“We Want T.J.!” A Clinic on Identity

When the crowds chant for your replacement, where do you turn?

Guest Contributor / 9.29.21

This article comes to us from Matt Pearson:

Third quarter. The Auburn Tigers are getting embarrassed by the Georgia State Panthers. On Auburn’s homecoming. The chants emerge from the home crowd: “We want T.J.!” “We want T.J.!” It’s a desperate plea from the brutal Auburn fanbase to head coach Bryan Harsin: Replace starting quarterback Bo Nix with LSU transfer T.J. Finley! Harsin surrenders to their cries. Finley takes Nix’s spot under center in the fourth quarter. Finley leads Auburn down the field in the waning minutes of the game and throws a touchdown pass on fourth and nine to evade disaster. Auburn wins. T.J. Finley is the hero.

As an avid Auburn fan, of course I was thrilled we won the game. It was ugly. It was embarrassing. The way Auburn played football made Vanderbilt look like a top-5 team. But Auburn won the game. The coach made the right decision. T.J. Finley led the drive and threw the go-ahead touchdown. War Eagle.

But …

I cannot get the chant “We want T.J.!” out of my head. T.J. Finley was born and raised in Louisiana. When things weren’t working out for him at LSU he transferred, less than a year ago, to Auburn. Auburn’s starting quarterback Bo Nix? He grew up the son of Auburn quarterback star, Patrick Nix. Bo was born and raised in Alabama as a lifelong Auburn fan. Bo grew up dreaming of being the quarterback for Auburn University. And, for the record, if your name is “Bo” in the state of Alabama, everyone knows who you are named after. The kid was born to play football for Auburn. He worked hard. He practiced hard. He did everything he needed to do to wear an orange and blue jersey and be QB1 for the Tigers. It was all he has ever known. Nix is now a junior and has started every game, even as a freshman. Though he has struggled, his dream of being an Auburn quarterback have been/are being realized.

Then the chants. From his own fanbase. They weren’t happy. They wanted T.J. And when called upon, T.J. delivered.

Ouch.

Auburn heads to Baton Rouge this Saturday to play in a stadium they haven’t won in since I was a senior at Auburn (1999). Only God (and perhaps Bryan Harsin) knows who will start at quarterback. The storylines are thick and varied.

I have wondered what I would have done were I Bo Nix this past Saturday. I am guessing I would be crushed. I don’t know if Nix will need therapy, but the more I contemplate it the more I think I need therapy! I am not sure if this has bothered me so much because (a) I love Auburn and have been rooting for Nix to succeed; (b) I have a son who loves and plays football; and/or (c) I, in a sense, know how it feels? Probably a bit of all three.

At the end of the day, what happened Saturday afternoon was a clinic on identity. If Bo’s identity was wrapped up solely on being QB1 for the Auburn Tigers … devastation. Emptiness. Disorientation. Mental, emotional, and spiritual chaos. An identity crisis of epoch proportions, to say the least.

But if his identity and self-worth revolve around the remarkable reality that he is a son of God, crisis averted. Disappointment, sure. Therapy, probably. But devastation might just be avoided because the foundation is lasting and secure.

I guess that is why this bothered me so much. If T.J. Finley starts and has success, this time next year no one — no one — will be talking about Bo Nix. Five years from now, very few people will be able to recall the name of the fella who replaced Bo Nix against Georgia State. Two days after I preach a sermon, someone will preach another message that will dwarf what I said from the platform. Six months after I leave a church, Matt Pearson’s name will be a distant memory. An hour after I am buried, my family will be in the basement of a church fellowship hall somewhere eating potato salad.

Like Bo, at any moment I can be replaced by someone who can do what I do. In fact, it is guaranteed that I will one day be replaced by someone who can do what I do better.

No matter what we do, no matter how good we are at it, we will all have a “We want T.J.!” moment. If our self-worth is rooted in anything other than being a beloved child of God, we will crush under the weight of despair. I also don’t say this to encourage a sense of laziness or invoke a “give up” attitude. No way. Just the opposite. We should work hard, practice hard, play hard, strive, pursue, and live large! But only as we keep life in perspective. Life, true life, is lived in the context of being a loved child of God the Father. Any other identity foundation is bound to crumble — whether it be tomorrow or on my deathbed. Am I doing what I do to be known and loved at all costs? Or do I love what I am doing because I am known and loved, regardless? Do I enjoy what I am doing because of who I am? Or is who I am dependent on how I perform at what I do?

By all means, go out there and give it your all. Enjoy every second. But at some point, the crowd will chant “We want T.J.!” When that happens, take a deep breath. It’s okay. There is One who will always want you and will never, ever forget you.

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