When I was a senior in high school, I played basketball, believe it or not. Back then, I was weighing in at a svelte 250, and while not a great player by any stretch, I held my own. I managed to not suck.
Our school was so small (in both students and funding) at the time, we played seven-man flag football in the fall. I used each football season to get "in shape" (such as it was) for basketball, my preferred sport. That year, football wound down, and things were going pretty well. I felt pretty good about where i was, going into basketball. Thankfully, I wasn't injured at all. I was ready to go.
At the beginning of basketball season, the coach met with us and told us that things would be different. Partly due to space constraints in the small school and there being only one court to play on, we would be practicing at six in the morning. Every morning. The reprieve would be that practice would be lighter on gamedays.
Jaws dropped. Six a.m.
And so began one of the best seasons of my life, in terms of personal discipline. I got up at five in the morning, when the sun itself had more sense than to be awake. I showered, ate some sort of breakfast, and then was driven to school. The bleary-eyed, angry bunch of us congregated in the lobby of the gym, until Coach walked through. Then we got serious.
He pushed us hard. So very hard. Harder than many of us thought we could go. He was merciless when we were lazy. He was harsh when we were sleepy. There were no excuses accepted in that hour and a half before he'd mercifully release us to shower and go to class.
There were days when I despised that morning alarm. Days when I wanted nothing more than to sleep another hour or so, wake up, watch "Sportscenter" while I ate my cereal, and then go to school. There were days when I hated the sound of Coach's voice, sounding so chipper without having a right to. When he'd get that evil, sarcastic look on his face, and you just wanted to send a chest-pass into his nose as hard as you could. There were days when I hated that discipline.
But Coach understood what we didn't, on those mornings. That the times when you're tired or sleepy or distracted were the most important, and that those were the times you trained the hardest. He knew that discipline has a purpose, and that running hours of passing drills each week would make us smarter and more skilled players. That making us learn offensive set after offensive set, defense after defense, when our teenaged brains were struggling to maintain consciousness, would pay off when a smart team with a smarter coach would figure out our strategy early in the game. He prepared us to make adjustments when the test came, so that we could be successful.
He taught us how to win.
This story doesn't have a Hollywood ending. We didn't "take state"; not even close. Fact is, we got outshot in the second round of the state tournament by a team that we normally matched up well against. Fourth place. Whoopee.
But the success of that season was in the early-morning moments. When you felt on the verge of dropping to the hardwood, but instead somehow put one foot in front of the other and got back in line to do another round of full-court 3-on-2. When your arms felt like lead, but you still kept trying to hit 70% of your free-throws, so that you could call it a day. When you heard the whistle calling you back from the water fountain, and you ran back, somehow more energized that you should have been.
That kind of success means making sacrifices so you can get to bed a little earlier. That success means missing Sportscenter. That success means submitting yourself to the training of another.
Ready for the spiritual parallel? Brace yourself, it's pretty obvious.
Right now, as I sit here in this cube, twenty-five years old, I'm feeling the same feelings of loathing towards spiritual discipline. I have to admit, right now, I'm almost hating the sound of my Coach's voice. Because every time He blows that whistle, it means more of me is gonna hurt. More of my pride is gonna get worn out. A little more of my will is gonna have to die. I've got more laps to run.
We keep talking about discipline as a means to the end--something to "get through" in order to find maturity or strength or whatever.
But what basketball taught me is that the discipline is the victory. And every time I put one foot in front of the other and say "Your Will be done," I achieve what He wanted me to achieve. Submission. Willingness. Obedience.
My prayer for today is that I'll get over myself and get back on the baseline, so I can run the heck out of that 3-on-2.