Published by Tyndale on April 5, 2022
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Memoir
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There is always a plan. Joe Gibbs has dedicated his life to helping the “average Joe” apply Biblical principles to everyday situations, using the Bible as a game plan. But in 2019, when his son, J.D., lost his battle with a degenerative brain disease at the age of 49, Joe realized that while he did have a game plan for life, he did not have a game plan for dealing with loss. Reeling, he set out to find answers to the 5 questions that plagued him throughout J.D.’s illness: Why didn’t God show up? Why does God allow suffering? Why do some people suffer more than others? Are we living a life of chance? Do we really reap what we sow? Written with the non-Christian in mind, Game Plan for Loss presents Coach Gibbs’ answers to these questions in plain, everyday language, proving once again that the Bible is in fact the ultimate game plan, and even though it may not always feel like it, God is there, He is listening, He does have a plan, and everything does work together for good for those who love and serve Him.
About eleven years ago, Joe Gibbs—former NFL coach and current NASCAR owner—wrote a book called Game Plan for Life. Sports-themed memoir/devotionals are a popular niche in the Christian market and this one proved to be no exception. It focused on winning. Overcoming. Having success. Competing well. Everything you’d expect from a wildly successful sports figure. But over the following decade, Coach Gibbs realized that he didn’t know how to lose. He had no experience with lament. He had no Game Plan for Loss.
That realization first came in 2014 when J.D., his adult son, was diagnosed with a rare degenerative brain disease. Gradually, J.D. went from heir apparent to the Gibbs’ NASCAR business to needing 24-hour care. And then he was gone. It didn’t matter that Joe had won 3 Super Bowls or five NASCAR championships. It didn’t matter than he had all the money he could need several times over. There were no past successes that could stop this loss. Gibbs writes “All the scholars and theologians in the world could not have prepared me for what I was about to face.” J.D. Gibbs died on January 11, 2019. Game Plan for Loss is Coach Gibbs’s way of coming to terms with that incredible loss.
Coach Gibbs asks five questions: 1) Why didn’t God show up? 2) Are we just living a life of chance? 3) Why do Christians suffer? 4) Why do some Christians suffer more than others? 5) Do we really reap what we sow? Gibbs is clear that he doesn’t see himself as a theologian, or even a pastor. His answers to these questions are his answers based on his own journey. And while as a pastor and theologian, I’d say some of his answers are perhaps a bit simplistic and lacking in nuance, I would also say that they are a sincere product of his journey. You’re not going to find some deep, philosophical insight—but you will get a clear, concise, workmanlike explanation that’s both forthright and honest.
Game Plan for Loss is lacking the star power that his previous book had. There are no contributions from celebrity pastors or other big-name personalities. This book is smaller and more intimate. It’s not Coach Gibbs’s plans for success, it’s a dad lamenting over the death of his son and the lessons he’s learned from it. At just over 100 pages, this is a quick read that is mostly memoir and remembrance. In fact—although I understand the branding decision—I think I would have preferred if this had been marketed as a memoir of loss (which befits the personal nature of the book) over the game plan motif (which seems less personal and more generalized).
It’s not the “game plan” aspect of the book that makes it compelling; it’s the loss. It’s a father’s testimony about his son. Game Plan for Loss is a small book about a successful man learning to lament, grieving the loss of his son, and keeping, even strengthening his faith through it all.