“Ball was Life”
I love to play basketball. I might not watch it as much as the hardcore GSW junkies out there, but I love to be on the court. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of blowing by your defender and making a fancy pass to get your teammate a wide open lay-up. There’s a certain level of ego-boosting going on, with the opportunity to rise up to the challenge of defending the other team’s best player and “shut him down.”
My love for the game started the summer after my freshman year of high school. It was in that time that I had consciously decided to work on my craft as a point guard. I would go into the gym at 7AM and practice for five hours straight, working on various moves and going over different in-game scenarios. I’d let my body rest for the remainder of the day, and then repeat the following day - five times a week. The grind -- and ball --- was addicting. So much so that it was what I placed my identity in.
The prayer of foolishness
The grind was paying off. After my sophomore season, I was garnering the attention of college coaches and scouts, being invited to camps and such, albeit on a VERY--and I mean VERY--small scale: division II at best (I was a 135-pound Asian kid after all). Prior to this, I hadn’t even thought of wanting to play on a collegiate level.
After my junior season, I made another conscious decision to try and play professionally - once again, on a small scale (i.e., not the NBA. Let’s be real). First things first though: I had to play very well my senior year to get even more recognition from scouts.
But before the school year began, I went to a church retreat even though I only went to church on Sundays because my mom forced me to. On the last night, I remember the pastor explicitly giving this following challenge: “If you want to test your faith, if you want your faith to grow, or if you want to see how real God is, ask God to humble you.” Being a boy on the fringe of faith, I prayed that prayer. It was odd that I did so because my faith was non-existent and I hated going to church at the time. But there was something so beautiful about the thought of having a relationship with a deity. I wanted to experience what it meant to have genuine faith in God.
Fast forward to a week before the start of my final high school basketball season. We were playing our yearly scrimmage against a couple of high schools in our local area. In the middle of a game, I remember trying to make a Derrick Rose-esque “pro-hop” move in between two defenders. Right when I planted my foot to jump, I felt this sharp, excruciating pain focalized on my left knee. Before you know it, I was on the floor, grimacing in the pain of what felt like a thousand knives stabbing into my knee.
A few weeks later, I went with my coach to see the results of my MRI scan. I’ll never forget the words that were spoken to me: “Sorry son. Your ACL is torn. Your season is done.” I vividly remember weeping next to my coach for a good ten minutes, with him just sitting there with me. My basketball career was over.
Torn to Pieces
My identity in basketball and being a professional player was crushed.
Depression and suicidal thoughts came in from all directions because the one thing that I had placed all of my hope and affections in and toward, had failed me.
After having some time to cry, be bitter, and ultimately accept the injury, I came to the conclusion that this was actually the answer to my prayer of foolishness.
During the retreat, I had wanted to see how real God was, and He revealed Himself to me in a beautiful way. Through this injury, I was able to understand a tiny bit of what unconditional love meant: through the love that was shown to me by my family and friends, who comforted me after my loss. I learned that my identity was not tied to my basketball skill, but instead to my standing as God’s child.
The lowest point of my life became the catalyst for my faith.
Subsequently, it became the catalyst for a change in my college major: from accounting to physical therapy. Having received so much comfort in the midst of my darkest and loneliest hours, I wanted to help other people in the very same way, basing my decision off of the passage in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, where it reads:
“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Our Fight for Faith
Praise the Lord for keeping me from living in the delusional thought that basketball was going to be the ultimate fulfillment in my life.
From a pragmatic standpoint, I wonder if there are those of us right now who are being led astray in much the same manner that I was in high school. The pursuit of an idol might not be with something as silly as basketball, but the ramifications of pursuing any idol remain the same: emptiness and vanity.
For those of us who are currently in the midst of trying times, I wonder if this is our Father’s way of leading us back to Him by painfully reminding us that our hope and leading in life (i.e. purpose) should not be placed in anything or anyone else. And perhaps, the reason for why we are struggling the way we are is so that God can use whatever painful and particular experience that we had, and use it for other brothers and sisters to come to know of His great comfort and love.
Brothers and sisters, my prayer is that my small experience--in the larger scheme of God’s story--can be of help in allowing you to reflect upon where you are in your respective walks. Wherever we are in our walks, let us keep the faith and fight for it. It’s the only hope we have in such a fallen world.
Oh, and I still play basketball for fun. I might not play at the level that I did six years ago, but I can still give a lot of people a run for their money.
Robin Yi is a member of Living Hope Community Church and is pursuing a career in physical therapy.