While it’s true success gets people’s attention, it’s equally true that setbacks and challenges do so just as much, perhaps even more. I was reminded of this with the response provided by an NFL quarterback who would first identify himself as a follower of Christ before anything associated with a football field.
On Nov. 14, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Nick Foles was asked about the broken clavicle he suffered in the first game of the season. Foles, the MVP of Super Bowl LII for the Philadelphia Eagles, was Jacksonville’s big free agent pickup last offseason. His arrival was supposed to be the piece in making the Jaguars, one game from the Super Bowl in 2017, into contenders.
On Nov. 13 a reporter asked Foles about doubt. He was brought to that team and got hurt. A rookie quarterback (Gardner Minshew) had become a fan favorite in Foles’ absence. Surely, those weren’t his expectations. Acknowledging Foles as “a man of faith,” the reporter essentially asked, how do you deal with that?
Foles quickly pointed out the fallacy in the reporter’s question. It’s not about what gets you down, but what keeps you up.
Sure, even as Foles could feel the bone breaking he was thinking about how it wasn’t the plan for his time in Jacksonville. He had come there to create a winning culture and impact people.
But at the end of the day, he added, “God, if this is the journey you want me to go on, I’m going to glorify you in every action, good or bad.”
Foles then said the thing he accepted others would find “crazy.”
“When you believe in Jesus and you go out there and play … that changes your heart.”
He then went back to the moment that very well could end up being the pinnacle of his football career.
“When I hoisted the Lombardi trophy … the reason I’m smiling is my faith was in Christ. In that moment I realized I didn’t need that trophy to define who I was because it was already in Christ.”
People want to be happy. You’ve probably heard the difference in that and joy, though. Happiness is fleeting. It depends on our circumstance. Joy is something different. It helps us realize there’s a bigger picture than our day-to-day.
Getting to that perspective requires a change of focus. At this point in the interview Foles, who has said he plans to enter the ministry after football, began sounding like a pastor.
“We tend to make this so much about us as human beings. We make it about us as athletes. It’s not about us. It really isn’t, and if you make it about yourself, you’re probably going to go home at night, lay your head on your pillow, and be very alone and very sad.
“… Our purpose isn’t football, it’s impacting people. My ministry happens to be the locker room.”
The trial he had just experienced, he added, has made him a better person.
So, it would reckon that Nick Foles is a guy who earnestly serves God. After such a witness in front of cameras in the world, surely he gets back on the field and leads the Jaguars on a three-game winning streak, right?
That didn’t happen. Jacksonville, with Foles under center, would lose that Sunday to the Colts 33-13 and the next week to the Titans, 42-20. On Dec. 1 against Tampa Bay, Foles would be benched at halftime for Minshew after falling behind 25-0 on the way to a 28-11 loss. The rookie got the start against San Diego yesterday, with Foles watching as Jacksonville fell again, 45-10.
Being booed off the field at halftime versus the Buccaneers and replaced in his first home game back wasn’t the story Foles wanted. And yet, his response is why he’s become one of my favorite athletes.
“It’s not easy but I know where my heart is and where my faith is and what I’m going to lean on in this time like I always do, in the good and bad,” he told reporters afterward.
1 Thessalonians 5 has one of the more difficult passages of Scripture for me. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstance; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (vs. 16-18).
It’s tough to rejoice when our expectations don’t match up with what we see. It’s difficult to give thanks in all circumstances.
But whether we want them or not, those opportunities to do so will come. They’ll often arrive unexpectedly and at the most inconvenient time. That’s why it’s important to keep our joy consistent and with the One who never waivers, the One who never fails.
Scott Barkley is editor of The Christian Index.