In sports news, the Denver Nuggets have won their first NBA Championship, in their 47th year in the league. That was this week. Last week, it was the Oklahoma Sooners women’s softball team that dominated headlines, winning their third straight and seventh overall NCAA championship.
For those of us who don’t typically follow this particular sport, the OU team was as well known for their celebrations and press conferences as for their dominant play. The word that comes to mind, partly because it was repeated over and over by those in the program and those watching, is joy. To be clear, for these Sooners, joy is not a consequence of winning. It’s the other way around. When asked about their joy, during a press conference a few days before winning the national title, team captain Grace Lyons said this:
Well, the only way that you can have a joy that doesn’t fade away is from the Lord. And any other type of joy is actually happiness that comes from circumstances and outcomes. I think Coach has said this before, but joy from the Lord is really the only thing that can keep you motivated, just in a good mindset, no matter the outcomes. Thankfully, we’ve had a lot of success this year. But if it was the other way around, joy from the Lord is the only thing that can keep you embracing those memories, moments, friendships, and all that.
Following Lyons, her teammate Jayda Coleman discussed her own journey of learning the proper order of winning and joy:
1,000% agree with Grace Lyons. I went through that my freshman year, I was so happy to win the [College World Series]. I’ve talked about this before, but I was just so happy that we won the College World Series, but I didn’t feel joy. … I didn’t know what to do the next day. I didn’t know what to do for that following week. I didn’t feel filled. And I had to find Christ in that. And I think that is what makes our team so strong is that we’re not afraid to lose, because it’s not the end of the world. If we do lose, yes, obviously, we worked our butts off to be here and we want to win. But it’s not the end of the world because our life is in Christ. And that’s all that matters.
It’s not unusual at a press conference for an athlete or two to express thankfulness to God. What is unusual is for three in a row to do so, while also expressing how their faith in Christ has completely changed their perspective on sports and life. Sophomore Alyssa Brito then iced the press conference (that’s a sports metaphor for an athlete who finishes out a game and secures the win), describing how the game is not life, only part of a life that’s completely reoriented by focusing on Christ and not self:
I think a huge thing that we’ve really just latched on to is eyes up. And you guys see us doing this and pointing up, but we’re really like fixing our eyes on Christ. And that’s something where, like they were saying, you can’t find a fulfillment in an outcome, whether it’s good or bad. And I think that’s why we’re so steady in what we do and in our love for each other and our love for the game, because we know this game is giving us the opportunity to glorify God. And I just think once we figured that out, and that was our purpose, and everyone was all in with that, it’s really changed so much for us. And I mean, I know myself, I’ve seen so much of a growth in myself. … once I turned to Jesus, and I realized how He had changed my outlook on life, not just softball, but understanding how much I have to live for. And that’s living to exemplify the Kingdom. And I think that brings so much freedom. And I’m sure everyone’s story is similar, but we all have those great testimonies that have really, like, shown how awesome it is to play for something bigger.
To be clear, this is a talented team, but there is also a culture in place at OU that just looks different. In another press conference, Coach Patty Gasso attributed their success to knowing “they are defined not by softball. … They never play tight, they never play afraid … because … they’ve really found their freedom … through their faith.”
The expectation is to idolize you. And the promise is that true joy comes from reaching a goal that you have put all of your effort into. Yes, we as Christians are expected to work hard at all that we do for Christ. But the real victory has already been won on the cross: Jesus dying for my sin and saving me. Because of this, I have an eternal hope that allows me to play your game free with fullness of joy that comes only from the Lord. With this mindset, I have played the most joyful softball the last five years.
And that joy has pointed millions to the One who is the Giver of all good gifts. Congrats Grace and OU softball, and thank you for sharing this gift with us.
For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
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