I am not a sore loser. It’s just that I prefer to win, and when I don’t I get furious.

Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

I like winning almost as much as I like mac n cheese and efficiency. I recently took a knock off StrengthsFinder test (because I don’t have $40 for that nonsense) and my number one strength was “Winner,” that is to say my drive to compete to win is my prime motivator. Cute, I know.

I’m not sure how this is a strength, as qualified by high5test.com. I try hide or minimize my competitiveness because I didn’t think it was attractive or feminine; I didn’t think it was something I was supposed to feel. I have thoroughly trounced my youth group girls in a game of Monopoly and rubbed their noses in it. These are girls I was leading, like middle and high school girls. When we later played Life, I did not win, and I am pleased to say that I at least lost gracefully. I would rather lose honestly than have someone let me win.

I started playing tennis my freshman year and earned the number one spot by the end of my sophomore year. How? I took lessons with a tennis pro, and his advice to my mom, “Sign her up for ten tennis tournaments this year. She’s going to lose, but she will also learn how the game works and she’ll get better.” And so I lost every blessed match I played. But I also got better.

Being number one on your tennis team might sound really cool, but it just means you have to play the number one player on everyone else’s team. And most of them were a lot better than I was. Tennis is too psychological for me to ever have become a great player; I can’t get out of my own head. I can’t get past losing an individual point and focus on the overall score. There was this one school, Topsail High School, and every year, they had a foreign exchange student as their number one player. How they were consistently attracting internationally ranked tennis players to a small coastal school in North Carolina is beyond me.

I got smoked every time we played Topsail.

My senior year, the last time I played anyone from Topsail, I amped myself up, telling myself that I would probably lose, but I could also do my best. And, after all, I had built my tennis career on losing over and over. But then I won the first game without much effort. She didn’t look like she was trying all that hard, but I had a brief moment where I thought, Huh, maybe she’s not having a good day. Maybe I have a shot here.

A tennis match is divided into sets, then into games. Women play best 2 out of 3 sets, and a set is won by the first player to win six games. So I won the first game, and then proceeded to lose the next twelve games in a row. Badly. Part way through the second game, I realized that she had let me win the first one, and I became unspeakably furious. As etiquette is next to godliness in tennis, I kept my mouth shut. But I couldn’t get over that smug, condescending smirk on her face.

Not everyone feels this way. Some people will take the win no matter how they got it. I’ve heard that some people even play games just for fun.

Here’s the thing that is alternately amazing and infuriating for me about following Jesus. You can’t win at Christianity. It completely defeats the purpose of grace, of unmerited favor.

After I read a story in the Bible or hear a sermon with practical application, I generally think, OK, so to be great I have to be x thing to be seen as a good Christian. Got it. And I proceed to work myself to death acting like I am x thing, essentially shouting LOOK AT WHAT A GOOD JOB I’M DOING JESUS I’M WINNING AT CHRISTIANITY with my actions… OK maybe with my thoughts occasionally as well. I have this need to prove to Jesus that I’m doing a good job.

Jesus was always turning things upside down, which I love. Especially when those things are tables and long-established theological concepts. He wasn’t all that nice to the winners of the day, the religious leaders and such. They were all about appearing to do all of the right things to win at religion, but really they loved power and their own righteousness.

But to win at Christianity, sometimes we have to lose in the eyes of the people around us, and if they’re the ones we’re trying to impress, that’s not super appealing. I tend to get caught up in the thing I’m losing and forgetting the bigger picture, the ultimate win. I get upset about the individual point and forget its context in the overall match.

What if God is asking me to refocus all of that passion and drive onto something bigger? What if he’s inviting me to try something new and reminding me that he’s my teammate and coach, not my opponent?