When I was a sophomore in high school, we were playing a basketball game at Provo High. Their teams always seemed to beat us. Call it better coaching, call it better players, call it better facilities, support, boosters, etc. Call it whatever you want, but they always beat us – always. I remember one particular game in which they were beating us just like normal and we limped into the locker room for our half-time pep talk. Our coach (Jared Nielson), bless his heart was a 18 year old recent graduate and pre-mission friend of our varsity head coach (he had finished his high school career the previous year), and was likely frustrated with us for a million different reasons. He tried to give us some strategies, some motivation, and some encouragement (and also a little tough love), but then something happened that had never happened before; the head coach came in and started yelling at us. He usually didn’t even come in the locker room, and he never came in to get after us. sophomores. Yet, on this particular day he asked/yelled a certain question for all of us to answer. He said “how many of you came into this gym today, knowing that you were going to win?” Only one hand went up in the air – just one. And it was not mine. For reference, there were 10 players on the team (plus the assistants and maybe a ball boy). The head coach couldn’t believe it (he also let us know how disappointed he was), and that was all he needed to say. Needless to say, we lost by about 320 that game but I will never forget the lesson that taught me. If I am being honest with myself, I probably thought (at that time) that our team could win, but I also knew that our team would lose.
A couple of years later, when I was a senior and was in yet another basketball game – the game was coming down to the wire. It had been close all game long, and with 7 or 8 seconds left in the game PG had scored a bucket to tie the game. Rather than call a time out our coach let us wing it and our point guard brought the ball up the court. I flanked to the left wing and yelled at him to pass the ball, because I knew 2 things without any shadow of a doubt; 1) I was going to shoot it, and 2) It was going in. He heard me scream, passed me the ball and then I shot it. It went in and we won by 3 (it was a 3 pointer). I knew I would make it. There was not an ounce of doubt in my mind.
Many years later (2007), when I was washed up, old, and carrying more adipose tissue than I care to admit it was my privilege to play in the Class D softball world championships in Detroit, Michigan. During our first game, there were some jitters, and some tightness that were uncharacteristic of our team. We were normally a very loose and very good team, and we expected to go quite far in the tournament. Imagine our surprise then, when in the last inning we were down by a run with little to no momentum going forward. The thought of losing our first game was terrifying for all – which only made the tightness worse. This is probably another symptom of nerves since there is not a bigger tournament that the world championships and unless you’re a 15 year softball tournament veteran, I imagine there are some nerves. This is to say nothing at all of the ridiculousness of a softball world championship). I was slated to be the first batter of that last inning and it was my responsibility to get on base and start a bit of a rally so that we could avoid losing. I distinctly remember thinking to myself as I walked up to the plate – I absolutely have to get on base – not that I can do it, not I will do it, but there is no alternative. I must get on base. I would rather have died than been retired in that at bat.
There must be a point to these amazing sport stories right? Yes, and not just to reflect upon my former days of semi-glory. The point is that there is a very big difference in the attitude and confidence of thought – and preparation.
When any of us are placed in a situation that is challenging, we are stepping up to the plate, or we are given the ball in the last few seconds. In essence – it’s up to us and I hope that we’ve already gone over that scenario in our minds (hopefully several times). Because if that situation is just thrown in our lap, we will likely find ourselves in the locker room at Provo High, convincing ourselves that we could have handled temptation, adversity, trials, or challenges differently, but we didn’t because of any number of factors.
If, on the other hand, we visualize ourselves rising to the occasion, coming through, being victorious, etc. well in advance of the actual event, it seems to create a confidence within us that cannot come except from planning and experience.
This is NOT to say that visualizing an event in our minds, and then actually experiencing it are the same – they are not. Imagining yourself parting the red sea is very different than actually doing it – especially when the opposing armies are hot on your heels with their angry faces.
If you don’t think that’s true for everyone, just ask anyone who looks cool and calm in the face of adversity, or who acts like they’ve been there many times before. Chances are – they have. Those who have won a championship seem to be better prepared to win another one because they know what it takes. Those with life experience, and gospel experience, and wisdom, and the spirit can provide some excellent examples of faith in action – but many things can only learned by actually experiencing them. That’s in large part why we are here on this earth. We need to actually feel the pressure of a screaming crowd, chants of “hey batter batter” or the thunder sticks while we shoot our free throws while we struggle to control our own emotional turmoil, fear of failure, hopes for success, etc. all while realizing that how we fare in that situation affects much more than just my own little universe.
How we act, how we perform, how we control ourselves in that moment defines who we are, it defines what we want, it defines what we love, and over the process of time (repeated situations) – we become who and what we are.
There were likely some that thought that they could traverse mortality with its plethora of choices and experiences and make it back to our father’s presence. No doubt there were others who knew that they would succeed. Then, there may have been others of us still, who thought as we learned, lived, loved, and started to comprehend what was at stake here in mortality that I must get back. There is no alternative. I will absolutely do whatever it takes to get back here.
Ask the savior, who no doubt visualized Himself in the garden of Gethsemane thousands (if not millions) of times prior to actually walking there that awful and most glorious night. He had known for as long as we can imagine that He was the one that we all relied on for salvation. He had known in His mind the logistics of the situation, and as Elder Maxwell termed it “the arithmetic of the atonement”. He had known in His mind all along and had prepared Himself for that moment, but when it actually came, and He began to experience it, He became “sore amazed, and very heavy”, and His soul was “exceeding sorrowful unto death” (Mark 14:33-34). This means that even though Christ had gone over the situation in his mind before, and He had prepared as well as anyone had prepared for anything ever – it still made Him “awestruck” when he actually experienced it.
Luckily for all of us, the savior not only knew that He could atone for us, but He also knew that He would atone for us. To further the point – especially when we consider his plea to the Father – he knew that he must atone for us. There was no other way. His love for us won.
The question then for each of us to answer is “How do I feel”? Do I know I can make it? Do I know I will make it? Or have I ruled out the possibility of failure and working under the thought that I must make it?