There are many great players who never win the championship in their sport. They may shine as an individual, but in team sports a lot more is needed than simply being the best. First, you need a team, and every great team has had a great coach. The relationship between the star player and the coach is an interesting one. The star play is most likely more talented than the coach ever was or ever will be. However, for the team to work, the players need to be obedience to the coach.
The problem for many players is how to be a part of a team. In our own lives, we are often called to be in work environments and home environments that require cooperation and mutual self-giving. We all know that what is often the case is that when you get a group of people together, naturally someone has to be the boss; someone has to be the coach.
Whether we are coaches or players in our respective roles, we can all learn a lesson from sports. The star player has to be obedient to the coach, and the coach has to learn to harvest the potential of his players. Often this involves saying no to the stars on the team, or trying to help them improve by pointing out their shortcomings. In both relationships, obedience is at the heart of what makes things work.
The mystic Adrienne Von Speyr has a great description of obedience which she describes as “preferring thou over I.” According to Von Speyr, this kind of obedience is grounded in Jesus Christ. Even before the Incarnation, Jesus Christ lived in a relationship of perfect self-forgetting. His fundamental disposition towards the Father is one of total giving and a total preference for the other. Thus obedience is not something that is demanded of creatures by a kind of arbitrary law of God, but rather is a participation in the very attitude of God.
In our relationships, we might like the idea of this theology, but think it is either an ideal that cannot be achieved or a sacrifice not worth the effort. There is some truth in these misconceptions. This ideal is beyond the reach of our natural abilities. However, through the grace offered through Jesus Christ, we are able to be transformed so that we might have this kind of freedom. Furthermore, it does involve sacrifice that sometimes looks difficult in the short term. Again, the short term sacrifice often pays off in long term benefits.
In working with the elderly, I have discovered the rule that what is often difficult when we are young proves to be the source of making our life fruitful when we are old. Likewise, what is easy and pleasant when we are young often turns into suffering and misery when we are old. Being virtuous and responding to God’s will can be frustrating and difficult in the beginning. Often the life of sin and pleasure seems so much more attractive. However, the truth is that following that path often leads to troubles that come not when we are strong and healthy, but in our darkest hours when the things of this world fail us.
We can see how this kind of life is worth our pursuing when we think of the holy people in our lives. I hope that everyone has had the opportunity to meet someone who has a deep relationship with the Lord. In them we often find an amazing kindness, patience, and meekness. Instead of believing that this is the result of a lifetime of sacrifice and self-offering, we tend to think that such people were simply born that way. As I have seen more and more of such people and gotten to know them, I have discovered that none of their gifts and virtues were by accident. They carefully cultivated a deep spirit of obedience to God which acted as yeast for their entire lives.
Let us cultivate obedience by opening our hearts to the Gospel message. Let us pray that the Lord will grant us the wisdom to value such a disposition and the patience to cultivate the deep prayer that leads to it.