March madness is here!

Last year, the only madness we experienced in March had to do with Covid: hospital patient count was surging and restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and churches were shutting down. Caught in the crosshairs of the pandemic, college basketball’s annual tournament was canceled.

I didn’t realize how much joy and excitement I would have this March to see college kids once again dart up and down the basketball court shooting three pointers, blocking layups, and swishing the winning basket in the closing seconds of the game. After playing a regular season that began back in November, these top teams now enter into a dash to the championship finish line.

While watching several of the games this past weekend, I realized how this sixty-eight team, single-elimination tournament offers us life lessons as it captures life’s ups and downs along with all the emotions.

First of all, these kids step onto the court believing they can win. I love watching their passion and energy as they give their all running up and down the court. I’m inspired by their determination and devotion. They exude hope even in the face of insurmountable odds. Although the opposing team may have the better season record or reported to have superior athletes, teams from smaller schools and lesser-known programs know that anything can happen in forty minutes of game time. Just ask the boys from Oral Roberts University.

During this past year, our mindset went a long way in determining how we handled the darkness of the pandemic, protests, and political strife. Just as with any of life’s challenges, stepping into each day with hope gives us the opportunity to see the impossible.

Second, life doesn’t always go as planned; upsets happen. Even though a team may have had an outstanding season and be favored to win the tournament, on any given day they can have a difficult time making shots and lose. No one in the fall of 2019 could imagine the heartache and loss we would see in 2020. Even though we often think of America as stronger than any other country and immune from devastations weaker countries experience, we got knocked to the ground last year. For some of us, we have had other defeats and setbacks in life. Fortunately, life is not lived as a single-elimination tournament, we have the opportunity to learn from our losses and start again.

Third, we should all celebrate and appreciate the support people in our lives. We would be amazed at the number of people who have had a role in shaping the lives of these college athletes. For most of these kids, their basketball journey began more than a decade ago with rec league. Think about the number of practices, the parents or other family members’ involvement, and a multitude of volunteer coaches. Not one of these tournament players got here today without the encouragement and assistance from a team of adults.

Just ask the kids from Loyola University who knocked off Illinois, the number one seed in their regional bracket. In addition to all the people who have invested in their basketball careers, they also have Sister Jean, the 101-year-old nun and team chaplain who prays for them and joins them in the arena for the game day miracles.

We may not all have a Sister Jean, but each of us have people who have been there for us, who have picked us up after defeat and failure and encouraged us to hope again, to step onto the court of life once more believing we can win.

March Madness is here… watch… learn… celebrate!

Mike Day is the pastor of Celebration Church.

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