On Saturday morning I sat down to watch the BBC’s The Premier League Show. The main interview was with Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp. Midway through, Gary Lineker asked Klopp what he would like to achieve with Liverpool before his contract runs out in six years' time.
"The problem is I'm a Christian," he replied. "That [in itself] is not a problem, but the problem is I think other people can have success too - it's not about me. But if you ask me about Liverpool I would like to celebrate something each season.”
It was a bold and refreshing admission that once again shows how the Christian life often requires us to put ourselves in the proverbial shoes of others more so than we would perhaps like to, something which can run counter to the norm.
In the case of football - or indeed any sport or situation that pits people against each other - this does not mean that we avoid giving our best (Colossians 3:17). You only need to look at how passionate and competitive Klopp gets during games to see that he gives nothing but his best! And yet, as Klopp puts it, “it’s not about me.”
How does this works practically in the context of a highly competitive and pressurised industry? I wonder if behind his words is a mindset that guards against an unhealthy obsession with winning and succeeding - and all that comes with it. If you do become obsessed with winning, it can become more difficult to acknowledge the importance and beauty of letting other people enjoy their time in the spotlight.
This can be agonisingly hard, particularly where the success of others comes at our expense. But then again, aren’t we all touched when we see competitors so gracious in defeat? It is a beautiful thing; a selfless gift that is rarely forgotten by those it is given to.
Recently I read an interview with Novak Djokovic in The Guardian which included a fascinating and heartening insight into his reaction to losing to Andy Murray in the 2013 Wimbledon final. He says, “I have known Andy since we were 13…That is why I could feel his joy, even in my pain. Instead of wasting that moment of being on the court, and being upset with myself, and wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible, I use this moment to share the emotions that my opponent goes through. I want to share and understand his happiness.”
You may say such an attitude is easy for a man with twelve grand slams to his name and a very healthy bank balance, but that would do a disservice to the immense effort and commitment Djokovic puts into his game. Losing clearly hurts him, which makes his words all the more significant. And so I underlined the quote immediately. I had to pocket it as a reminder to be more generous in celebrating the achievements of others.
Sadly my pockets have holes in them and so Djokovic’s welcome words have slowly drifted away from me in recent weeks! Jurgen Klopp’s wise words have come at the right time.
How good are we at cheering on the other churches in our locality, including those that are seeing breakthroughs that we are longing to see in ours? How good are we at celebrating our friend’s university place or new job, even when we have been turned down? How good are we at sharing in the encouragement of those who are winning plaudits at work, including the occasions when our own work is not receiving such attention? How good are we at congratulating an individual or team who was won a game or competition, even if it is us they have beaten?
There are a myriad of situations where there is opportunity to celebrate the successes of others. On some occasions this will be easy, at others times less so. In 1 Corinthians 12:26, Paul says, “if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” In Philippians 2:4, he writes, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” To do so may simply involve a warm hug, an enthusiastic high-five or a broad smile, or maybe it will mean picking up the phone, writing a letter or buying a gift. Whatever it is, let both Klopp and Djokovic serve as a timely reminder that there are moments in life when we need to slip into the shadows and instead let others enjoy the spotlight.
Tim Bechervaise works as a writer for a Christian charity. He blogs at timmybech.com