THe Sport that became more than a game

 

I am a “retired” athlete. At least that is the name we jokingly give ourselves when we hang up our cleats, gym shoes, or whatever it might be after our competitive sports career ends. Truth is, most of us stay pretty active, but it never feels quite the same. I get asked a lot “what do I miss most?” Every time it’s a really hard question to answer. After nearly 18 years of playing softball, a game I love, I could come up with some eloquent response, but the honest truth is I miss a lot of things. I miss the competition, the game days, the traveling, the team dinners, playing catch, the weight room dance parties, and the list goes on.

In my years of playing many different sports, I realized there is one common denominator in what made those years so memorable and it is quite simple. My teammates. They are the people who stand beside you, wear the same uniform, sweat for the same purpose, and who come from all different walks of life and faith, all in pursuit of a common goal.

Out of all the lessons sports can teach, the main lesson the Lord worked in my heart and taught me was the importance of fellowship. In fellowship with my teammates, I found the value of community, family, and what can be accomplished when we come together. The Lord taught me how much we need Him first, and second, how much we need each other. We desperately need to support, encourage, and care for one another because the games we play are truly just games. The trophies we win collect dust, but the family we build and memories we share – those are heavenly; Kingdom driven.

As Christians in the sports world, what better mission field do we have than the one we play on? What better community do we have to serve than those who wear the same jersey (and, I might challenge you, also those rivals who do not)? The Lord reminded me our great commission is not to go out and win as many championships as possible. Even though that is fun and a good goal, He taught me more importantly that our call is to go and make disciples (see Matthew 28:16-20), and in the process, give Christ all the glory. We are called to worship Him in our sport – whatever role we have.

I’ve been blessed by some incredibly amazing teammates throughout my playing time. We’ve endured challenging practices, 5 AM conditioning, emotional games, and in all that were able to travel to beautiful places to compete. We have walked together through slumps, walk off hits, and stressful life events. We have set out together in pursuit of common goals – championships – victory. We have celebrated victory and we’ve been discouraged by defeat. Yet, together we stood.

What I miss the most is not the things we experienced or even accomplished on the journey, but it’s whom I experienced the journey with. Whether we came out successful or not, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s God’s story, not ours. And it’s amazing what He teaches us in every chapter along the way.

 As a competitive athlete, it was hard to remember that the earthly glory will fade, and that it’s okay to be competitive in the right mindset. I reminded myself often that my first desire is and always should be to honor Christ, and to be a teammate who points to the Kingdom.  In that, I learned the most lasting memories of sports are the ones shared with teammates, fellow coaches, mentoring athletes, and the family we build through our teams. 1 Corinthians 15:57, reminds us our battle has already been won for us! Paul writes,

          “But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Through Him, we are children of God. Victorious. What better assurance can we have? Through Christ, we inherit the Kingdom. There is no better championship, no better name, no earthly glory that can be greater or last longer than Christ’s victory!

Game Day. I miss game day. An athlete may argue there is no better feeling. On those days may we strive to shine a light that lasts forever, a light for Jesus Christ.  And as Chicago Cubs legend and lovable teammate, Ernie Banks, put it best, have an attitude of “let’s play two.”

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