Something Bigger: Why We All Need Something Or Somebody To Believe In

When I sat down to fill out my bracket for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, I came face to face with my annual dilemma – how far to take my favorite team. For those of you who don’t know, as a student at the University of Connecticut, I pride myself in being one of the biggest fans on campus.

I’ve been to nearly every home game for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams since coming to Storrs, Conn. two years ago. This year, I even went on the road for a couple of games, traveling to Madison Square Garden to watch the men take on Indiana, to Cincinnati to see the game against the Bearcats, and to Philadelphia to cheer them on against Temple.

Later this week, I will return to Madison Square Garden to watch my beloved Huskies as they play in what could be their final game this season against Iowa State.

For those of you who haven’t been following, UConn men’s basketball has had a spectacular year. The team finished the regular season 24-7, advancing through the conference tournament quarterfinals and semifinals, but falling just short in the championship game against then-No. 5 Louisville. After that, UConn entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 7-seed in the East Region, where they defeated 10-seed St. Joseph’s and 2-seed Villanova en route to a Sweet Sixteen matchup against 3-seed Iowa State.

The Huskies stand at 28-8 and heading into the game set to take place Friday night, and they look sharper than ever.

But back to my dilemma. Every year, I have to sit down and decide whether I believe in UConn enough to take them past reasonable expectations (the Sweet Sixteen, usually – at best an Elite Eight appearance). Somehow, every year, I find myself picking the Huskies to win it all. I can’t help it, because I know what they’re capable of. I see the potential for greatness, not to mention the excitement that comes for fans like me along the way.

So this year, just like in years past, my final bracket has UConn bringing home a fourth national championship to Storrs. Whether or not that happens is beyond my ability to foresee right now, but I genuinely believe it will happen. You gotta believe.

There comes a time in every person’s life where he or she has to sit down and consider the simple fact: If you’re not believing in something or someone bigger than yourself, then you have nothing to live for. Whether that someone is a more successful version of yourself 20 years down the road or that something is an all-powerful deity, it differs from person to person. But we all need something worth living for, and that starts with belief.

The power of belief has been well-documented for centuries. Here’s Thomas Jefferson on belief:

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.

It’s the principle of believing you can walk on hot coals. As The Atlantic explains on Jan. 7, it’s all mental. By nature, the coals will not burn you as a result of walking on them. Why? It’s because of the way wood burns, as well as the ash’s role as an additional protective shield. So why don’t we all walk on hot coal? We have an ingrained belief that fire burns. The seemingly “burning” hot coals will in fact just warm up your feet, leaving them ultimately unscathed (except in a few rare circumstances).

Now, I’m not asking any of you to walk on coals. I’m asking you to step outside of your comfort zone and embrace the importance of belief itself. If you do not believe you can walk on coals without getting burned, chances are you will not walk on coals. If you do not believe you will succeed at something, chances are you won’t even attempt it.

We’re paralyzing ourselves out of fear. Belief is the only thing powerful enough to overcome the bondage of fear.

At the risk of getting a bit preachy, here is a portion of scripture from the Gospel of John where Jesus imparts the importance of belief on his disciples and how that belief can empower them.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Essentially, Jesus says from belief is born action. In this context, he is telling his disciples to believe in his ability to empower them to accomplish great miracles. Whether the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles are historically accurate remains in question, but the title of the book alone – “acts” – should give you a crystal clear idea of how the disciples’ belief quickly turned into action in the early first century.

Let’s examine this issue from another angle, a political one. Why doesn’t House Speaker John Boehner call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama to work out a significant piece of legislation to lower the cost of college? It’s simple – he doesn’t believe it would be successful. Partisan gridlock is driven primarily by the skepticism and cynicism of our elected officials, who would rather twiddle their thumbs than make phone calls because they believe the former would be more productive.

Maybe the system is broken to the point where making phone calls won’t fix it, but somebody has to believe it’s possible to get the ball rolling again.

And that’s exactly what’s happening in the United States Senate. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lamar Alexander came together from opposite sides of the aisle with one goal in mind – to get the legislative process going again, even if they have to start small. Since Reid led the push to nearly eradicate the filibuster, the Senate has been at a standstill. That is, until the first piece of legislation in Schumer and Alexander’s scheme, a child care and development block grant program, passed the Senate a week and a half ago.

As Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson put it, “Sometimes when you can’t swallow something that’s too big, you have to take in one bite at a time.”

That’s the kind of belief necessary to get Washington working again. And that’s the kind of belief necessary to get the unemployed, underprivileged, the financially overwhelmed, the college graduate, and the tired single mom back in the ballgame.

An overwhelming cynicism – pushed by Hollywood and the media’s finest talking heads – has left many Americans feeling downtrodden and beyond hope. That must not be allowed to remain as the prevailing belief. The first start to fixing the problem is renouncing that lie and embracing every opportunity, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.

Whether it’s believing you’ll finally find a job after months of searching, believing you’ll pull a family back together that has long since fallen apart, or just believing in the UConn Huskies to win it all in the Big Dance, you’ve got to start somewhere. It’s time to get American believing again, believing in something bigger. Otherwise, this nation may find itself driving into the sunset much sooner than many of us expect.

But I still believe there’s no problem too big to fix in this country. You should too.