Well, it’s March, which means that a whole bunch of t.v. sets in America are finding their way to the games of the NCAA basketball tournament. We don’t call it “March Madness” for nothing. For many people, half the fun of the tournament is trying to predict the outcome of the games well in advance by filling out a complete bracket even before the tournament begins. Some fill out their bracket as a harmless amusement, with no money involved. Others, however, bring gambling into the equation – either by online betting, Las Vegas type betting, old school “bookie” betting, or office pools – and thus rob college athletics of whatever innocence they still retain (and I’ll grant you that isn’t much anyway).
I myself don’t fill out a bracket. I did for years, but it’s now been years since I filled out my last one. Back when I did do one, it was always just amusement to me. I never made $1 on a NCAA tournament game, but I never lost $1 either. At some point along the line, though, I stopped filling out a bracket. I had a simple reason for stopping: Me worrying about my bracket was preventing me from enjoying the games.
I’m a North Carolina State fan. That goes back to when I was eight years old watching David Thompson, Tommy Burleson, Monte Towe, etc. win the 1974 NCAA tournament championship. I was also fully on board when N.C. State won the tournament in 1983, my junior year in high school. That was the “Cardiac Pack” team that seemingly tried to give their fans heart attacks by playing so many close games. I was one of those fans who experienced a lot of undue stress on my heart that March.
So, let’s say that N.C. State makes the NCAA tournament (which they didn’t this year) and plays top-ranked Kentucky. On my bracket, I’ve got Kentucky winning and advancing to the next round, but with every fiber of my being I want N.C. State to win. Now I’ve got a conflict of interests to deal with as I sit down to watch the game. If N.C. State pulls the upset, I’ll be thrilled, but that thrill will be dampened a touch by the fact that the outcome messed up my predicted bracket. It will be especially bad if I had Kentucky advancing two or three more rounds.
Believe it or not, we are actually getting into a life principle here. The principle goes like this: As long as you remain emotionally detached from something, you can’t be hurt by it. The potential for hurt only comes into play when you get personally involved and start investing feelings and emotion. This means that as long as I remain an uncommitted “island unto myself,” who just happens to be sitting and watching a basketball game, I can’t get hurt. But the second I start pulling for N.C. State to win, I open the door for the possibility of me getting hurt.
At first glance, this appears to make me living as an “island unto myself” the better way to go. The problem, however, with living such a life is that it really isn’t God’s plan for me or anyone else. As Exhibit A of this, I’ll submit the life of Jesus. If that life shows us nothing else, it proves that God the Son was not content to sit in His ivory tower of heaven and keep Himself separated and isolated from a human race that had become grotesquely ruined by its progenitor’s fall into sin. That’s why Jesus opened Himself up to the potential for hurt by becoming a fetus in the womb of the virgin Mary, being born into this world, and living for over 33 years in it.
And did Jesus get hurt by doing that? Yes, He did. As a matter of fact, He was put to death by way of crucifixion, something that wouldn’t have happened had He remained in heaven. But does this mean that He made a mistake by getting personally involved with the human race? No. By getting involved, even by getting crucified, He was able to make a way for anyone who voluntarily believes in Him as Savior to experience an afterlife of eternal bliss, happiness, and joy. This is clear evidence that there is an upside to dropping your guard and getting emotionally involved. Sure, you might get hurt, but you might also do incalculable good. No one is denying that getting involved is a hit-and-miss proposition, but in the long run the pain and disappointments of the misses (as bad as they can be) will be outdone by the joy and blessings of the hits.
Of course, as I sit here and write this I’m struck by my hypocrisy. Remember that I said that I don’t fill out a NCAA bracket because I don’t want to become emotionally involved with the outcomes of the games and thus open myself up to the possibility of being hurt by those outcomes. That certainly keeps me all safe and snug as I sit in my recliner and watch the games, doesn’t it? But is that really how to enjoy the NCAA tournament to the fullest? Surely it isn’t.
So, right now I’m thinking that I might actually fill out a bracket next March. I can see it all now: I’ll have N.C. State beating the Duke Blue Devils in the final-four round. Then they will beat the UNC Tarheels in the championship game. Yep, that will work. Sounds great. Hand me my pen. Then again, N.C. State might not be good enough to even make the tournament next year. Truth be told, there’s a greater likelihood of that happening than there is of them beating Duke and Carolina to win it all. Uh oh, I think I already feel a tinge of hurt coming on. I sure do wish that God would stop throwing me into the fray of life and expecting me to live it to the fullest, with its roller-coaster ride of ups and down, thrills and disappointments, joys and pains. If He’s going to do that, wouldn’t you think that He could at least make N.C. State a basketball powerhouse? That would definitely help.