This is the “Ultimate” Game of the Year.
Stay with me here… I know it may seem like a stretch, but as I reflect on the 2019 CFP Championship Game between Alabama and Clemson, I begin to realize the similarities between reaching this goal and reaching the goal of a successful and flourishing marriage.
Full Disclosure: We live in Baton Rouge, so when LSU plays Alabama, we are of course cheering for LSU. But for the last decade, most of us in Baton Rouge are pulling for anyone who is playing against Alabama. (Please don’t take it personally, Alabama fans!)
In addition, my father, younger brother, and middle daughter are also Clemson graduates. So the CFP was especially significant this year.
But what is required to reach this goal? And why?
How important is Football?
Vince Lombardi stated famously to Sports Illustrated prior to the 1956 Rose Bowl, “Winning isn’t every thing; it’s the only thing.”
For many, football season is the high point of the year, but when we reflect on life as a whole, it is it only game. Every year, each team begins with a winning season.
Dwayne Thomas, an All-Pro who led the Cowboys in rushing yards and a touchdown in Dallas’ first franchise Super Bowl victory, answered well when he was asked about winning “the ultimate game.” His response was: “If it’s the ultimate game, how come they’re playing it again next year?”.
The Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney, and quarterback and game MVP Trevor Lawrence have both emphasized to the press at different times that what motivates them is not winning the game, but “glorifying Jesus Christ” in their lives. He is the ultimate one.
But if football teams are willing to give everything that they have to reach and win the CFP for something that is only valid for one year, how much more should we be willing to focus on our marriage? After all, when we said “I do” at the altar, our intent was to have this wonderful relationship last for a lifetime.
Let’s look at some principles that the football coaches and players used to reach this lofty goal – and how these can apply to our marriages.
Each Team Begins the Season with the Goal of Finishing Well
Especially for these two teams. Their focus always remained on the end goal of a national championship. Nothing short of that would be satisfactory. Nothing else was “good enough.”
God created marriage not only for pro-creation, but for our enjoyment. And His desire for us is a lifetime commitment – not just to “put in the time” or “survive” — but to flourish in a way that reflects Christ. And we certainly want to end well.
Each Team had a Strategy – a “Game Plan”
Neither team walked into the stadium deciding to “see what happens.” If they did, the game would be lost before it started.
Unfortunately, we often enter marriage with no strategy or game plan. We figure that it will simply “work out” because we care for and love each other so deeply.
This works for a while, but over the years or decades, the marriage flounders without an idea of how we want the marriage to be and how to get there.
Each Player Committed to Working Hard
Each player understood the work that would be required as they prepared for the season. None of them was surprised when the coaches pushed, demanded, encouraged, and motivated them to give 100% at each practice, at each game.
Marriage is work! (Surprise!). But often we go into it blinded by our “feeling in love” and we are convinced that we will always be like this. Feeling close? No problem! Giving unconditionally to each other? No problem! Work out differences easily? No problem!
But as the season progressed, the players realized that the weight training, the running drills, the mundane and exhausting preparations for each game were not pleasant . . but they were necessary.
When we understand that marriage IS hard work and does not come easily, we realize that it requires intentional effort – some of which seems painful in the moment.
The Team was More Important than Each Individual Player
Over and over, especially in victory, the coaches and the players spoke of the team. How much they stuck together and depended on each other.
In marriage, when given the opportunity to make a decision – especially how to approach or respond to our spouse – the mantra should be “I choose us.” Each spouse should consider the other more important than themselves, and each spouse should consider themselves — as a couple — more important than each individual spouse.
Each Player Continued on, in spite of mistakes and failures.
Although prior to the CFP game, each of these teams was undefeated, there were multiple times during the year (and during each game) that someone made a potentially game-changing mistake. But that mistake did not define the player or the team. And neither did the other players criticize each other when a mistake was made.
In marriage, each of us is going to fail in a decision, a conversation, or an action. And so will our spouse. We must not define the individual or our marriage by the mistakes. But instead remind ourselves of the closeness that we have experienced and long for. And determine to do whatever is necessary to regain this closeness again.
Each Player and their Teammates learned from Mistakes
They tried their best not to make the same mistake twice. Rather than becoming discouraged or condemning each other, they instead looked for lessons from the failure.
In marriage, rather than focus on our own failures (or the failures of our spouse), we need to together talk about what happened and how to operate differently in our relationship.
Each Team Adjusted when Something Wasn’t Working (or at least tried to)
If we look at how each team played during the season, one of their strengths was to adjust during halftime when their original game plan wasn’t working.
As couples, we often try to use the same “tools” over and over and over again with the same results – hoping that this time it will help our relationship.
We need to be willing to completely change how we speak to each other – the words, the tone of voice, the approach – if we want something to change.
Each Team Needed a Committed Coach
The players almost universally credit their coach and the coaching staff with their success. Without someone to motivate, guide, care, and perhaps even love them, implementing the above principles simply would not have lasted.
In marriage, God and his Word are in reality our ultimate coach. We need to spend time with Him to allow Him to provide the insights, wisdom, and truth for our marriage to be successful, flourish, and end well.