It is the season where an entire nation seems to be made of “fans.” National college and professional games, players and primetime television are simply overwhelming in our popular culture, whether you enjoy football or not.

But all things devotional, especially those that command our lives in youth, etch who we are in our devotion. These times can drive personal resonance and memory.

Ten years ago this coming fall, our son went to college. Only it was the summer, because he played football. When we came to visit him in a spare room, there was not much to see. On the wall was a poster, among others. But it was just words.

And my senior year of high school.

Almost 50 years prior, I was called to see the head coach of my high school team. It was a terrible year. The team had not won a game. And I was one of the captains. As I approached the doorway to his tiny office, there was a 8 ½ X 11 piece of paper, taped to the trim above the door. It was in the gubby type of many generations of being copied.

It was an unattributed quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I read it, forgot it, then saw it on our son’s wall, 40 years later. I was crushed in a swirl of memory and emotion. I found out then that these are the words from a speech Teddy Roosevelt gave 100 years ago.

Our son was new, in a much bigger arena. He was living away from us. He was challenged physically and intellectually. He saw these words. And purchased them on Amazon.

When I had read them in Buffalo, New York, I was alone, and living in a place of coping. But they meant the same thing. In a time when failure issues from the binary judgment between “cool” and “lame,” here were words that said “there is no effort without error.”

Everyone who tries comes up short at something, at some time. Maybe even every time.

This last month I have been 14 again, on the field with varsity players. I was asked to write an “Academic Paper” by a Swedish Professor for a Swiss Journal. Now, I write a lot. And the piece is about architecture, which I have devoted my life to.

But, like in 1969, what I am doing draws simply from my experience. And like my first preseason practice, I know that I will come up short. Five preliminary reviews were received, recommendations followed, will be followed, now, by “Peer Review,” and I may be simply and finally rejected. After many, many hours of effort a 64-year-old is 14 again.

Like those “nutcracker” drills on the field in Buffalo, I know there will be pain. Our son had pain, too, and became better, and did well. After a decade of schooling and training, our son now deals with those who have completely failed at the challenge of living after full-on military service. Another arena where defeat is both assured and success is possible.

He prevented a suicide on Friday, and does so several times a week. I do not know if his own inevitable failures at being a teenager, at playing football, at learning to do a difficult thing help him in these things, but they do help in my life.

And God helps too.

Both our son and I are those who “strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

And we are those who regularly fail. Like everyone else.

But after 50 years, I know that my “great devotions” are not justified by a “worthy cause,” they are simply because God made me. We humans want to do things. Some of us want to do the things that are seen by more than ourselves.

Some of us try to do things that we know we will fail at, because the hope of their possibility overcomes the knowledge of our incapacity.

I call that faith.

That faith is not in me; it is in a power far greater than me, or any system, or really anything human. My faith is that God is there. His reality is in me, in all of us. When we know this reality, we try to do the things we are pretty sure will fail sometimes.

But where we are is in a place of those who watch, who are the “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” We are all those people, too.

The hardest truth is that we are no better or worse than anyone else. Every judge of my “Academic Paper” will have failed, too. Those at the point of suicide that our son pours his life into are no different than him, you, or me.

Teddy had it right, one-on-one: devotion should forget about outcomes, rewards, or even benefits. But there are an infinite number of arenas where we inevitably fail. Because we can, so we do.

God made us this way. He loves us simply because we are his. It is just hard, often, to know that we are loved when we fail, so often and so fully, despite our devotions.

As I sit in front of screens this season, and see those who “strive valiantly,” those who will often fail, I am more acutely aware that I am less and less likely to be “the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”

The more I fail, the more I know God lives there.