Anyone who enjoys Major League baseball is by now familiar with the inspiring story of Atlanta Braves player, Evan Gattis. The rookie catcher was supposed to just be a fill-in player for starter Brian McCann who is recovering from shoulder surgery. However, to date, he’s proved to be much more than a place holder by leading all National League rookies in homers, RBIs and slugging percentage. But sitting at the top of the rankings isn’t where Gattis has always been.
In high school, this young athlete was a promising prospect and received several scholarship offers. He accepted one to play ball at Texas A&M before his life hit a downward spiral that was touched off by his parent’s divorce, and fueled by drug and alcohol abuse. So instead of receiving further training from coaches at the college level, he voided his scholarship completely by neglecting to even appear for classes and early season work-outs. After a long series of poor choices, he eventually landed in a drug rehab center, and later, a mental hospital because of persistent self-destructive thoughts. After his discharge, he took all kinds of odd jobs from golf cart attendant to janitor to pizza cook just to get by, and admits there was a long period of time that “I was so depressed all I could think about was killing myself.”
After four years away from the diamond, Gattis decided to pick up the bat again, and joined his stepbrother to play ball at the unknown University of Texas-Permian Basin. Surprisingly, in his first season he hit a whopping .403 and 11 home runs, too good to be ignored by the scouts for the Atlanta Braves. This year, he completed his comeback when he was informed that he’d made the 2013 Braves roster. His exceptional play has already assured him a continuing role on the team even after McCann returns to the line-up. Currently, Gattis’ number 24 is now the hottest selling jersey in the souvenir store at Turner Field, and he admits he’s more surprised than anyone at his ‘instant’ fame. He admits that if he had the chance, he’d probably do things differently, but he doesn’t regret the things that happened in his life, concluding that perhaps all the difficulties he’s endured were necessary to help him find his path to success.
I don’t know if Evan Gattis is a Christian or not, but I was inspired by his exceptional (and spiritually accurate) view of his trials. The New Testament writer, James, told us the same thing in the first few verses of his book. In verse 2 of chapter 1, he urges us to “Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
When you first look at these verses, it seems like James is a man out of touch with reality. Consider it joy? Doesn’t even seem possible, does it? But, notice he doesn’t say these things are joyful. He’s not telling us to work up some plastic, fake kind of demeanor that pretends to be happy through the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or something bad that’s going on with our kids. Instead of trying to put on a phony façade, what he’s really saying is there can be inner peace, contentment and yes, even joy, in the face of disappointment and heartache. But that’s contingent on our willingness to look beyond the immediate circumstance to what God is trying to do within us. Maturity. Strength. Resolve. Longsuffering. Patience. These are the things God is developing in us through hard times. In fact, it’s only through the furnace of suffering that some of these qualities can be forged at all.
That doesn’t mean that at the end of trials we’re always promised that our dreams will be realized like in Mr. Gattis’ case, but God does guarantee us that if we turn to the Him in our difficulties, He will use those things to craft within us a Major League faith that will be of far greater value than the quickly fading applause of this world.
So what do we do in the meantime? One verse.
1 Peter 4:19 – Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.