I recently read Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open. It is a fascinating book that any person, tennis fan or not, would pick up and not be able to put down. It is full of incredible stories that are almost impossible to believe. It is surprising to read about a man who was almost completely lost in life while excelling at tennis and tearing up courts. Thankfully, Andre had a few very important friendships that helped keep his head above water while he was frantically treading the seas of life. Without these friends, certainly Andre would never have had enough strength to survive his twenties, much less obtain a world #1 ranking.
One of his friends was a pastor named J.P. in which Andre would confide. Without this friend, I do not think even Andre knows what would have become of him. Until Andre meets his new trainer, Gil, J.P. plays the stable presence in Andre’s life that gives him just enough strength to keep going. I am thankful that J.P. was there for Andre. I remember cheering for Andre and I do not think I would care much about tennis if it were not for his presence on television. However, there is one instance in Andre’s life where I wish J.P. would have done something differently. I think if J.P. would have addressed this one situation better, Andre could have found much more stability in life much earlier.
Andre had just lost in the Davis Cup to Boris Becker. It was not a normal loss. Andre had sworn to himself months earlier that he would never lose to Becker again. He just did. Not only that, but it was in humiliating fashion as Andre was up two-sets to love before he lost his concentration in an embarrassing way. After the match, Andre turned to J.P. for guidance.
Andre asked J.P., “What if I am no good? What if today wasn’t a bad day, but my best day? I’m always making excuses when I lose. I could have beaten him if such-and-such. If I’d wanted it. If I’d had my A game. If I’d gotten the calls. But what if I’m playing my best, and I care, and I want it, and I’m still not the best in the world?”
J.P. responds, “Well—what if?” So far, I think J.P. is right on. A great question to ask, and the exact question I would have asked. How do I know I would have asked this question? Because after reading Andre’s question, I immediately folded up the book and started giving my own answer. I even guessed correctly what Andre’s reply would have been.
Andre replied with, “I think I’d rather die.” And with that, J.P. has the wisdom to say nothing and just let Andre cry. I do not know if I would have paused very long; I like to think that I would have given Andre enough time to cry, but I do know what I would have said next. It is my hope that Andre would have heard it and soaked it in.
I would have said, “Andre, God has given you a great athletic ability. You are right in wanting to push yourself to be the best you can be. That is something God wants from you. God wants you to use the abilities and gifts that He has given you and He wants you to refine them and excel in the areas you can use them. In fact, there is a verse that says, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ However, God also created other people, your opponents, with similar abilities. He wants them to refine their skills and become the best they can be also. God does not care if you are number one, He only wants you to try the best you can. God is not like your dad. God does not have the same expectations your dad and the world has for you. He simply wants you to perform your best. If number two is the highest you can get to, then God is beaming with delight. You may have missed a step in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes you have done everything you were supposed to do. And He is happy with you.
“But that is not all, Andre. As important as it is to hone your abilities, do you know what the most important thing that God wants from you? Christ said that the most important objectives in life were to 1) love God with all you got, and 2) love everybody in the world just as much as you love yourself. That means if you do those two things, then God is happy with you. So listen, while you are striving to perform at your absolute best, do not forget to love God for the abilities He has given you, and do not forget to love the person across the net from you.
“If you cannot be the best in the world, then so be it. But you do not have to be, Andre. You can still be second best and still be everything you are supposed to be. The win or loss at the end of the match does not ultimately matter. What matters is if you gave it all you had out there, and if you loved God for the fact you could do this, and if you showed love to the people around the court. Do you think you could do that optimally, Andre? If you could do that, then you you have won no matter what the papers say the next day.”
Of course I would at some point in time say, “Go out there and squash that guy next time. Just with love. There are a number of ways to lovingly squash someone in tennis.”
I think hearing this could have been a turning point in Andre’s life. Of course he also could have completely tuned it all out.
I know I have had struggles along the same lines as Andre. Certainly Andre was much closer to reaching the top of his field than I am currently to the top of mine, but I can at least in some way relate. I want to be the best at what I do. However, I have to recognize that I may not be the best. But I may be the best I could possibly be. That excites me. That goal is completely obtainable.
Now, thinking this way is not a cop-out. It actually causes me to drive all the more. If I am honest with myself, I know I have not reached my full potential yet. I know there are areas of my life that serve to distract me from being the best I could be. I know I could improve in a number of areas. Of course I will inevitably make mistakes, but I can try to diminish those mistakes as much as possible.
If we can honestly say that we placed our best foot forward, that we kept God in the forefront of our hearts, minds, and actions, and that we showed other people love while on this journey, then we can be happy with ourselves. Even better, we can know that God is elatedly looking at His children, telling us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
That is a great relief. That goal is completely obtainable and is not at the mercy of outside forces. So, are we doing these things?