What the chaos of March Madness teaches us about handling life’s uncertainties

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What the chaos of March Madness teaches us about handling life’s uncertainties

March 23, 2022 -

Kentucky guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) fights for a loose ball with St. Peter's guard Matthew Lee (15) during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Kentucky guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) fights for a loose ball with St. Peter's guard Matthew Lee (15) during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

As much of the nation catches its breath from the opening rounds of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, we are reminded once again why “March Madness” is such an apt description for this time of year.

The opening round of men’s games had the second most upsets from teams seeded eleventh or worse since the tournament expanded in 1985, including second-seeded Kentucky losing to fifteen-seed St. Peter’s University. The St. Peter’s Peacocks went on to win their next game over Murray State to be this year’s most unlikely entrant into the Sweet Sixteen. In all, three of the top eight and five of the top twelve seeds in the sixty-eight-team tournament are already watching from home.

And the results were similar in the women’s tournament. Upsets are normally a relatively rare occurrence for the women, with the five previous tournaments seeing only six major upsets—a seeding difference of eight or more—whereas the men’s tournament saw nine last year alone. This year, however, two such upsets have already occurred with two-seeds Baylor and Iowa losing their matchups with South Dakota and Creighton respectively.

But as shocking as the first four days always seem to feel, upsets are a common and expected part of the tournament. 

March Madness, for the men’s tournament, averages roughly 12.4 upsets each year, most of which come in the first and second rounds. That unpredictability is a big part of what makes filling out brackets and watching the anarchy unfold so much fun. 

Even when the games don’t go the way we hoped and our brackets bust (which may be why I’m currently last place in our ministry’s bracket challenge, but we don’t need to talk about that) there’s something about the chaos that seems to capture people’s attention in a unique way. 

What’s strange is that most of us don’t really enjoy that kind of chaos and unpredictability in other facets of our lives nearly as much. 

What explains the difference? 

Why we enjoy the madness every March

I think there are likely two primary answers, and both are important for us to consider for reasons that extend well beyond a basketball tournament.

First, the chaos of March Madness doesn’t usually impact us directly. 

With the exception of when your favorite school is playing, we aren’t all that invested in the outcomes of the games. We can look on from a distance and simply enjoy watching them unfold. We can root for the underdogs without the risk of genuine disappointment when they lose. And we can find amusement in the reactions of those who seem to live and die with every basket because their alma mater is at risk of seeing their season go up in flames—while often oblivious to the fact that we act the same way when the roles are reversed. 

And the joy we feel from that chaos is amplified all the more by the next reason we should consider.

Second, such madness is often foreign to other aspects of our lives.

That’s not to say we never encounter the unexpected or that any of us can go through life in the kind of bubble we so often try to create—a fact that the last two years have made abundantly clear. 

But while some people might enjoy the idea of starting each day without knowing what to expect, most seem to find peace and comfort in the stability of a routine. And studies have shown that there are good reasons to embrace a more scheduled existence. It can lower stress, lead to better sleep, and increase the overall quality of your health. Like most things, though, we can take it too far. 

So with those two principles in mind, let’s circle back to the question of why all of this should matter for us today. 

A balanced approach to chaos and control

When we look at the life of Christ through the lens of how he managed the chaos around him on a daily basis, we see a middle ground emerge between running toward the madness and trying to insulate ourselves against it. 

On the one hand, Jesus warned his disciples that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20) and sent them out with the instructions to “Take nothing for your journey . . . . And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart” (Luke 9:3–4). 

Moreover, each day’s activities were often defined in large part by the needs of those he encountered. Whether it was spending the whole day teaching a crowd that followed him into the wilderness when he was just looking to be alone (Matthew 14:13–21) or stopping on his way to heal a little girl because another woman needed his more immediate attention (Luke 8:40–48), Jesus never allowed his preferred schedule to get in the way of doing his Father’s will. 

At the same time, he did not allow the demand for flexibility to keep him from living each day with purpose. He was intentional with the people he met, never viewing their worries or needs as inconsequential simply because they did not impact him directly. And while he seemed, at times, to enjoy bringing a bit of chaos into people’s lives—often leaving the religious leaders and crowds alike bewildered by his teachings—he always did so with a larger goal in mind. 

In short, Jesus embraced the chaos around him without allowing that chaos to dictate his approach to life.

That balance can be hard to maintain, and it requires surrendering each day to God. After all, what seems unexpected and chaotic to us is a known reality to him. He is not surprised when our schedules are interrupted or opportunities to help someone threaten to get in the way of our plans because such moments are already key parts of his plan. 

So as we strive to find the right balance between the stability of schedules and the inevitable chaos that life will impose upon them, let’s make sure to leave room for God to be the driving force behind all of it.

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