God is on the Losing Team

When I was five, I played the cello for the first time in a music festival. Music festival is a strong word for the experience I had. Yes, there were lots of players and pieces and judges and carrying music stands on and off stages. But as far as I was concerned, there were only two people in the room. Me. And an absolutely minuscule human being named Michael. Who was younger and cuter and better. So as much as my mom told me to “have a great time, sweet. What a learning experience!” I looked her square in her deeply sincere eyes and said, “No thank you. I want to win.”

It seemed to the logic of my five-year-old mind that winning was better than losing. It’s what we strive for, and, hey, it’s fun! What sense would it make for an Olympic team to be happy with last place?

We are entering a season in the church calendar called Lent, forty days where we are reminded that God is on the losing team. For many Christians, Lent is a time to temporarily abandon vices, try new spiritual practices, or give up Chick-fil-a milkshakes. (Lent conveniently corresponds with Spring Break diet season in anticipation of beach vacation. Praise the Lord). Many of my friends give up alcohol, or promise to pray more. In the height of my sickness, I took up swearing for Lent.

And I was dedicated. Every minor nuisance elicited strings of oaths worthy of any 1940s cartoon sailor. For forty days, I was more South Park than Southern Living.

To be honest, I was mad. I was exhausted by being in a world that seemed to like me better when I was healthy and wholesome and whole. It felt like I had fallen behind, somehow.

After all, who wants to root for the losing team?

As Christians, we choose to love a God who died. A God who rises, yes – but a God we spend forty days mucking around in the unpleasant weight of a life condemned. Lent makes us fit in our ability to be alive. By attending to God’s death, we know better how to live.

On Ash Wednesday, the sign of the cross is traced on our foreheads by hands which have, on other days, fed us the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. We are confronted again by our own finitude: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Those ashes are made from the palm branches waved by the church children singing their hosannas last Easter. They hold the hidden DNA of a story that was more about life than about death. What is smeared on our foreheads is a symbol of a profound reality, that Jesus riding into Jerusalem to the cross is the beginning of the end of all sad endings. It is the sign of the God who is for us. The Creator has begun to trace again the history of the lavish banquet all prepared. The feast is ready, the table set. Love says, come home where you belong. You are welcome here.

That’s why even a day meant to reflect on our limits and mortality is good news.


Humans are such transient and fragile beings, so unnecessary to the functioning of the universe. Our very presence is precarious. We will search in vain for any guarantees of our continued health, future success, or, even, the promise of tomorrow.

Fortunately, we have a God who loves us and, for some divine mystery, values our presence. A God who walks among us. A God who willingly joined the losers.

This Lenten Season, I invite you to love the people on life’s losing team. Part of our job as humans is to link arms with people we love and stare down the abyss together.

We’re sharing ideas for Lenten practices on Instagram and Facebook. I’d love to hear what you’ve done in the past and are choosing to practice this year.

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  1. I love, Kate, that your Lenten practice was to take up swearing. That really speaks to me!
    I’m wondering if anyone besides me refuses to participate in Ash Wednesday. I cannot imagine anything more morbid than participating in that ritual. It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with death. I think death was my constant companion through childhood because of significant deaths in the lives of my parents that were never spoken about. So, to take on that death feeling that permeated my childhood home by beeing marked with ashes and told that I am only dust is really anathema to all I continue to struggle against. Does this make sense to anyone else out there or am I just a disobedient reprobate of a Christian?

  2. I love this idea of God being on the losing team. I’m struggling currently with depression and believing that I’m winning in many areas of life. So, I’ve chosen not to give anything up for Lent- except for maybe worrying more. Right now, I need to look down the road of Lent to Easter- that the dark path ends in light and redemption. And help my friends on the losing team around me to see the light ahead, too.

  3. Lisa,
    This makes so much sense. In time of depression and struggle, trying to give up something or getting down into the depths of Lent can be too much. Sometimes, we simply need to be reminded and to remind others that there is light, and it is good, and it is coming. Sending you love this day!
    Team Everything Happens

  4. Sara,
    Thank you for this honesty. I so appreciate your thoughts on Ash Wednesday, especially in light of your past childhood experiences. I think there is always the possibility that an observation of Ash Wednesday or Lent can be too much for an individual. Sometimes we are already in the depths of darkness and don’t need an entire Church season to carry on top of it. At the same time, I am such a fan of this day because it is so counter to the pervasive thought in our culture that we are self-made and invincible. This isn’t the case for you, but being confronted with death and mortality is something most people I know avoid! And doing so can be such a grounding and humble way to enter Lent. I too wonder who else feels the same way you do. I’m sure it isn’t just you, and definitely don’t think you’re a disobedient reprobate of a Christian! I also wonder if there could be time later in life that you feel led to participate in this communal service. Maybe, maybe not.
    Sending you our best!
    Team Everything Happens

  5. I am basically ignoring Lent this year. I just can’t deal with anymore pain.I have been and continue to deal with an iatrogenic medical problem that is complicated and debilitating. I suffer every day and can only live moment.by.moment. The inside of me is screaming how unfair this is to me and my young family. The logical part of me knows that Christ suffered more than anything we can imagine. I just can’t come to a place of peace and acceptance of my situation at this time.

  6. Rose,
    I am so sorry for what you and your family are facing. All of these thoughts makes sense to me. You have already been living in your own sort of Lenten darkness, and it seems like compounding that with the Church’s larger Lenten observance feels like too much. In part, Lent does zero in on the suffering of the world and I think it is okay to take a different approach to that when needed. At the same time, Lent is a time we can point towards hope and build towards Resurrection. Instead of a Lent filled with pain and suffering, may this Lent be a season of God’s presence and Christ’s love. May, even if only for a moment, your eyes be reminded of the already-here and always-coming Light.

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