I was the only kid in school with a Buffalo Bills Jacket. Santa Claus had brought it to me for Christmas. Living in East Tennessee long before the Oilers moved to Nashville, Atlanta was the closest NFL team. I decided at some point to be a Bills fan because of O.J. Simpson. Yes, that O.J. Simpson. I was young and so was he, but I loved to watch him run the ball. I could have chosen the Dolphins, the Steelers or even the Cowboys. Those teams were all winning games and championships when I was a young; but I chose the Bills.
This past Sunday, the Bills lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, in part because Steve Johnson dropped a pass that would have been a touchdown. He actually dropped five passes during the course of the game, but the one that hurt Steve Johnson the most is the one that would have given the Bills the victory. After the game, he tweeted this, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…” This was a lament if there ever was one. It was written in all capital letters. That means he was “SHOUTING” in the world of text/chat/twitter communications. Literally, he was crying out to God, God who he praises 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Steve Johnson is not just a Buffalo Bill, but also a believer.
His next phrase, “AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!,” is the one that have led many observers of professional football to conclude that Johnson blamed God for the dropped ball that would have won the game. Maybe that is what he did, but there is blame, and then there is blame. I could imagine how expressing frustration, or disappointment, or even heartache could sound like blame. To be certain, Johnson’s heart was aching as he left the postgame interview with tears in his eyes, walking out into a blustery Buffalo day, dressed in gym shorts and a sleeveless shirt. God gets blamed for a lot of things that God should not be blamed for; but God is big enough to handle one of God’s own expressing hurt and anguish. In fact, if all of God’s creation cried out in lament, God could handle it. No, God does not care about the outcome of the game, but God does care about the people who play the game. Regardless of how they are playing or how they are feeling, God cares. Whether players are praising, blaming or crying out in frustration, God cares. Just like God cares when those of us who are not professional football players praise, blame, or cry out in frustration.
God always desires, more than anything else, to be in an intimate love relationship with each and every person that God has created. Being in that sort of relationship with God, or striving to be in that sort of relationship with God, does not shield us from disappointment, from failure, or from dropped balls. We can be smack in the middle of the best relationship with God that we could possibly have and still experience difficult challenges and heartbreaking defeats. That may be one of the lessons Steve Johnson learned from his game against the Steelers. At least, I hope that it is.
The last thing that Johnson said in his Tweeter post, “THX THO,” which is short for “thanks though,” makes me think that he may have already learned that lesson. That Johnson, on what well might have been the most disappointing day of his professional life, could find it within himself to thank God anyway, speaks volumes about his understanding of God and life. In it, I hear echoes of I Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” To Steve Johnson, best wishes and good luck for the rest of this season, as well as future ones; and thanks for reminding us to give thanks even on the hard days.