When I was 5 years old, my family moved to a new town in Louisiana, where my dad discovered he could sign me up for a youth sports league. I started playing basketball, and then baseball, but when football season came around, my dad didn’t want to sign me up right away. He wanted to wait until I was 7 to get on the football field, but I was adamant. There was nothing I wanted more than to go out there and play. I loved football. Maybe it was the fact that my dad had a huge trophy in the house that represented his time at Tulane, and I wanted to be just like him. At 6-foot-4, he was a giant to me. I wanted to be a big football player like Dad.
I didn’t play that year. In fact, I got in trouble for throwing a huge fit over it, which made my dad even more certain he didn’t want me to play for another year. But when I turned 7, I suited up. I played cornerback and running back, and after two games, I realized I was playing really well, with a few touchdowns each game!
After my second game, I went up to my dad and asked, “You know when the other team is coming at me to get the ball or tackle me? Am I allowed to move away?” My dad was shocked. I didn’t know I was able to do anything other than run straight through them or over them. But when my dad told me I could move away, everything clicked. Even at age 7, I made other kids just look silly. The game came naturally to me, but I needed that “aha” moment to set me straight. Then when I was in the NFL, I would get texts from friends I grew up with that said, “That move you made last week, that’s the same move you did in little league!”
And it still worked.
There have been many times when I’ve found myself striving for something, whether it be in my college career, NFL career or life outside football. The aha moments I’ve had have made me stronger.
During my rookie year in the NFL, I remember a very important such moment. We were in chapel Sunday morning before our game when the chapel speaker said something that would change my outlook on faith forever. He said, “Faith does not consist of a bunch of religious rituals. God is not a good luck charm or genie in a bottle you go to when you need Him. Pray to Him in the good times and in the bad.”
This rocked my world. Growing up, I had always thought that faith in God meant just that — a bunch of religious duties to complete. I went to FCA meetings on Friday so that Friday night’s game would go well. I would go to chapel on Saturday mornings so Sunday’s game would turn out well. I would pray for good results and go to church every Sunday, but it was all just a set of rituals. I wasn’t growing closer to Christ; I didn’t understand what faith truly meant. I wasn’t letting God use me, I was using Him.
In that moment I had a mental shift, and something in my heart changed too. From that point on, whenever I would score a touchdown, I recognized that it wasn’t me doing it, it was a gift from God. I would point up to the sky, thanking God for getting me to the endzone. Having the platform God gave me, I didn’t want to make it all about me. I was headed that way with my previous state of mind, but suddenly things changed. I’m so thankful God used someone else speaking His truths to get my attention. God’s Word shifted my thinking back to Him.
Once I was able to wrap my head around the fact that life is about something so much greater than me, or the things I can accumulate in this life — money, fame, clothes, cars, etc. — I could be used by God for a greater purpose. You are able to influence others. What you do will have a ripple effect on those around you, and many whom you don’t even know! But you have to see life and know that it’s not just about you. It’s about keeping God first so others can hear His message. Let Him use you instead of you trying to use Him. He has a purpose for you.
What will your “aha” moment be?
— Matt Forte, former NFL running back
Matt Forte is a regular contributor to The Increase, providing monthly articles and opinions. Check out Matt’s Increase profile here: http://theincrease.com/author/matt-forte/
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