maybe you know the answer to that question. Personally, as I wrestled with these thoughts, I knew how I should have answered that question. I knew that I needed to be tougher and have more grit. I knew that all the laps around the gym would make me a stronger player. But I also knew that it was going to be hard, and I needed to make a decision. Was I going to let my insecurities and laziness hold me back from playing the sport I love with the people I love? Or was I going to accept the challenge and choose to have a better attitude in the face of hardships? It was in this moment that I needed to embrace what it means to persevere.
Persevering is striving to overcome and choosing to adjust your attitude, even though the ongoing situation you are in is challenging. It is willingness to stretch in ways that will make you a stronger person in the future. As Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." If you are going through a hard time, let this verse be an encouragement to you and a reminder that you will grow from choosing to persevere. God is so powerful and has so much love for you. He is able to use the darkest times to strengthen you and bring glory to His name. He knows your heart and sees your tears, and will not let go of you. Even when it feels like you are surrounded by fear and hopelessness, you are even more so surrounded by Christ's love and mercy. Cling to that truth as you push on through whatever you are battling today.
-Sydney Vandenheuvel, '20
Resolving Team Conflict God's Way Is a Win-Win For All
The ability to resolve conflict can make or break a team. I've seen it unfold as a teammate. I've heard about it from friends. I've watched it happen as a fan on the sideline. In a sinful world, conflict is inevitable and can be a healthy part of working through issues collaboratively. It's when conflict is ignored or fed by gossip that team relationships turn toxic. Ignoring a problem causes feelings to fester and grow disproportionately to the situation. A minor grievance or misunderstanding between two teammates, unresolved, can grow to a team-wide dispute where players are forced to choose sides. Gossip, a form of social bullying, spreads like wildfire by mouth or online. Sometimes teammates are not able to keep their feelings bottled up inside and they come tumbling out in an emotionally-charged "vent session." It is so important that conflict not be suppressed. Suppressed conflict will often rear its ugly head in key pressure-packed moments. Matthew 18:15-17 details biblical conflict resolution by saying, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church." However, before going to confront someone, it's always important to pray and ask, is this something that I can let go of on my own. Confronting someone can cause a ripple of contention and if the situation can go away without it, that might be the best course of action.
Center one's mindset, first, around being part of a group of Christian student-athletes, second, around being on a team, and third, around oneself. In other words, allow the wisdom gained in relationship with Christ to direct the group's approach. Consider how each individual situation impacts the team overall. Finally, acknowledge personal feelings. When we follow His direction, the Lord blesses us with greater understanding and sometimes amazing changes and growth as a team and as individuals. Don't hesitate to seek the counsel of a coach, parent, or mentor. They want to help and are often able to offer firsthand experience.
Go into each season with an open heart towards teammates, despite past events. As Christian student-athletes, make a pact not to gossip with each other or with friends, and never on social media. It can be very difficult, but this commitment really helps to avoid unnecessary drama. Finally, remember that avoidance of conflict is what can derail an otherwise great season. Silent divisions will begin to form and resentment will take hold. Always remember to prayerfully seek wisdom and guidance both from the Lord and from trusted adults. Doing this will encourage all involved to grow together as a team that is all for Him.
- Grace Williamson, '19
This summer, I had an incredible opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with nine girls I had never met before and play volleyball there as a team. Prior to leaving for the trip, whenever I would talk about it I would describe it as a volleyball trip during which we would also do some missions work in our down time. Our team was there to represent the USA in some crazy competitive games against two different levels of Costa Rican national teams, their college teams, and more.
However, on the first night, it became apparent that that was not what we were there to do. In Costa Rica, times and schedules carry infinitely less weight than they do in the United States, and thus things can get shuffled around with little or no warning. A perfect example of this was when we stepped off the plane and were informed that we had no time to practice, and our game scheduled for tomorrow night had been moved to tonight. Amazingly, though we had just learned each others names the night before, we were able to pull together as a team and win that match pretty easily, in front of a sizable crowd of high school students. We were all exhausted and a little jet lagged after that, so I expected that we would be heading straight back to the hotel, but instead our coach told us to go sit with the girls from the other team while he talked about something important with the crowd.
He stood up in front of a large crowd of primarily non-English speakers (with the help of a translator of course) and began to talk to them about Jesus. He shared a personal story of a close friend from Costa Rica that he had lost last fall and how, because they are both believers, he will be able to see him again. At the end of his testimony, he invited the crowd to pray a prayer with him, accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. He continued to do this after every game we played and clinic we led for the entire rest of the week, speaking to hundreds of people. He even shared with us one night when we returned to the hotel how a little girl had come up to him at a clinic and told him how she had decided to accept God's plan for herself.
The purpose of this trip was not at all what I had believed it to be in the beginning. I thought we were going to play, representing the United States, and then separately do missions work, representing God. This was not the case. We were actually representing God as we played, as well. The volleyball was the draw to allow us to speak truth into them. We formed relationships and had fun competing together. That helped them trust what we were saying to be true. Our coach said at one point, before a big clinic, "They need to see Jesus in you throughout the day, otherwise when I get up there to talk it will be meaningless."
God blesses us with many different talents: sports, art, singing, speaking, etc. Each of our special gifts can be used in ways to bring people to Jesus. An AACS athlete has the responsibility of carrying themself with a Christ-like and dignified attitude, complete with competitive drive, sportsmanship, and encouragement. We impact dozens of Maryland schools as an athletic program with all the games we play, and every team recognizes the word Christian in the name. Just as I mentioned before, they must see Jesus in us, otherwise their view of Christianity could be quite jaded. We are called to be set apart and athletics is an incredible way for us to honor God in that way.
- Grace Williamson, '19
Though I don’t pretend to be an NFL expert, like most Americans, I watch the superbowl every year. No matter which jersey you typically wear on Sundays (unless it says Brady across the back), I’m sure this year’s Eagles victory was particular striking to you, as it was their first ever superbowl win. However, what I found to be the most interesting part of their Cinderella story was quarterback Nick Foles.
For those unfamiliar, legendary and MVP-favored quarterback Carson Wentz went down in a game against the Rams and was unable to return to the field to finish out the season. Though many believed this to be the end of an amazing run for the Eagles, fans and bandwagoners alike were pleasantly surprised when QB Nick Foles rose to the occasion. He was no Wentz, but he became the first Eagles quarterback to ever win a superbowl ring.
This brings us to the discussion of something we face in sports, relationships, and every aspect of life: roles. Sometimes they are diligently earned, sometimes they are stumbled upon, and sometimes they are unwillingly given. Roles can be clearly seen on every sports team, where you have leaders, followers, rookies, veterans, and crazy natural athletes all alike. But most often, you are not the one who chooses your role for yourself, and these can be hard to accept. One of the most frustrating roles in sports is that of a non-starter. Playing time can be one of the biggest sources of contention amongst teams and very rarely is it the starting lineup who is upset. This can take any number of forms: namely negative attitude, ill-wishes on the team, and laziness. Now of course, I would never say you should be content on the bench if your dream is to take the field. However, it is important to channel your desire into productiveness in practice and not into animosity. It’s a sure bet that Nick Foles was never content with being backup quarterback, but had he not kept working just as hard even when he was unhappy with his role, he would have been ill-prepared for the chance he was given.
Accepting your role for the good of a team is a sign of humility and maturity, and it is a life skill that you can carry far beyond sports. Accepting your role does NOT mean giving up on your dreams, but it means being happy with where you are. Contentment is not always complacency.
Furthermore, in their different roles, both Wentz and Foles were instrumental in the victory. No one tries to undermine either by saying “Wentz didn’t play in the superbowl so he didn’t really win it,” or, “Nick Foles didn’t start for over ten games, so he barely had anything to do with making the playoffs.” Both roles were what the team needed to succeed.
Roles are not just an earthly thing, either. If you study the twelve disciples, you’ll quickly notice that Peter is mentioned more than any other disciple in the Bible and was told he would be the head of Christ’s church, while his older brother Andrew was just mentioned a dozen times. Now of course, who wouldn’t want to be tabbed as this leader by Jesus? But had the disciples, especially Peter’s older brother Andrew, let jealousy in, they may have never fulfilled their mission of spreading the gospel to the nations. It is crucial that we remember that when you are part of something bigger than yourself, you will make an impact no matter what your role is.
- Grace Williamson, '19