I grew up in a Christian household. My dad is black and my mom is white, so when they were dating during their college years, both sides of their families disapproved of their relationship, solely because of the differing skin colors. The reason they made it through these — and many other — struggles is because of their relationship with the Lord.
Having been raised in such a solid household, I attended church two or three times a week and had the foundation of this belief ingrained in me. But it was just something I did. It wasn’t until my high school years when I hit my own adversity, and the Lord showed me my real and personal need for Him. I was getting by doing things my own way for so long, remaining lukewarm in my faith in God, but when I hit a wall and realized I couldn’t keep it up on my own anymore, the Lord broke me down. It was as if He was saying to me, “Sooner or later you have to declare your first love; it’s either Me or it’s not.”
My identity was based solely in sports. I never really got caught up in the drugs and alcohol scene, mostly because my dad grew up surrounded by that kind of environment and, having been greatly affected by it during his own childhood, he made sure I was both aware of and protected from it. Instead, basketball, baseball, football and track were my life. I rarely had time to go out after hours with friends to get into trouble. I soon realized my identity was in Justin the football player, Justin the baseball player, Justin the basketball player, or whatever satisfied my onlookers at the moment. I wanted to be recognized as a great athlete, not necessarily as a Christ-follower first.
With that mindset came so many trials and temptations. Whenever my coaches got on me for doing something less than the best, I felt like a failure. When I wasn’t able to perform the way I wanted to, I experienced depression and anxiety. It was a constant battle for me. But thankfully I had an amazing group of friends in my youth group and high school who continually pointed me back to Christ and His truths. They were a huge part of me finding my way to the Lord during that broken time, and they are still in my life, holding me accountable today.
It’s not as if once I accepted Christ all my trials and struggles with identity were magically gone. But the cool thing is that when these lies and temptations do threaten to creep into my head, and they do especially on the biggest sports stage in the country, I know I have Christ in my corner. And He is my identity. I don’t have to focus my worth on how great I do on the field.
It’s important to know that even if I do have the worst game of my career, Christ is for me, and He always will be. Those are the kinds of things my accountability group instills in me. Instead of finding my identity in sports, I now know my worth and purpose is found in Christ alone.
There are so many people who have helped me along in my journey from little league until now. My No. 1 supporters are my mom and dad. They have been great mentors for me during all the seasons of my life, standing by me throughout all the struggles of life, always extremely supportive of me. I see the love of Christ in them and I’ve always wanted what they have. That’s the type of meaningful and loving connection I’ve been blessed with in my parents.
Another big support for me has been my youth group from my hometown in Florida. I have the pleasure of calling these people my lifelong friends. There are also guys from my college years who are still a part of my inner accountability circle, helping me through my walk with Christ as I do the same for them.
And my wife. I’ve known Taryn since my freshman year in high school and she’s always been such a tremendous blessing in my life, even when I was a jerk during my teen years. When I went through an identity crisis halfway through my high school years, she constantly showed me the love of Christ. That’s the type of thing that attracted me to her — I wanted the relationship with Christ that she had. And she helped me discover that.
— Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos safety
The Increase, part of the Sports Spectrum Network, is a community of Christian pro athletes sharing their personal stories of the decrease of self and the increase of Christ (John 3:30). Visit TheIncrease.com for more stories and videos.