In an alternate timeline, you might be reading about Britt Gusmus in the pages of Sports Illustrated. A multi-sport star in high school, he was drafted by the Houston Astros and had an eye-popping freshman season at a Texas junior college.
“But my career was derailed by the choices I made and the reputation among the professional scouting community that I had acquired through my actions and behaviors,” he remembers. “And I really lived with a lot of shame and guilt around not getting the most out of my career as a ball player. I’ll always think that if I was saved at that point in my life, as a young man, things could’ve been different.”
Through prayer and spiritual introspection, though, Britt came to realize that God had plans for him that were more important than the pro athletics career that the world had been pushing him toward.
He talks about that “evolution” in his new book The Oak Tree Source: How to Become a Man of Strength, Substance, and Spirituality—encouraging men to follow a Christlike model of leading through service, and in doing so evolving into a purpose that transcends career prestige or worldly possessions.
Now a coach, educator, and speaker celebrating 17 years of sobriety, Britt was recently inducted into his high school’s Hall of Fame.
“It was really cool, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this was just another example of God redeeming my life,” he recalls. “He redeems our shame, He redeems our guilt, He makes us new in Him. And I think he said, ‘Britt, this is My gift to you—what you did that you didn’t feel great about, I’m going to redeem that for My good, so you can continue to give back to other people.’ ”
Your experiences as an athlete and then coach are clearly important to you. Tell me about your athletic career, particularly the point at which you decided it was time to move on from professional athletics into a new phase of life. Was that a difficult transition for you?
Athletics was always a big part of my life. God gave me natural gifts to play the game, and my dad was a big motivator for me, from his hunger and fandom and all of those things, so he saw the talent in me and tried to cultivate it.
I was a high school QB, state champion, was a multiple-year all-state baseball player in Colorado, went on to be drafted by the Houston Astros and then played JUCO ball for one year. I had an amazing year in a really tough west Texas conference, hit .390 and had 10 home runs and 50 RBI.
I thought my sophomore year was going to be the year I would go sign with the Astros or another professional team—and that’s the part of my story where the shame comes in, the shame that I lived with, the poor choices that I made, the persona that I lived with.
Sports can be a double-edged sword for young men. On the one hand, it can teach them life and leadership skills that serve them well for the rest of their life. On the other hand, the adulation they get as star athletes can cause arrogance and selfishness to creep in. As a coach, how do you teach the good while steering them away from the bad?
I share myself; I share my story and testimony with them. I have the privilege of teaching and coaching in a private school, so we are able to speak openly about Jesus, who He was and what His identity is in us.
So I share my story and I always impress upon the boys that sports, football, baseball, basketball, whatever it is, it teaches you those great life lessons—but it’s only a tool, and it’s temporary.
And if you don’t understand that the game is so much bigger than you, and that life is so much bigger than you, then yes, pride, arrogance, and self-centeredness will creep in.
I always talk to them about how your identity is not found in how many touchdown passes you throw or how many home runs you hit—your approval is only found in Jesus. I try to steer them toward understanding who they are and who Jesus wants them to be, and how they need to humble themselves and understand the gift that they’ve been given.
One prominent theme of your writing is men’s need to “evolve.” Based on the career or life path they choose, it seems like it’s easy for men to come to see themselves as only one thing—an athlete, a businessman, a father, a teacher, et cetera. How do you get them to look beyond that and take a more expansive view of the purpose God has in mind for them?
The main motivator that helped me look past what the world wanted me to be, what other people wanted me to be, was to really take a deep dive into my thoughts, my behaviors, my emotions. Because so often, like you said, men are pigeonholed into what they should be.
Money is a huge driver of that and how they see their manhood. This is such a big part of the book—how men see themselves—and it takes a significant amount of introspection to uncover those behaviors, thoughts, actions, emotions, and experiences that keep us from becoming free enough to actually see the way ourselves the way God sees us.
There’s a term that Paul used when he was writing to Ephesus—kephale—that I’ve done quite bit of research on. Kephale means not only kinship and belonging but being a source.
He’s speaking of Jesus as the source, the head of the church, but his actions and purpose were to serve it. In our role as men, we want to be the head of the household, the head of the business, the head of industry, whatever it is.
The leadership model that Jesus gives us is being the source, the starting point, the foundation for that, which then allows us to have that presence of leadership.
If men become the source, the starting point for their families, their businesses, they will earn the respect of being the head; and when they grow roots of strength and substance, their presence becomes strong and majestic like an oak tree.
Through this introspection, through this uncovering of who they are, they can evolve to see themselves in what God actually has for them, and then that opens up an ability to be more available to the call that God has for them and step into the command.
That evolution happens when we’re willing to take those courageous steps and uncover what we can actually be as the result of a relationship with Jesus and then evaluate: What is God really calling me to do? Is He calling me to serve? Is He calling me to take a total right turn from whatever I’m doing professionally? And then having the courage to execute that, I talk a little bit about the strength and substance cycle—it’s uncovering, discovering, evaluating that discovery, and then executing.
As someone who’s worked with men at a variety of stages in life, what have you observed as the things they’re having the most struggles with?
They are most in need of guidance; encouragement that they can actually do something different and step into an actual purpose; and motivation, because what I see is a lot of apathy out there. Or a lot of “good enough.”
“Well, my life’s good enough,” when all the while they’re burning inside to go on what I call in the book the “hero’s journey.”
There’s a lot of pent-up anxiety, stress, and regret for not living. They’re not necessarily dreaming of being the swashbuckling hero, but just stepping into a purpose that earns them respect. That might be the biggest thing, that respect, whether it’s from their wives or their colleagues or their peers. And when they don’t feel they get that, sometimes they step back and they say, “It’s all right, it’s good enough.”
Those are some of the biggest things I see, whether I’ve worked with them through the rooms of recovery or as a coach. That was a big part of my redemption too—God had to bring me to my knees before I could start to really understand really the impact of his crucifixion and resurrection. But a lot of what I see is that yearning, that burning for respect, comparing themselves to others but not willing to do anything about it.
If you could go back in time and spend an hour talking to 18-year-old Britt Gusmus, what would you want him to know?
I would want him to know first and foremost that he’s OK. For so long, I thought there was something wrong with me. That would be the first thing—I would sit with him and tell him, “You’re OK. And you’ve got what it takes. And you need to continue to follow your path, not anybody else’s—and continue to follow it at any cost. The people you need will come to you when you need them the most.”
Those are some of the dominant themes that guide my life today: That I’m OK, because I know who I am in Jesus; that I’ve got what it takes because of that relationship and that foundation in God; and to go full throttle with the plan that He has for me. Obviously I went for it full tilt as a ball player because I loved competing; I still do—I love what the game gives you and I love putting my natural talents into action, but I was just in such turmoil inside. Those are the things that I would tell 18-year-old Britt.
What does restoration mean to you?
Restoration to me means something has been made new. Something that was created has been put through tests, trials, the “refiner’s fire,” and has been restored. Through that refiner’s fire, through that molding, through the burning out of whatever impurity got into that original form, it’s been restored to its original creation, which is what we were created to be through the God of the universe and through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
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