What’s not to love about Drew Brees? A real-life David vs. Goliath plays out before our eyes every time he takes the field. And dang it if he didn’t do it again Monday night.
Six-foot, whatever inches tall and out there breaking Peyton Manning’s all-time passing yardage record on Monday Night Football? You gotta be kidding me! The only way Monday night’s battle could’ve been more storybook would have been if lil’ “David” had actually been facing the Giants instead of the Redskins.
But for this night, his 62-yard touchdown strike along the right sideline to eclipse Manning was plenty. Already an all-time great NFL quarterback, and a New Orleans cult hero to boot, Brees tapped his heart after breaking the record and pointed to the sellout crowd as if to share the moment with all of them. And all of us.
Brees was miked during the game, allowing us a rare peek into how this great player would respond to his career-defining moment. Mobbed by his teammates first, he went on to hug Coach Payton and then received the touchdown football and an award certificate at midfield.
Then it happened. Drew shared a touching family huddle with his wife and children that quickly became the best and most interesting part of the storyline.
"I love you guys so much,” Brees said to his boys, kneeling and looking them right in the eyes. “You can accomplish anything in life if you're willing to work for it, alright?”
They nodded. I winced.
"Nothing's given, everything’s earned. God has equipped us for great works," he told a post-game reporter, who nodded as well, apparently not noticing the internal conflict in what the QB had just said.
When asked about it two days later on the Today show, Brees said, "That's honestly what I whisper in their ear every night before they go to bed.” Again, the hosts agreed.
In some ways, we all agree. Life isn’t a series of participation trophies. Hard work and dedication pay off. We resonate with that—which might be part of our problem, too. Wired to perform, to achieve, to grow, to earn, we like the phrase “nothing given, everything earned” whispered in our ears. I love this thinking, and I'm guessing you do, too. But it's a grace killer in my life.
Author Jerry Bridges captures this in his book Transforming Grace:
My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our personal relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well—whatever “well” is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works rather than grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the “sweat” of our own performance.
I’ll be honest, I dig everything about Drew Brees. And it feels kind of crummy knocking a guy for taking an individual accomplishment and turning it into such a humble father-son moment. Honestly, I don’t even 100 percent disagree with his comments. But here’s the rub I’m feeling: I want more for Drew Brees and his sons than just what they can earn. And Jesus offers more. When the Christ-follower lays his head down on the pillow at night, regardless of how he’s performed that day, God whispers,
I love you so much. You can accomplish anything in life that I equip you for. Do your best tomorrow, but I’m with you no matter what. You’re a saint, not because of your hard work but because of Jesus’ hard work. Nothing’s earned, everything’s given. Now rest.
One more reflection on all this: It really convicts me to realize that I’m so guilty of hero worship. Not the kid version where they look up to players and idolize them. Mine is more adult and more selfish. I was a consumer on Monday night, and I wanted everything to be perfect—the touchdown, the record, the teammate celebration, the hug from the coach, the pretty wife, the family moment, and Drew saying the perfect words during his perfect moment. I wanted my football and my Jesus, too. When Drew wasn’t dude perfect, I judged him for it. Shame on me.
No wonder athletes feel the need to perform.