Coach slipped through the seldom-used back entrance and slid halfway onto the crowded bleacher, half-standing next to a sweaty tuba player who didn’t even notice him. Over the band director’s waving arms he could see the bench where the guys – his guys – glared at the new coach.
He imagined the stony silence as the new coach reminded Butch to stay on the point guard. He’d dealt with it all those last couple games – eye rolls, smirks, glares for no reason. Guess I shoulda seen it coming.
As the buzzer sounded and the ball snapped back in, he anticipated Butch’s defiant scrambling for the ball – far away from his man – and the inevitable turnover.
The opposing forward lobbed the ball to the open point guard, who swished it like string music.
And boom goes the dynamite.
For a second, Coach wanted to chuckle, to cheer at his former protege’s humiliation. The “I-told-you-so” release would feel so good after so many fruitless speeches. So many after practice heart-to-hearts that blew his own heart to smithereens with that one visit in the principal’s office.
He’d sat, unable to breathe, as his boss sucker-punched his dreams of victory for these players.
“Some of the kids are saying you don’t care about them. They say you’re working them too hard, you don’t believe in them as people. They say winning is impossible with you as coach.”
He’d sat frozen, unable to form a coherent response, it was so unexpected.
Driving home from that meeting, he’d thought of a ton of brilliant defenses. All the late hours he’d spent pouring his best teaching – both about the game and about life – into young men who seemed like they were poised for greatness. Hungry to improve. All the prayers he’d prayed for them, for their families, for their futures. He’d wiped an angry tear and wondered where he went wrong.
Now, with his heart steeled against any emotion but scorn, he observed the team as both mentor and critic. The shredded part of his heart that had loved these players, believed in them, lived for them even, wanted to weep as the hardening part of him silently cheered their mistakes.
When the final buzzer sounded the resounding defeat, he made his way across the floor where his guys – the guys – headed for the locker room. Every one of them but the manager refused to even meet his eyes as he passed them.
He stopped his replacement, the twenty-something string bean straight from student teaching, and pumped his sweaty fist in a firm handshake, speaking low, reassuring words. New Coach straightened, nodded, and followed the team out. Coach pitied him.
Time passed, but the pain did not. Coach figured it proved he really had cared about the guys, but it didn’t change the fact that his heart had hardened to stone. He got other jobs with even more promising players, but nothing could bring back that first love he’d lavished on his team. It had died.
He watched as one by one, his first players became men. Some of them played college ball, suspensions and all. Others fathered children; one of them, Skeeter, became a father. Of all the players, only Skeeter ever willingly spoke a good word to Coach. Coach noticed.
He remembered back to that year when he’d taught Butch and Skeeter how to spin a ball on their fingers. He’d always pretended to hate players wasting time on tricks, but after practice one night they’d cornered him. He’d spent three hours showing off all his trick shots, and they’d gone home convinced he was the greatest.
He kicked back his recliner and scrolled through Facebook. He was friends with most of that first team, even though he knew if he passed them on the street they wouldn’t speak. For the thousandth time he wondered what he’d done wrong.
His heart raced as he read a whining post from Butch. Something about politics. Coach didn’t care. Butch’s constant griping about everything people gripe about was Coach’s nightly cure for sleepiness.
He flipped the phone to the couch, his head pounding. God, why does he bug me so much? What do I do? I hate how I hate him, but I can’t stop. He doesn’t care about my forgiveness, so how can I forgive?
Instantly the verse superimposed his vision. “Pray for your enemies.”
His eyes widened. Really? That’s all there is to it?
“Pray for your enemies.”
He kicked shut the recliner and fell to the floor. “Lord, bless Butch. Be good to him. Show him You love him.
“Give him a purpose. Bless his family like I want You to bless me. Make him a happy person.
“Make him successful, Lord. Make his kids godly. Make his wife good to him. Make him confident in Your goodness to him.
“Give him grace, Lord. Keep him from sin and bitterness. Erase hurts in his heart that he doesn’t even know are there.
“And use him to do a great work for You, and then bless him for it. I beg You to do this because You loved me when I hated You. I ask in Jesus’ name.”
And for the first night in a long time, Coach went straight to sleep. Happy.
How do you forgive loved ones who don’t care that they’ve hurt you?