Excerpt from Book “Don’t Be the Exception, CHANGE THE RULE!”
It was the beginning of the third quarter and I was the upback on the kickoff return team. Rarely, did the opposing team kick the ball to me. But as I saw the ball in the air, I noticed it was headed directly toward me. Finally, this was my chance to show them what I could do! I caught the ball and began to run upfield. I saw a wide-open hole in the defense. I thought it was “Showtime.”
As I began to accelerate through the hole, I was blindsided by a defender. I still do not know to this day where he came from. The ball came out of my hands and the defensive team recovered. As I got off the ground, everything was in slow motion. Everything I had dreamed of just seemed to be fading away before my very eyes. I could not hear my teammates nor my coaches yelling at me. All I wanted was to get off that field. I slowly made my way to the bench, took off my helmet and put my hands on my face and shed a tear. I was very broken. I thought I had had my shot in my hands, but life had another plan for me. To most it seemed like a simple mistake. But to me it had been my only chance to prove to the coaches, fans, and myself that I was worthy of playing and that the coaches were doing my team and I a disservice leaving me on the bench. But as I sat there, all I could think about was that I had blown it, and that the coaches were justified for their mistreatment of me. Maybe I was not as deserving or talented as I had thought. I told myself that my football career was over, and I would never get another chance. So full of heartache, I had no idea why I remained in the game, but my eyes everywhere but the field. I just didn’t want to see any part of the game. I wanted to walk away from it all.
We ended up winning the game, but depression and hurt were set in me. As everyone celebrated and high-fived each other, I had on a fake smile. I didn’t bother going to hang out with the guys for a celebration like we usually did. I made some excuse and left them rejoicing. No one even bothered to stop me and I felt I wasn’t a part of them. As I walked to my apartment from the stadium, I felt inherently lonely to the core. I went to my room, closed the door and lay on my bed. All I felt were inadequate and unworthiness. I had blown it. My only chance. What is the point of living? I wondered. I was at a low point in my life, filled with fear of how life was going to go on. I had given so much into this game for most of my life. It had been my escape, but not any longer. The very thing I had succeeded at for a long time was now like a stranger to me.
“Lord how could you do this to me? I am talented. You know I should be on that field. I waited four years for my shot, and someone who is not half as good as me is playing in front of me. F this, F life,” I cried. For the first time in a while, I was crying out to God. He was the only one I could think of that moment, I had no friends who I could share my burden with. And I didn’t want to call my family; for them all I had put up a front that everything was fine.
As I continued to sob in the silence of my room, I began to contemplate suicide. If I died, everything would be better, wouldn’t it? I would be free from the heartache I felt, free from the disappointment I felt I was. It seemed like the perfect choice to make as long as things would be better for me. Suicide is however not something to be taken lightly — at your weakest — those thoughts of self doubts, of pain and hurt are at the highest. It is like the heart is wide open to pour out negative thoughts to encourage you to carry out such a grave action. I was scared. I was sad. I was confused. I called out to God, “God if you are really real, I need to know right now, else I’m not sure if I am gonna make it to tomorrow. ”
Suddenly, I felt the presence of God for the first time. I felt His presence come into the room and He consoled me like a mother would console a baby to her bosom. Every pain I had felt prior was gone. He wiped my tears from my eyes. He made me smile. He made me realize that life was worth living. To this day, it is the most peaceful sleep I have ever had in my life. From that moment on, I knew that God was real and that my life was in his hands. My playing time and treatment by the coaches did not change, but my attitude toward it changed. I was no longer angry and bitter, but happy and joyful. I was no longer playing for the approval of man but for the glory of God!
My experience shows that our hearts naturally cling to and worship the things that falsely offer life … the things that promise a taste of euphoria in our otherwise bland existence. The temptation to look to other things for life came first to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:6). They had to decide if to follow and obey God or seek “something else” that seemed to promise life. If our first parents could fall into unbelief and sin in an environment that had all the peace, security, and provision God could offer, then how much more vulnerable are we to our fallen and warped passions? We build, turn to, and bow to counterfeit idols so easily. We hold onto personal idols that, more than likely, aren’t a small statue in our house but rather are whatever our hearts turn to or cling to instead of God to bring a sense of well-being to our souls. Often, these idols are money, fame, and material possessions.
If we are honest, we have to admit that something counterfeit can only offer temporary comfort and distraction. Our version of household idols is often our “Plan B” for when God doesn’t show up, seems far away or unavailable, or just doesn’t seem to be coming through for us. They can be the things we turn to when life is confusing, scary, difficult, or overwhelming — because the payoff is immediate. We turn to them in an instant, without even being aware of what we are doing. They may even seem foolish to us. But we cling to them because, at some level, we have turned to them for life. When the thing our heart desperately desires is seemingly unattainable, we grab for something else instead. We create a god of our own, a false god that brings us a sense of security and comfort—a substitute for the real thing. In our struggles with temptation and sin, we often take the bait without seeing the hook and, therefore, don’t consider how it will rob us of the very life we are looking for.
When we walk outside God’s light and insist on finding life on our own terms, and seek not after God but after an idol and draw from it the water we think will give us life, we one day will pay bitterly for refusing to run to God and find life in him. This idol worshipping almost cost me my life. I urge you to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all things will be added unto you.
By Walter Mendenhall
Walter completed his initial Urban weekend for men in 2013 and is currently enrolled in our Two-Year Transformational program. Having accomplished his lifelong dream of making it to the National Football League (NFL), Walter’s desire for mentoring and teaching young people prompted him to walk away from football to focus on pursuing his passion for teaching the next generation of leaders. He is currently a professor at Northeastern Illinois University (Leadership Development) and South Suburban College (Sociology), and a successful motivational speaker and mentor.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Walter Mendenhall