Romans 12:2 Series
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will if God”
I was almost thirteen years old. I was playing my favorite childhood sport well into the summer months, and well beyond when most youngsters hang up their cleats for the season. Our team was a terrific blend of 2 solid pitchers, a great defense and could really rally with our bats. The Little League World Series was the ultimate goal, although we fell just short. Regardless, long weekend after long weekend we won tournaments, propelling us to a state championship. I was on the team that represented the state of Indiana during the 1996 LLWS baseball season. We played hard. We had our ups and downs. We had our near defeats, yet emerged as our state’s champion. We won two games against other states, then lost two, which knocked us out just prior to qualifying for a trip to Williamsport, PA- the ultimate stage for Little League baseball. Regardless, we were still champions. I’m pretty sure we even got a trophies.
I was a teenager and floundering slightly after giving up on baseball, prematurely if I might add. I was pretty small in high school and got tired of being told to “slap hit” and “run fast.” I was probably just tired of playing a sport nearly everyday of my young life, especially as I started to focus on what I felt mattered more at the time: like which college to attend and which girl I had a crush on. My dad thought it would be a good idea to test out Taekwondo, a sport two of my younger brothers were already involved in. Perhaps he thought I needed more discipline, structure, or even a different concept of the word respect. I hesitantly obliged. I spent the next 2.5 years earning my black belt, a feat that usually takes longer, yet I was dedicated and enjoyed the competition (both internally and against other students). I received different colored belts with each stage conquered. I even won first place in a regional sparring tournament up in Michigan. Just before moving to the Phoenix area to attend Arizona State University, I passed what would be my final test in martial arts (so far)- I got my black belt! The premier marital arts version of a trophy was in hand, my black belt, which I still have to this day (I think).
I have accumulated quite the trophy case throughout my life. Whether playing sports as a youngster, or even as an adult in recreational leagues, I have trophies. I have awards and trophies from a career spanning nearly thirteen years (thus far) in the world of finance. I’ve celebrated my name on, or near the top of many different competitive leaderboards. I have wins and I have losses, don’t we all. Trophies often don’t come without sacrifice, which is something certainly learned throughout my life, especially over the past few years.
I cannot tell you where the majority of the trophies and awards accumulated throughout my life are today. I can tell you that the ones earned throughout my professional career are likely in a nearby landfill. Funny how I don’t remember the trophies, I remember the moments, the people and the process of getting to the destination which led to the recognition. I cannot express how gratifying it is to place zero stock in the attainment of a goal from the perspective of getting something in return, especially a tangible symbol of victory. I have come to the realization through the transformation of my mind and priorities, that the only true symbol that matters is The Cross. Sure, other symbols can be important and valuable, yet if they aren’t tied to having God first in my life, they are meaningless in the context of my greater purpose.
Let me explain. I know a guy who accumulated so many professional accolades that I began to wonder if some were actually made up, allowing him to project even higher status within his workplace. I can attest that this gentleman’s ego is the main driving force behind most of his life decisions, and most who know him would oblige. I believe his facade was created as an external mechanism to shield whatever it is that truly haunts him internally. Perhaps he’ll learn one day that the true trophy isn’t something that you can sit on a bookshelf or hang on a wall, it’s something that dwells within each of us. He is a living example of an obsession that I never want to revisit: a life spent seeking external approval and fulfillment.
Some of the most successful people I know from the world’s standards are also some of the saddest people I know. Perhaps they’ve endured more chasing than others, yet realize (or maybe still don’t) that their chase is actually never-ending. They realize this because nothing achieved actually created the stillness, peace, gratification, love and harmony they sought. I would argue that very little of what these “successful” people relentlessly pursued actually mattered when it came down to their divine purpose in life, hence their spiritual somberness despite a plethora worldly trophies and possessions.
I used to like winning, a lot. I didn’t care as much for the physical trophy that came along with it. Frankly, I was wired to take aim at my next achievement before fully celebrating the previous one. One of the worst panic attacks I suffered was at the start of a new year, understanding that I was going to have to beat the previous year’s production numbers, so the next twelve months were going to be even harder than the last twelve. The constant chase nearly killed my spirit. My world had to come crashing down in a myriad of ways to help me see a transformational lesson with great clarity. Only one thing is truly deserving of relentless pursuit. Only one thing is truly worthy of my greatest efforts of achievement. Only one thing:
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14
Trophies on a shelf or plaques on a wall. A trophy home or a trophy car. A “trophy significant other” or even a trophy bank account. All examples of trophies in this world. I argue there isn’t anything wrong with the trophies of life, UNLESS they’re reached for with an intent to curb a lack of self satisfaction, self worth, self love or internal fulfillment. I find the more I pursue a relationship with Christ and carry forth a life of SURRENDERING, the less attractive I find trophies of this world. I assume that’s pretty telling. I realize that the true trophy of life is of the spiritual realm. I recognize all that we seek can actually be found within, and stems directly from our Creator. Our souls long for more than trophies on a shelf and for material possessions. Why else do so many people suffer from anxiety and depression, something I’ve battled with personally throughout my years of seeking externally?! My anxiety stemmed from my spirit recognizing that I was missing my purpose in life, I was missing out on God’s higher purpose for me, and missing out on feeling the love of a growing relationship with Him.
I can attest also that the memories throughout that summer playing baseball were the real trophies. Being a state champion at 12 years old was an amazing feeling, yet the pursuit of the prize was a bigger feat. The time spent with my dad traveling and seeing him experience the JOY of us playing was more important than the result. The friendships and camaraderie with my teammates were more important than anything that sits on a shelf and gathers dust. A real trophy is the process, what we learn through our endeavors, and the impact we can make on one another along the way. I realize how much more I remember the experiences themselves over the accolades. We had much JOY that summer- that’s the trophy, that’s divine!
I am no longer conforming to outward symbols of accomplishment and achievements. I am no longer craving after such things, nor catering my life toward the hopes of doing enough to receive the next one. Transformation of the mind, as in Romans 12:2, by recognizing the stories we tell ourselves that drive a myriad of behaviors that aren’t in alignment with our divine purpose.
Trophies I strive for: God First in all things. Chase my JOY, and therefore chase my dreams. Make precious memories. Remember the people who have helped me on my journey by showing them gratitude, and by helping others as they helped me. Surrender EVERY DAY to God. Learn lessons when I make mistakes. Be present. Be kind. Be honorable. Be loving. Show grace and forgiveness for others, and for myself. Be a steward of The Word. Grow spiritually. Practice mental and physical health. Be a blessing. Be a light. None of these can sit on a shelf, yet they can all result in being a brighter light for the world, via Him who gives me all things.
These are just a few. How about you?
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BTW- Murphy and my next journey is only two weeks away!