It was as though a hush had just fallen all across the room. The interview had been going on for a little while now. Some of us had zoned out. But with this question, everyone had snapped back to pay attention. What was he going to say?
My pastor was interviewing a graduating senior from UNC-Chapel Hill. But this wasn’t just any ordinary student. This was Tyler, and not only was he the star player for the Tarheel’s basketball team that year, he had just been nominated as the ACC Player of the Year. His jersey had just been hung up in the rafters, and he was getting ready to go into the draft for the NBA. And here he was, talking about his faith.
Now, I have to be honest, I was one of those people who had zoned out. I really didn’t care about Tyler being on stage. I went to a rival school, and I wasn’t much of a fan. But more than that, I didn’t really care about basketball. Sure, I was intrigued and encouraged that a star basketball player was on stage talking about Jesus. But I had stopped listening a while ago.
But then my pastor asked the question. The question that made me sit back up in my seat:
“Tyler, people can get pretty cynical about athletes who talk about Jesus…”
Yep, that was me! It was as if my pastor knew what was going through my mind.
“… But let me ask you, if everything you’ve hoped for with your career in the NBA doesn’t come to pass – if your dreams of being a professional athlete don’t work, who is Jesus to you then?”
I had snapped back to attention as a silence filled the air. Even seven years later, I still remember Tyler’s response:
“Jesus would still be everything to me. Basketball is not who I am. Basketball is what I do. Christ is who I am.”
Was Jesus a living hope, greater and truer than anything else? Was Jesus still everything?
I remember that interview so clearly, because six days later my own dream was crushed. That was the week I learned that I wasn’t going to be able to do the thing I wanted to do with my life. Six days after I heard Tyler say that Jesus would still be everything to him, even if his life-long dream was taken away, I learned that God had allowed my life-long dream of becoming an engineer to be taken away from me.
I still remember the gut-wrenching feeling I got when I realized what had happened. I was devastated. The shame and pain wrecked me. It was months before I actually told anyone about it. But that very week, I had to start sitting with a question – with that question:
When the dreams fail, and your greatest hopes crumble and fall away – who is Jesus to you then?
Saying that Jesus is Lord – that’s he’s God in the flesh, and the solid rock on which I stand, my living hope – well, that’s much easier to do when life is going well. But it takes on greater weight when life starts falling apart.
In the midst of my broken dreams, who is Jesus?
It was as though the words of Psalm 46 came alive to me – the earth gave way, and mountains moved into the heart of the sea, the waters roared and foamed, and the mountains trembled at the ocean’s swelling.
I guess the ground beneath my feet hadn’t been as solid as I thought. In practice, I had built my hope on sinking sand – trusting to find life, meaning and security in my own dreams and plans. I discovered that I wasn’t trusting Jesus as much as I had thought.
I certainly believed in Jesus – I want to make that clear – this is not the story of my conversion. But this was a moment along the journey of following Jesus where I had to pause and seriously ask whether this was really a path I wanted to travel down. Was Jesus still the pearl of greatest price? Was Jesus still worth following, even when life went south? Was Jesus a living hope, greater and truer than anything else? Was Jesus still everything?
And in that moment, I didn’t really know. I couldn’t answer those questions in a day or a week. It took some time for me to come to grips with what to do and who to trust. I kept asking God, “Why?” Why did he allow it to happen? As I searched the scriptures, I didn’t really find an answer that made a whole lot of sense to me. I learned that God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes; I learned that he is intent on being glorified in the midst of any situation. I suppose that brought a bit of peace, but it never answered my questions.
As I kept reading, I found great comfort in discovering stories in the Bible where things went wrong, and people struggled to believe. I wasn’t the only one! The desperate and hope-filled cry of Mark 9:24 became my prayer – “I believe; help my unbelief!” And slowly, but surely, he did.
He revealed his goodness to me in the midst of my hurt and pain. He washed me in his love, and helped me to hope again. He set my feet upon a rock – the sure foundation that Christ has died, and Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.
I’ve had other moments over the years that have made me pause and think. I’ve had other plans fail, and other hopes fall away, although nothing quite as earth-shattering as what happened the week I heard Tyler speak. But each time, I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that Jesus hasn’t quite been the “everything” I had professed and thought – I’ve been clinging to other hopes – to lesser hopes. And each time I discover a lesser hope – whenever I find another thing that I’ve held onto alongside Jesus, I’ve had to eventually grapple with the question, do I want Jesus to be everything?
I keep praying that little prayer – “I believe; help my unbelief!” And slowly, but surely, Jesus is answering it. He keeps making more and more room in my heart for him. And as I keep following him along this journey of faith, I pray one day I will discover that I’ve let go of all the other hopes and things, and find he really has become my everything.