The Agony of Defeat
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. Rev 12:10
For decades, ABC’s Wide World of Sports opened their television show with, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory,” (at which point film clips of various prizewinners wowed viewers), “. . . and the agony of defeat.” Week after week, their agony-of-defeat footage was one particular skier’s nightmarish crash off of a ski-jump ramp. This was no easy ride down that snowy slope; it was crash and burn all the way, the poor guy’s arms and legs flailing like a sock monkey’s in a clothes dryer.
He has since become a legend. The all-time visual of the ‘agony of defeat’.
I’ve experienced my share of ‘the agony of defeat’-s. Those times when I failed miserably, or when my best wasn’t good enough, or when a dream come true turned nightmare. The accuser of the brethren isn’t picky about which occasion he uses. He’s quick to arrive on the scene with his malicious finger pointing out our shame, and will gladly replay those moments time and again if we give him carte blanche.
But I had to chuckle the other day when the Lord reminded me of an incident when the enemy’s railing accusations against me backfired. The year was . . . too long ago to matter. What does matter is that I, along with two other mothers, were among the chaperones for my daughter’s middle-school class trip—a work/clean-up weekend project for a ministry in a not-so-favorable area of Wichita’s inner city. That, in itself, took me out of my comfort zone, but I wasn’t about to let my baby go without my protection.
The trip was a total success (and that coming from one who tends to be a perfectionist). Despite bounteous laughter and horsing around, those kids were mega productive. They left their beautifying mark in Wichita’s inner city.
But strenuous work has a tendency to sap energy. Even that of pre-teens. That last night, everyone was dragging. The twelve to fifteen girls in our charge wasted no time getting into their sleeping bags scattered around the floor of our room in the basement of a church. Aside from whisperings and giggles here and there, all had settled down for a long summer’s night.
I had just crawled into my own sleeping bag when someone said, “Hey, who’s turning off the light?” After some understandable bickering back and forth, a girl finally headed for the light switch by the door. What happened next is still a little fuzzy because it’s difficult to make sense out of absolute pandemonium.
She shrieked. Or was it a scream as she stumbled backward from the door? Whichever it was, everyone shot from their bags, myself included, and rushed to look through the door’s window looking out into the hallway. More screams followed.
In the hallway—headed our direction might I add—was a person in a trench coat. A man, I guessed, by the generous size of him. But who could tell, when the head was covered with a gas mask?
What we had on our hands in the next few moments was a bona fide horror-flick scene—girls running about the room, shrieking and crying. Because there were no windows, no means of escape other than a door on the other side of the room, our split-second decision to steer everyone that direction was a no brainer. I recall one of the mothers saying, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” under her breath. I chimed in, my mind awash with unknowns concerning this bioterrorist’s intentions. Where were the male leaders? the boys? Did they not hear us?
Our escape route would’ve worked, had there been windows or someplace to hide in that room. But there was another option. Our last option. A door on the opposite wall. Where it led, we had no clue.
Before we could gather our weeping charges, now clinging to each other in groups of two and three, a commotion broke out from behind that same door. Heavy footfall, boys shrieking, furniture scraping the floor.
Followed by laughter.
What other explanation could there be, but that this so-called terrorist had been pre-scheduled in jest?
I looked around at the girls’ wet cheeks, their pale faces. Sniffles here, anxious glances there. Fear was all over them. And me. It needed to be broken off. Immediately.
I shooed everyone to our room, where we gathered in a circle and held hands. Mustering every ounce of spiritual authority left in me, I broke off fear’s hold on us. I asked the Lord to comfort, to fill us with His peace. I did it trembling. I did it with all my heart and soul.
When I opened my eyes, I saw that we were no longer alone. The boys had gathered in behind us. So had their leader, who couldn’t get his apologies out quick enough regarding his prank turned sour. His heartfelt pleas for forgiveness met with tearful nods and smiles, even a chuckle or two from us unintended victims. Then they left.
After a short debriefing, where a number of girls admitted that they felt better after I prayed, we all tucked ourselves into our respective beds. The light was extinguished.
I have never been more grateful for the dark as I was that night. With my face to the wall and my sleeping bag over my head, the most gut-wrenching, silent tears I’ve ever cried were unleashed. As the night’s scene played out time and again in my mind’s eye, the accuser hammered me with shame and his standard coulda, shoulda, woulda-s.
What if the danger had been real? What then? Where was your faith? your courage?
Out the door, obviously. I’d done my best. But again, it wasn’t good enough.
You failed to keep your wits about you, failed to draw from God’s grace in time of need. Failed to keep safe the roomful of girls entrusted into your care.
I was the epitome of ‘the agony of defeat’.
Thank God, He gets the final word in these matters.
“I’m so proud of you,” was all He said.
It was all I needed. My breath caught mid sob. Proud of me? I poked my head out and listened to the tranquil, even breathing and random cough of sleeping girls—safe girls. The accuser’s voice was gone. My agony-of-defeat moment had been turned upside down in an instant—redefined with one word from God.
One day, the accuser of the brethren will be cast down once and for all. Till then, we need to tune him out. Listen for what our heavenly Father says in these matters. It makes all the difference in world.