The sacrifices of perfection


Great college football coaches often become great by taking extreme measures. In a profession where winning is everything and their jobs depend on maintained maximum success it is common for coaches to work 18- or 20-hour days and even sleep at the office. They chase commitments to play at their universities from fickle teenage boys all over the country. Texts, phone calls, and private jets are flying at all hours and in all seasons. And none of this even involves real, actual play on the field.

Urban Meyer was such a coach, and he was one of the best. Meyer rebuilt programs at both lowly Bowling Green University and the not-quite-so-lowly University of Utah. He used those positions as a springboard to the prestigious post of head football coach for the University of Florida Gators. This was the peak of the profession and he was the best at his job-two national championships back that up.

But, as Wright Thompson wrote in a recent article, Meyer was a man "destroy[ing] himself running for a finish line that doesn't exist." His striving for ongoing perfection nearly killed him and tore apart his family. The late nights and relentless work toward perfection melted the pounds off Meyer's body, and after a serious health scare he was forced to step away from coaching. As Thompson so eloquently put it, "Meyer didn't just give up a job. He admitted that the world he'd constructed had been fatally flawed, which called into question more than a football career."

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Meyer was one of the best. He had achieved what every coach desires and then done it again. How could an icon of college football, one of the most successful coaches of his generation, have a "fatally flawed" life? It's easy to pinpoint the answer as "putting success before God," and that would be accurate. But I think to stop at that would be to miss the point of this story.

The pursuit of perfection isn't a bad thing, but because we are sinful people it can quickly become something vile. It becomes a pursuit of the image of perfection or of being better than others. It suffers from tunnel vision and obscures those things that are truly valuable, and this tunnel vision guides us farther and farther away from what is right. We see this in parenting, business, fitness, and even in vocational ministry. We so want perfection that we too construct these fatally flawed lives.

Meyer is back in coaching this season, at Ohio State University. During his time away he was able to reprioritize and reconnect with God. We don't yet know the end of this story. We don't know if the draw of perfection on the field will be stronger than the draw of God and family. But that is a question not just for Urban Meyer to answer but also one for all of us to consider: What will we sacrifice for the pursuit of perfection? And is it worth it?

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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