Let me start off with my favorite saying: "I am the wretch the song refers to." That's me. Not because I was a teen mom, because I used to smoke and swear, or because I followed the ways of the world so obediently. I AM the wretch now because my heart wants to keep serving itself. In the words of the apostle Paul:
I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate. (Romans 7:15)
I write this first because I want all of my readers to know that I post the things God has been tugging on my heart. I write the things He's trying so hard to show me so that I can be conformed to His image. I write these not as someone who has perfected these things but is struggling to sincerely follow Christ--not out of obligation, but out of gratitude for what He has done for me. I write because every time I've let go of myself and followed Him in one area or another, it has been the most rewarding and joyful thing I have ever done. I want more of that, and want everyone to have more of that too!
Consequently, I have made it my life's goal to lay down my will and accept the things God shows me to change, even the most difficult things. I fail this goal often, especially when it comes to those big ones He shows me. And to be quite honest, this is one of them. So I thought I'd share this experience and some thoughts along the way that I've had when sports and faith collide.
8 years ago, God gave me this beautiful little baby girl. After having two boys, we were more than thrilled to be buying pink clothes and hair ribbons. Before her first birthday, she would show emotion and movement in response to music more than I had ever seen in a child. I quickly began dreaming of her becoming a beautiful, skilled ballerina. I'm not talking little pink tutus and little girl dance classes; I'm talking Swan Lake ballets with her traveling the world.
So at age 3, I put her in a dance class. She was the youngest girl in her class but more than kept up. My heart beamed with pride. I even cried--rather bawled--with joy and pride at her first recital. My poor husband couldn't figure out why I was crying so hard.
Shortly thereafter, I began searching for real ballet schools--not these little local dance groups. I wanted her in classical ballet learning to dance to Tchaikovsky and other classical musicians' beautiful compositions. I discovered that at age 6, she could join a real ballet school. How many days until she turned six? I counted them down. . .
But then something happened. No, she didn't get permanently injured. The Lord moved our family 750 miles away. Not only that, but we began living with very, very tight finances. My husband was working twice as hard for the same amount of money. Work was sporadic and some weeks, we had to get food from the food shelf. My daughter's sixth birthday quickly came and went.
During this time, the Lord revealed so much to me. Among them was the curse of sports for Christians. Not that they are completely, wholeheartedly evil. But that like sugar and Hollywood, they can quickly suck us into a cycle of addiction and draw our hearts away from our true mission.
Wanting to try and be so much more submissive to God than ever before, I started seeing things differently. I began to take words to heart like these:
Servants don't fill up their time with other pursuits that could limit their availability. They want to be ready to jump into service when called on. Much like a soldier, a servant must be standing by for duty: 'No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him.' If you only serve when it's convenient for you, you're not a real servant. Real servants do what's needed, even when it's inconvenient." (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, quoting 2 Timothy 2:4)
Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NLT)I realized that driving around every day of the week for the boys' basketball games and the princess' dance classes was making me too busy to bring other families meals when they were sick. Or to volunteer on Wednesday nights. Or to invite people over for brunch after church on Sunday. Or just to keep my schedule open for God's service. And even when I still managed to do those things too, I was majorly burnt out.
I don't want to say to someone, "Sorry, I can't make it--the kids have a game." I don't want to be too busy to show others around me God's love by being there when they need me. I didn't want to live with stress headaches and fatigue from this vicious cycle.
And I especially don't want my kids to grow up thinking this life is all about them. I didn't want to be confined to drive-thru meals and no time leftover for devotions. I want them to know that they are valuable because of who God has made them. I want them to know that their identity is found in Christ and His mission for their lives. And I want them to know that Christ is the only thing worth pursuing. Nothing else can fill that void.
I noticed during that time that I was having a hard time receiving direction from God in our lives. Unfortunately, I didn't make that connection until recently. It seems it's much more difficult to receive guidance from God when we're following our own schedule and agenda. (Duh--I know! Hang in there with me--I'm not always the sharpest knife in the drawer!)
Just to make things clear, I want to state that I haven't sworn off all sports, and I don't feel God is calling me to do so. I signed my teenager up for a community ed archery class this winter. I'd really like each of my children to eventually be in some sort of music lessons because I believe each child should have a musical skill with which they can worship God.
Admittedly, I still strongly feel the pull to give my kids everything. I still hear that little voice that says I'm making them miss out. I occasionally flash back to those visions of my daughter as a successful ballet dancer traveling the globe.
But then God reminds me that I'm giving them so much more. Each day, I remind them that they are here for God's purpose, not their own. I tell them the words Catherine Booth, wife of General William Booth and co-founder of Salvation Army, told her children:
Now remember, you are not here in this world for yourselves. You have been sent for God and for others. The world is waiting for you.
I think the healthiest families for God are those who are focused on the main purpose of their lives. They are the ones that are heavenly-minded. It gives us joy, passion, and purpose for our time on this earth. And then we will get to hear our Savior say,
Well done, good and faithful servant.
And that is going to be so worth it. Besides, we'll get to play all the sports we want in heaven!