After a year of many unexpected scenarios, I’ve been faced with the question, “What really is football in the grand scheme of life?”
What I’ve come to conclude is that football is about the experience. It’s about being thankful for the fact that God has allowed me to be on a team that’s going to be able to do something really cool. I’ve been on two teams before that made it to the Super Bowl and won, and both times I’ve missed out. But I finally have come to the place where I’m at peace with it. Going to the Super Bowl doesn’t define me.
People always say, “Be careful what you pray for.” I couldn’t agree more. When we pray, the Lord hears us. When you start your walk with Jesus, you might pray, “Lord, change me.” Don’t worry, He will. When we say, “Give me this day, my daily bread,” He might say, “OK, I’m going to make sure I keep you in a space of humility to depend on Me so you grow into the person I need you to be.”
I can see now that it probably wouldn’t have been a good thing for me to go to the Super Bowl with the Eagles in 2018. While I was in Philly, I had a great community and thought I was really firm in who I was in Christ. But when I was traded to Buffalo, God revealed to me a lot of hidden things in my heart that were not good. At the time I would have called myself a team player, but in reality, I was dependent on the personal production I was having. It’s easy to think you’re solid when you’re doing well. But what happens when you go five games without a catch? I found out I wasn’t so unselfish. I wasn’t considering others better than myself. When the Eagles won the Super Bowl, I was happy for my friends, but why was I so upset?
There’s no greater way to reveal the yuckiness in your heart than discovering you can’t be happy for your friends. This shows you don’t have the perspective to know that all of this will be gone one day. When that happens, what do we have left? We have Jesus. Do we have the ability to appreciate the fun moments for others and genuinely be happy for them? The Bible says we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). My rejoicing wasn’t 100 percent authentic because I wanted a Super Bowl win.
I thought I was further along in my spiritual maturity than that.
When I was then signed with the Patriots for the 2018-2019 season, I have to be honest — I knew I wanted to go there for a challenge. I knew that when I put myself in the most challenging situations, that’s when I grow the most in my faith walk. When I’m comfortable, my spiritual walk takes a hit. Going to New England would stretch me. I also wanted to go and see what it looked like to be part of such a great team. I had been on good teams before, but everyone knows the Patriots are of a different pedigree. But another reason was that I felt like I had missed out on gaining a Super Bowl ring the previous season. This one I wanted. But God seemed to say to me, “You want that again? Watch as the team you signed with releases you. Once again you’ll sit and watch the Super Bowl at home.”
The next year (this season) I signed with the 49ers, but was cut right after training camp. They re-signed me a few months later and then cut me again. I then signed with the Eagles and was cut again after two weeks. “God, what are You trying to teach me?” That was my prayer. During that time, I realized I had been in two very successful locker rooms over the past few months. The way things were shaping up, I knew the 49ers had a good chance to go to, and even win, the Super Bowl.
I began to do some soul searching. A few things were made very clear to me. I thought back to my teammates on the Eagles and what they experienced with their Super Bowl win. What I realized was that the guys who had peace and joy after the Super Bowl win were the same ones who knew peace and joy beforehand. The moments of accomplishments, celebration and worldly praise may be great, but if you don’t have an eternal and internal source of joy, happiness, peace and love, nothing in this world — even the highest accomplishments (and for a football player, nothing beats the Super Bowl!) — will satisfy. The same guys who struggled with self-esteem and identity before the win still faced the same struggles after the game.
I also realized I was more at peace over the two weeks earlier this year when I was not playing football than I was during any time in my career. It was then that I knew, whether or not I get another chance to play football, this is who I am. If I can’t take care of my walk with Christ, my wife, and my son, I won’t be able to enjoy anything else.
Wins and losses don’t change you. We already have more than enough in Christ. As football players, we are on a big stage where we can often only see what’s going on right in front of us. When you step off the stage of football, you’re just like everyone else. You quickly realize where you stand with Christ. Do you seek approval from man or from God?
So I applied to grad school and waited for my acceptance. I got all my Christmas shopping done — everything was wrapped, tagged and sitting under the tree. Then all of a sudden, as I sat with my son, reading a book and listening to jazz, I received a text from one of the personnel guys with the 49ers. “Give me a call when you get a chance.” When I did, he said, “We want to bring you back for the rest of the season.”
Marquise Goodwin, one of their receivers, was placed on IR. They told me they never wanted me to go; they hated releasing me the first time. “We’re so glad to have you back,” they said. They let me know I would be inactive (not one of the 46 who would play on the field), but that they really wanted me there with them. So only weeks before Christmas, I flew out to join the team, yet again.
More than the chance to be back on a great team, their words impacted me. This was the first time a team wanted me back, not just based on what I could do on the field, but because of who I am. They wanted my influence in the locker room, not just my talent on the field. So now my question is, “OK, God. How do You want to move through me in this place?”
— Jordan Matthews, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver
Jordan Matthews is a regular contributor to The Increase, providing monthly articles and opinions. Check out Jordan’s Increase profile: https://theincrease.com/author/jordan-matthews/
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