Even If

Every year during the Christmas season our children are showered with new books from grandma. They accumulate in brown and white mailing envelopes on the front porch, and with two young readers in the family, there is great anticipation of what wondrous stories will be revealed on Christmas morning.

This year a compilation of illustrated Bible stories found its way under the tree, and in it contained the tale of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 

For those who need a refresher, the story originates from the Book of Daniel. Three young Jewish men refused King Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to bow down and worship a golden statue. Furious at their defiance, the king ordered them to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Miraculously, they emerged from the flames unharmed, and the three men lived happily ever after.

The story concludes with a simple takeaway for our seven year old audience, “Just like He protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, God looks after people who love and trust Him.”

And with that conclusion, Christmas came to a close. That is, for everyone but me.

As I turned out the lights and tiptoed down the hallway, there were two words from that bedtime story that kept echoing in my mind.

Even if…

I could not escape these words. They were so profound I had to find the Book of Daniel to see if they appeared in the original story. Sure enough, there they were.

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I’ve heard this story many times over the years, but these words have never stopped me in my tracks like they did on this Christmas night. The tale of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is often used to communicate the promise of deliverance for God’s faithful people, but here’s what stuck out most to me…

They didn’t know how the story would end. They only knew what they believed to be true. 

Surely they believed God would save them, but even if he did not, they refused to bow to the king’s golden idol, consequences be damned.

It was this conviction that had me laying awake that night - thinking back through my coaching journey - moments replayed in my mind when compromise was no longer an option.

I remembered an episode early in my coaching career when a player refused to come out of the locker room during pregame warm-ups because she wasn’t starting. She was a good player, and we needed her for that night’s conference tournament game, so one of her teammates volunteered to give up her starting spot so she would play. Reluctantly, I agreed.

That night we won the game, but I lost the team, and the rest of our season quickly unraveled. At the end of that season, I was determined to never let a player’s emotional response affect my decision-making like that again even if it meant losing the biggest game of the season.

I flashed back to a meeting years later in the athletic director’s office. Complaints were rolling in from senior parents about their daughters’ lack of playing time. After years of working to establish a culture of earning, I was told on no uncertain terms, “We’ve got to find a way to play these seniors before this thing blows up.” 

This time I was resolute. Playing time would be determined by performance, even if it meant losing the support of administration, and ultimately my job, when the shit hit the fan.

The memories came flooding back - defining moments when I caved under pressure, and others when I stood firm - all forming the bedrock of who I am today as a coach.

My daughter’s bedtime story made me realize that our deepest held convictions are often revealed through the words even if. It’s here we find the beliefs that make up the core of who we must be.

Our friend TJ Rosene once said, “When you know who you are, you know what to do.” 

Even if it means taking a little heat.

Food for thought.

Nate Sanderson

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