We trailed the Fall River Pirates by 14 points with just six minutes left in the fourth quarter of a high school basketball game. Everybody beats this team, and we had too, earlier in the season.
Yet, we were getting creamed. Their fans were rocking. Ours were bewildered. My team finally put together a little rally to unveil a glimmer of hope. I was a starter, but not a star. I could shoot the ball, but as my coach told me, “You may not be tall, but you’re slow.”
The ball bounced off the opponent’s rim and I had a clear path to the rebound. I took it on the run and dribbled as hard and fast as I could the length of the floor toward our basket. Somehow a defender was there, between me and the basket. I should have slowed, faked left and gone right to the rim for a layup.
But, I didn’t dare slow down to make a move, because I was terrified of being caught from behind.
Our senior point guard could catch people from behind and knock the ball out of their hands and I always thought the guy who lost the ball must have been totally humiliated. Caught from behind. How awful. How embarrassing.
Instead, I dribbled right at the defender, and elevated to the apex of my 4-inch vertical, and shot the ball in his face. As any athlete can tell you, certain moments burn themselves into memory like a hot poker writing script on your belly, and you can recall them as if they happened after breakfast this morning.
I remember that shot because when I went up, the only thing I saw was a floating rim: no backboard, no bleachers, no lights, no ceiling, no defender. Just a big rim floating independently above me. I released the ball and fell down. I didn’t even know if I’d made the shot.
That moment returned to me last weekend during a mandatory quiet period at a four-day men’s retreat. The overall theme of the retreat – a “basic” event through Ransomed Heart ministries – was recovering a man’s masculine heart.
Speakers assumed every man carries with him at some level a wound inflicted by his father, a wound we must identify and forgive before we can be whole. After another thoughtful presentation, we were sent out to find a quiet spot at our expansive, wooded conference center to contemplate several questions relating to both our earthly and heavenly fathers, and our own willingness to grow into sons.
We were to consider the questions, “Where do you feel unfathered?” and “Where and how is your Father inviting you to become a son?”
“Since we are the sons of God, we must become the sons of God,” according to George McDonald.
I don’t know how those questions prompted the spirit of God to impress upon me the 48 year-old-memory of that rebound, race and shot moment, but the ultimate revelation for me is that I’ve lived my life afraid of being caught from behind.
It’s why I worked so hard, so long, at so many tasks, in so many places. It’s why I bit my tongue and choked down insights, information or contradictions I should have offered, rather than risking the opprobrium of my bosses, or peers.
It’s why I actually told W.C. Fields, my first and best boss in denominational life, that I was too busy to accept his invitation to ride with him in his glide plane on a beautiful spring afternoon. Dumb. One of my few regrets.
I had not learned to live into my position as a son of God, bold and free with a warrior spirit.
John Eldredge, author of Wild at Heart and the amazing Beautiful Outlaw, says a man’s greatest need is validation. I was too afraid someone was going to catch me from behind and expose me as insufficient, not enough, inadequate. If so, from where would come my validation?
Of course, the point is that all the validation a man or woman needs is to recognize we are children of God. No one can catch me from behind when the Father is reaching for my hand to pull me over the finish line.
I made that shot by the way. And we went on to win in double overtime.