Touchdown Jesus

First published on Everyday Christian Nov 18th, 2010

Many years ago, back in the heyday of college, some friends and I traveled to South Bend, Ind., to see the campus of Notre Dame, and hopefully catch a peek of the Fighting Irish‘s football stadium.  After sweet-talking the groundskeeper, he generously allowed us to run through the hallowed tunnel from the movie “Rudy,” and burst out onto the field. 

Squealing and delighted to have accomplished our covert mission, we pretended to throw footballs and run plays until we caught sight of the mural of Jesus, just to the left and behind the scoreboard.There it was… Touchdown Jesus!

A hush fell over our group.  Though I knew little of God at the time, the sacredness of the space caused a chill down my spine.  I felt like Moses standing on Holy ground, in awe of what my spirit perceived, but did not yet know.  Our antics ceased as we soberly exited the venerated field.

I had no idea at the time how much the two realms of football and Jesus would intersect in my own life. Years later, my 12-year-old son is now a gifted athlete playing football for a nationally- ranked team, heading for the West Coast Conference and then, Lord willing, on to Florida to play in the Pop Warner Football National competition.  My husband, a pastor, will be accompanying him. It is a strange fusion, God and football, and yet for us, it has become our new normal.

While football has many critics, and negative attention has more recently dominated the news because of concerns about concussions and their long-term affects; that which is uplifting and noble cannot be overlooked.  And, while few would debate that brute force is a large part of the game, there is much more beyond the obvious testosterone and aggression than meets the eye. 

In many ways, a great football team is a metaphor for the spiritual battle we face in the fight against good and evil.  Not unlike Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress, my son and his team-mates pursue football greatness with the same determination as Christian on his journey to the Celestial City.

My son’s team, the RSM Pee Wee Titans, train relentlessly. They are well disciplined and wear the appropriate uniform, or what I like to call “armour” for the battle.  They study film intently, and play by play, make corrections and adjustments.  They diligently research and know their opponents long before the game. 

Their coaches are not only well-versed in strategy, but loving mentors and teachers, leading the boys with both grace and truth. They live, eat, and breathe, the game.  The team is placed higher than the individual, and all sacrifice one for each other.  There is a deep sense of respect among the boys and coaches, as they continually push one another to new levels of performance.

Watching the boys is like viewing an intricate dance.  It is harmony in motion.  The angels sing and the trumpets play.  These are the moments in life, far and few between, when heaven and earth intersect.  When athletes play the way God intended, when a team moves in a cadence and rhythm distinct from the pack, and football in its purest form-is revealed.

Last week, before the League Championship, the boys knelt down and prayed.  They did it on their own cognizance, no adult around, just a group of eleven and twelve year old boys simply praying for courage and honor, and that God would be with them through the blood, sweat and tears.

And so Touchdown Jesus has become a part of our vernacular…God and football, prayers and the O Line, a blend of the sacred and the secular, and a beautiful  picture of little warriors gearing up for a spiritual battle.

Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV) … Therefore put on the full amour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Martha on the Hampster Wheel

Crying emoticon

Image via Wikipedia

It seems like it always happens this time of year, fall burn-out sets in.  Not just general weariness, but pure debilitating fatigue that has tenuous layers of emotional, spiritual and physical exhaustion.  If you scratch the surface, of a parent or child in this state, you just might get more than you bargained for.  Raw emotions lurk underneath the realm of the over achievers façade. 

It finally dawned on me last week at the mall just how spent I was.  The sky was dumping rain and my family was ecstatic.  Wet fields meant a reprieve from the kids’ grueling sports schedule.  So after almost five hours at church, we headed off for some much-needed sustenance and a little retail therapy…my older daughter’s love language. After pigging out at Ruby’s, my daughter begged to go to Justice for girls, a shop geared for hip tweens and enabling mothers. 

So in we trooped to Justice; the baby sleeping in her stroller, my daughter shrieking at the totally cute jeggings, my son running off to Tilly’s and my husband, well…I don’t actually remember where he went. And that’s when I saw it, a music video playing on one of the ten screens placed around the store appealing to the ADHD crowd featuring Taylor Swift.  I should have walked away, knowing how utterly prone I was to an emotional hijacking, but I fell for the romance and escape of it all. And so, in my highly fragile state, I was sucked in to Taylor’s compelling story-telling lyrics. 

Alas, it was a woeful tale of a child abandoned by her father, and than growing up scared that her own husband would repeat the abandonment of her youth.  So there I stood in Justice, a cacophony of mall buzz all around me, and I lost it.  Tears began to pour down my face, big gulpy sobs for poor little Taylor’s heart, and I felt a deep well of emotion erupt from my soul.  For a moment, the world stopped and I just reveled in the release.

This is what fall burn-out does.  It takes high functioning adults, exhausted from work, kids, and sport’s playoffs and on and on… and turns them to mush, in places like Justice, no less.  I realized this was a red-light symptom indicating that my cup might be overrunning with too many blessings and leading to detrimental burn-out, not just the tiredness that makes me long for summer and more languid days.  So, I added up all the things we are involved in right now as a family. Then I looked long and hard at the list and did a little reflecting.

Pastoral ministry, running a church, leading 2 Rooted groups, teaching 2 bible studies, a career in tech sales, freelance writing, 2 online magazines, 1 blog, 2 acting classes, fall baseball, cheerleading, Mini Pearls(kids cancer research), Jr. High youth group, commuting 2 hours a day, 3 kids(1 of them a teething baby), no sleep, attempted exercise, running a women’s ministry, school, homework, a football team heading for the West Coast Conference, fantasy football commissioner, and oh yes…another fantasy team, friends, kids friends, family obligations, cheer team mom, little scholar football rep, football chain volunteer, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and oh yeah…trying to remain spiritual, read the Bible, pray, and be blessed to be a blessing.

Just my schedule alone is something like 140 hours a week.  That leaves me with an average of about 4 hours of sleep a night. Quite frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t lost it at the Grocery Store or maybe even driven my car into the grocery store.

What the hell am I thinking?

The scary part is that I am pretty sure I am not alone in my race to accomplish, achieve, and appear busy.  All of my friends are overwhelmed too.  Sometimes I feel guilty for watching TV, annoyed at my husband when he takes time out to play, and frustrated that I don’t have more time to accomplish another 400 items.  Sounds a little more like Martha than Mary, and that makes me sad because I want to be more like Mary.  But, in all reality, we live in a Martha world and sitting on the floor like Mary at Jesus’ feet is counter-cultural.  It takes an inordinate effort to swim against the current of identity defined by productivity.

What is this psychotic expectation of achievement that we have all bought into?  I thought I could confidently say that I found my meaning and significance in Christ, but if I am honest, my agenda belies my statement of faith.  Rest doesn’t feel like rest anymore, it’s more a catatonic expression of paralysis. Too tired to move, too tired to talk, we zone out and veg. 

I think it’s time to stop the madness and climb off the hamster wheel.  The hard part is figuring out how not to get thrown off the wheel.  The world sucks you in and then spits you back out.  Oh, but my inner hamster both loves and hates the wheel.  While I want to jump off it’s also scary to think of not running so fast. 

 There’s an old saying that comes to mind…if the devil can’t make you sin, then he’ll make you busy.

So busy, that I imagine he has a field day with us when our defenses are down.

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