Defeat stinks. There’s just no way around it. It really stinks. People don’t feel halfway about it. It’s not like we have people getting the rug pulled out from under their feet and then saying “I actually kind of enjoyed that!”. Defeat is painful, uncomfortable, and heartbreaking.
When we’re little, our defeats are small, unpleasant things that might derail the day. We feel destroyed over a dropped ice cream cone or a nasty fall on the playground. As we grow, our defeats start taking on more realistic and sinister tones. Maybe missing a winning goal in a high school game grows into a lost job opportunity. The older we grow, the uglier our defeats get.
There’s a group of people we love to rag on for just how often they panic and wail and carry on: the Israelites. All the years of slavery, all the hardship and heartbreak, and all the miraculously, terrifying acts God did to pull them out of Egypt and what do they do when things stop going their way out in the desert? They sit down, cry, and blame God. On several different occasions, the Israelites actually claim they were better off in Egypt and suggest turning around.
We love to point at this and say “Do you see this? Do you see how ridiculous they’re being? Do you see what bad attitudes they’re having? It’s ridiculous!” And it is. But do you know why we can recognize that? Because we’re no better in defeat.
Here’s the problem with having a bad attitude in defeat. There’s always, always someone watching you. You may think you’re absolutely on your own. You may think no one is paying attention, but someone is always looking your way to see what you do with this latest blow.
Because here’s the truth about the people who watch you. We want to believe that everyone pays the most attention to us when we’re drenched in success, and to some extent they do. Those close to you notice your success to celebrate you and cheer you on, but for the people watching the highlight reel from afar, this isn’t what they’re paying close attention to.
The world will always pay more attention to how you act when you’re knocked down than when you’re at the top of your game.
People are watching when you go through heartbreak, despair, disappointment, betrayal, you name it. They’re watching not just the event itself, but also how you react to it. Because at the end of the day we’re observant creatures who are always looking at others are doing. It’s just the way we are. It’s not enough for us to navigate life on our own, we’ve got to pick up little bits and pieces of how everyone else is doing.
There’s a reason we watch athletes closely after an awful loss. We want to see how they react. We want to know if their talk of dignity and sportsmanship was the real deal or just words, and if we can trust the example they are setting. And the ones who do follow through and take the loss with dignity and humility? We respect them all the more for it. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the skill they’ve shown. We appreciate that plenty, but we decide what we think of their hearts and minds off of their defeat.
People will form opinions on your skill from how you act in success, but they’ll form opinions on your faith from how you act in defeat.
There’s a reason we so readily remember the actions of the Israelites. They got out to the desert, experienced hardship and defeat, and absolutely withered under the pressure. Their time in the desert is remembered not for their remarkable faith, but their remarkable lack of it. Heaven (literally) help us should we fall in the same trap.
So what are we to do? Well, if throwing a pity party and wailing about our circumstances is the undesirable option, it would seem the opposite might yield the more desirable results: praise. Praise, praise, praise, and just when you don’t feel like doing it any longer praise a bit more. If we put as much effort into praising God as we did bemoaning our circumstances we would be speaking at volumes we never dreamed of reaching.
Praising God wakes us up to our surroundings and it shows the darkness in our lives what we’re choosing. It doesn’t mean that we’re praising with a big, cheesy smile on our face. Heck, you can praise mid sob or on your knees. To praise God in the midst of defeat is to claim the circumstances for his glory. It’s looking at the darkness surrounding you, while you’re still in the midst of feeling all of it and saying “You will not own this. This is not yours. This is my God’s.” And let me tell you, that is a very mighty swing of the sword indeed.
Because that’s what this all boils down to: a fight. We wouldn’t call it defeat if there wasn’t some sort of fight going on. Your attitude in defeat matters. Your actions in defeat matter. Who you choose to be in defeat matters. For those of us living in God’s hope, defeat isn’t the end of the story, but one more chance to show the world his goodness and glory. We’re all going to experience defeat, but the question is whether we will approach it like the Israelites or praising followers.
People are watching and waiting, may we bear that responsibility well.
Let’s find some joy,