NFL long snapper Clint Gresham has a stressful job. It's his responsibility to get the football to the kicker with the time and space needed to make a strong, accurate kick that won't be blocked by the opponents. Long snapping requires finesse, demands precision and allows almost no margin for error. And, all this has to be done upside down.
For a person who struggles with depression and anxiety, the compulsion to perform often led Clint into deeper and more tangled places filled with dark thoughts and self-loathing. We love what he has to say about what happens when pain meets compassion, the power of grace to stand against fear, and redefining his understanding of strength to find a new and profound freedom.
Here are five things we've learned about strength from Clint's story...
1. Our mental health and our sense of worth are linked.
"I [was] a very sensitive kid...That sensitivity that I walked with ended up manifesting itself as an anxiety disorder and depression and ADHD...The thing about mental health stuff is that it has nothing to do with internal strength, and I think for a long time I believed that – this whole testosterone culture of, 'Suck it up, you've just gotta go out there and do your job, and repress those feelings.'"
The World Mental Health Organization estimates that one in four people in the world struggle with their mental health, and yet so many of us still equate battles with depression or anxiety or addiction with a sense of weakness, and a failure of mental toughness. We define our worth by our ability to master those difficult emotions alone and keep them hidden from sight, which produces a toxic cycle that keeps us more tightly bound instead of setting us free.
2. Perfectionism makes us feel weaker instead of stronger.
"They say that long snapping is the last true art form...you're either unnoticed when you do your job perfectly, or you're the most hated person in the world because you messed up the snap. And, as a guy who feels a lot that was really, really hard."
A football is not perfectly oblong. It has laces and texture. Too much or too little pressure from your fingers in the wrong places can affect its path through the air. A long snapper's throw has to be close to perfect to hit its target.
When we pursue perfection, the reality of the human experience is that we can never quite measure up. The more we believe that our strength rests on our proximity to perfection, the more we find ourselves falling short and feeling weaker rather than stronger in the process.
3. When we try to find our strength in our own achievements, it inevitably lets us down.
"[My teammates and I] were just talking about winning the Super Bowl, like 'Man, I keep waiting for it to sink in'...and I realized that what all of us meant by that was, 'I keep waiting for this thing to make me happy the way I thought it would and it hasn't, and now I'm actually kind of scared about that'...I found myself just kind of continually in this darker and darker and darker place of performance."
We look to all sorts of things to feel better, happier, and stronger, but when our successes don't deliver like we thought they would, we end up feeling worse. Maybe instead of continuing to pursue an impossible standard of perfection, we can shift our thinking, and begin to define our worth not by an arbitrary list of what we can do and how well we can do it, but by the compassion we receive from a God whose love for us is deeper and higher and wider than we could imagine.
4.Accepting compassion is uncomfortable, but also a game-changer.
"I'm learning to try and understand the compassion that God has for me...Relationship with Jesus has been uncomfortable at times. Sometimes I feel like, 'Are you sure you also died for me? Because I don't feel like I bring much to the table'...Even in those horrible moments of darkness...God still likes me? That feels really uncomfortable. It's not a surprise to him that I struggle with things, or that I feel things more, and letting him into that moment is scary and beautiful at the same time."
Every time long snappers take the field, they are vulnerable. To execute their job effectively, they have to concentrate fully on the task of hurling the football between their legs to a target far behind them, but because they're bent over the ball, they can't protect themselves from the advance of the defensive line. It's hard to protect yourself from things you can't see. Vulnerability is necessary for long snappers to do their best work.
Being vulnerable is scary. Stripping away all of our coping mechanisms and carefully constructed facades can make us feel exposed, insecure and unprotected – all the things we try so hard to not to feel. We think asking for help leaves us open to rejection and hurt. We worry that if all the things we feel ashamed of are laid bare, we could never deserve love or compassion or grace. But, the truth is, God already knows all the things we do to try and feel like enough, and in that moment of vulnerability – of quiet trust in him – we can finally lay them down. 5. Finding our strength in God instead of ourselves brings freedom.
"God is with you. He's for you. In the middle of your darkest moments, God sees you and he isn't surprised by the things that you do to run from your pain...and so taking a moment to just be still and receive that, even when it feels uncomfortable, will bring freedom in your life."
Fighting our own battles against depression, anxiety, self-loathing and fear is exhausting and isolating. If you're struggling with difficult emotions that only seem to get stronger and leave you feeling weaker, we see you. You are not alone in this fight. We stand with you. We know that you are loved, that you matter. We believe accepting God's compassion and grace gives hope and help, freedom and peace.
We're grateful for Clint's openness and courage to share his story, challenge our definitions of strength, and expand the conversation about mental health and faith in an environment where it's easier to stay silent.
You can watch Clint Gresham's full film with I Am Second here.
Clint also works with RTribe, an app that provides online counseling to those with difficulty accessing other resources. He recommends it as a great next step for people who are looking to get a sense of control of their inner world.