Tragic adversity – and how two well-known people dealt with it.

• The first story – Sheryl Sandberg.
• The second story – Ryan Leaf.
• Key aspects of their recovery.

I happened to read, on the same day, stories of two people well-known to the public. Both stories, stunning encounters with adversity, were presented as a person who had it all but then lost it. I was struck by what I would call spiritual insights from these tragedies, although neither story used specifically the word spiritual.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and her husband David Goldberg. (Source: USA Today from Scott Olson, Getty Images).

Sandberg and husband David Goldberg vacationed in Mexico. While Sandberg slept, her husband’s heart gave out in the gym. She returned a widow to their two children. Now the Facebook COO who urged women to lean in at work is trying to help people move on after grief. Her new book is called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.

Sheryl Sandberg answered a couple of questions in this way:
There’s life and there’s death. Yet it’s so uncomfortable. I think one of the reasons is we’re afraid of bringing up something bad.
GN: While these words are heartfelt and understandable, and we all wrestle with the reality of death, Jesus proposed a life beyond death which can add comfort and encouragement during tragedy like this.

My son’s basketball team – they lost the playoffs a little bit ago – and a lot of the other kids were pretty broken up. And so I looked at my son and said, “Are you okay?” He says, “Mom, this is sixth-grade basketball. I’m fine.” That’s perspective.
GN: This is a beautiful picture of Sandberg’s son keeping in perspective the basketball game versus deeper events of life and death. However, I think this perspective can be taken a step further – as Jesus said, this earthly life is temporary, and after death comes eternal life with God. This is immensely reassuring to believers.

One especially useful piece of advice from Sandberg: that friends or family of a victim of tragedy should never say, How are you doing? This can be overwhelming. Much better to say, How are you doing today?

Ryan leaf was the second pick in the USA National Football League’s 1998 draft – by the San Diego chargers. Peyton Manning was first pick and went on to win two superbowl rings and hundreds of millions of dollars….. one of the best quarterbacks of all time. In contrast, Leaf played two seasons of football while San Diego were 4-14. He threw 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions, and was a disaster.

What happened? First, Leaf refused to take responsibility for his team’s losses in college. Second, he used painkillers during orthopedic surgeries while playing for San Diego, and became addicted after he retired in 2002 – in a bar in Las Vegas. I didn’t have to feel anything – the failure, the pain, the anxiety, the depression, all of it. That night started about an eight-year run of off-and-on opioid abuse.

Ryan leaf aged 40 is a father-to-be and gives talks about his struggles with addiction via Transcend recovery. (Source: Sandy Hooper, USA Today).

LEAF SAID HE ATTEMPTED TO SLIT HIS WRIST, but the knife was too blunt. Shortly after, he was sentenced to prison for seven years for burglarizing homes and stealing medications. His cellmate encouraged Leaf to help other inmates learn to read. It was the first time I was of service to anybody that didn’t serve my interests. I can look back at it now and see that’s where the bolt of lightning struck.

Leaf was paroled after 32 months. Eventually he obtained a job with Transcend, a recovery community. From a contract of $31 million at San Diego, he received $15 an hour driving people around town – people suffering from addiction or mental abuse. The COO of Transcend said Leaf’s recovery was about true humility – not false humility. He is now an ambassador for Transcend.

IN HIS PRESENTATIONS LEAF SAYS, Being a good football player does not make you a good person. I wish I would have treated people better. That’s the biggest regret I have. But it allowed me to be humble where I could go back and make amends to those people and try to be better.

He concludes, I was meant to have these life experiences and be an impact on others who’ve struggled. The fact that I played football tends to get my foot in the door to maybe some closed-minded people who wouldn’t necessarily take a look at getting help. Or they can relate maybe more to a guy who had everything, wasted it all, but has found this peaceful life.

POST-SCRIPT: so many concepts in Ryan Leaf’s story parallel stories in Jesus’ life. An emphasis on humility, and serving others. After Leaf’s admission of failure, pain, and depression, a second chance at a new life leading to peace and hope.

Curiously, Sandberg’s emphasis on facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy is also reminiscent of what Jesus and his followers taught two thousand years ago.

To be honest, in these two stories are many parallels to Christian conversions I have observed (as a scientist) over the past 50 years. Behind these life transformations is the astonishing concept that God loves every person just as they are.

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** Excerpts taken from Sheryl Sandberg offers advice on loss in ‘Option B’, by Alia E. Dastagir in USA Today Life, 24 April 2017.
*** Excerpts taken from All things must pass, by Josh Peter, USA Today Sports, 25 April 2017.

The Gray Nomad
Think well, and help someone to hope.

I used to think good times and bad times in life were like peaks and valleys that follow each other. But now I think they are like the two rails of a railroad track……both are there all the time.
[Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, who lost his son Matthew to suicide in 2013].

You have put more joy in my heart than they know when their wheat and wine have yielded abundantly.

[Book of Psalms, chapter 4].

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7 years ago

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s first book–Lean In–and knew of her personal tragedy. Did not know the story of Leaf, but this was reminiscent of a number of self-absorbed former drug addicts, wealthy individuals, or successful people who lost it all due to RX drugs or otherwise. But once they start reaching outside of themselves and giving their talents to others, it literally changes their lives. Good you are sharing such inspiring stories for others to pass forward.

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
7 years ago

This is a good feed on life and what comes our way and how we respond to it!

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