The Hills and Valleys – in Basketball and in Life

How’s your life? Are you on the mountaintop right now? Everything going your way? Experiencing blessing upon blessing; enjoying great success and contentment? Have your prayers been answered more beautifully than you ever hoped or imagined? Or are you struggling? Feeling as though you are stuck in the valley, living with failures, shattered dreams and unanswered prayers?

The truth is that if you live long enough, you’ll likely experience both extremes and realize that highs and lows are part of life. But it’s our perspective on the victories and the losses that matters most.

This past week, we learned some beautiful life lessons from the University of Virginia’s  (UVA) Head Basketball Coach, Tony Bennett. His team won the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship (aka March Madness). Whether you are a sports fan or not, there is pure gold to be mined here.

Last year, UVA was a #1 seed going into the NCAA Tournament and the team experienced the most humiliating defeat in tournament history. They were the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed (University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus, also known as UMBC). Not only did they lose, they lost by 20 points! And throughout this past season, fans of opposing teams chanted “UMBC” as a way to taunt the UVA Cavaliers.

Bennett called the loss “a blessing to help the team grow.” Really? A humiliating loss considered a blessing?

Fast forward one year. The UVA Cavaliers earned their first NCAA National Championship.

Immediately after their tremendous victory, Coach Bennett shared that he had played the song “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells to his team right before the Championship game.

The song is worth playing on repeat, but here are some of the lyrics:

“I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowest place
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away.

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love
On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!

You’re God of the hills and valleys Hills and valleys!
And I am not alone!
I’ve watched my dreams get broken
In you I hope again!
No matter what I know
Know I’m safe inside Your hand.”

Bennett didn’t know whether his team would win or lose the big game. He played the song because he wanted them to focus  on God’s love and faithfulness, no matter the outcome.

I hope you will be encouraged by the words of this song and the wisdom of this coach. No matter where you are right now, God is with you. Your failures don’t define you. Nor do your victories. You’re not alone. You are dearly loved.

PS: Not surprisingly, Bennett’s wife says he is an extremely thoughtful husband. She has a box full of notes that he has written to her over the years. “He writes specific things he says he appreciates about me as a wife, as a mom, as a Christian. He takes time to notice the little things, and he’s not vague. He’s always good about making me feel loved.” I admired the man for his character and for his coaching. But to learn that he is also a believer in the importance of written affirmation, well :) .