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I love a good comeback. Don’t you? I’m not talking about a one line zinger that gets the whole gym laughing. I’m talking about a return to greatness. An ability to overcome the odds. To get up one more time than you get knocked down. There are many different shapes and sizes of comebacks. You’ve got the typical 35-point comeback in the NFL (nice job Bills); There’s the fall and rise of a popular entertainer or athlete (i.e. Tiger Woods); And then you’ve got those stories of people who battle a tough disease like cancer and beat it again and again. No matter the flavor, I would argue we all have a taste for comebacks. Why is that? What is it about the underdog that brings us to our feet when they achieve the impossible? I think part of it is that we’ve all been there before. We’ve all faced moments in our lives that looked insurmountable, and for many of us those moments represented a setback.

Setbacks are a part of life, amen? Breathe air long enough on earth and you’ll notch a few setbacks in your belt. Webster defines a setback as a “reversal or check in progress.” Setbacks are momentum killers, or should I say potential momentum killers. It’s so easy to let a setback knock you off your game. Let’s take a basic example in the gym. Have you ever had your jump rope break in the middle of a workout? Talk about a setback! No doubt you were in the middle of a really good set of double unders (that’s two rotations of the rope per jump by the way) when suddenly, wham. Off goes the rope leaving you with an empty handle and a brief moment of confusion. Welcome to setbacks. And in that moment you might be thinking one of these thoughts: “Why me? Why did this have to happen to me?” Or maybe, “This always happens. Just when things start to go my way, here go the wheels falling off again.” Or the slightly more drastic but just as popular, “Where’s God now, huh?”

Of course, I have my tongue slightly embedded in the cheek here, but metaphorically ropes break in our workouts all the time. The diagnosis comes, the job unexpectedly ends, a global pandemic enters the scene. Setbacks are going to happen. Now, think about something in your life that reversed or checked your progress and re-read those three thoughts again – “Why me?” “This always happens.” “Where’s God now?” Perspective is vital to a purposeful life. So, let me sharpen your perspective on setbacks. Setbacks provide the platform for our greatest comebacks. Let’s look at three things we commonly do as a result of setbacks that limit our capacity to come back. The first thing we do is isolate.

During a setback, isolation can take you to some dark places. Now don’t get me wrong, I think spending time alone is very healthy. We just to need to monitor that time and make sure it’s not an escape mechanism from reality. Community is a vital part of our spiritual lives, and it’s even more important when we face difficulty. I have been spurred on to some great comebacks in life by close friends who reminded me to focus on the big picture or just hung out while I worked it out. Isolation may be keeping you from living your best life right now. So can insulation.

When we insulate, we wall ourselves off from the world through our favorite distractions. Whether that’s binging Netflix, cooking excessive meals, or indulging prescription pain pills, the goal of all insulation is the same, and that’s not having to face reality. Setbacks can be really painful. But if our response to pain is an over pursuit of comfort, we’re developing an unhealthy habit. Comebacks are all about facing our setbacks. We need to work the problem, develop a plan, and get to work on it. If not, we face the third common thing people do, they procrastinate.

I am a world-class procrastinator. Nothing feels quite like putting off until tomorrow what I really need to do today. I tell myself things like I work really well under pressure. But the truth is I feel overwhelmed. I allow the work to show up like a mountain and then convince myself there’s no way I can climb it. But the longer you wait to engage your setback, the worse this feeling gets. This is what happens to athletes who have to (or choose to) take extended time off from the gym. They get convinced that the work is too much or that they’re too far behind, so they throw in the towel. No comeback ever started by throwing in the towel. For procrastinators, all you need to do is something! Just move. Engage one part of your setback and see the relief that comes from realizing it wasn’t as impossible as it seemed.

As 2020 comes to a close, I urge you to take some time to reflect on your setbacks. What were the unexpected things in life that reversed or checked your progress? Then give yourself an honest evaluation of your response. Did you find yourself isolating or insulating or procrastinating? As God opens your eyes to become more self-aware, come to Him in prayer about how you respond to setbacks. I say this all the time in the gym – we’re all working on something. Let God work in your heart to begin to change how you respond to setbacks. Because believe me, He didn’t allow the setback to take you out. He allowed it to create a platform for your greatest comeback.

Questions for Reflection:

Share a setback you faced this year. What was your initial response?

What’s one of the greatest comebacks in your life?

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