Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Athletics and Christianity

Lately I’ve been wondering what to do about my kids and sports.  I sincerely feel torn because I was always involved in sports growing up and enjoyed them, but I’m not sure they were good for my soul.  As a dad, I truly want to consider the positive or negative impact athletics will have on my childrens souls.

It feels weird to even write that last sentence because I know that I may appear weird or fanatical for it.  My temptation is to just start introducing them to sports and signing them up for city teams because it seems like that is what I’m supposed to do as an American parent.  I honestly don’t desire alienation, but I also don’t want to allow something into my family just because it is normal and expected.

I’m just not sure what God thinks about athletics.  This has been bothering me for some time, but especially since I have been the administrator at a small Christian school that participates in a varsity level basketball season.

I have witnessed ridiculous rivalries, parading arrogance, unrestrained anger, aggressive finger-pointing, humiliating words, and lots of tears.  Our teams, coaches and fans usually are not the ones behaving this way, but there have been moments.  Side note:  most of those behaviors listed above have come from adults in the stands or coaches from the bench not from the players, but its easy to see signs of the poor attitudes trickling down to the kids.

What does God think about athletics, really?  I've heard over and over again since high school that God does not mind sports and is actually in favor of them, but how do I really know this?  Maybe he does approve of them, but if he doesn’t, I want to know… even if I’m the only one willing to search it out.

I know that competitive team sports offer many positive lessons to their participants.  The ones that always seem to be mentioned are:  teamwork, diligence, dedication and character.  But are sports the only ways to teach our young people these qualities?  Will my kids truly not learn these things if I don’t involve them in athletics?  And could sports be just another opportunity for me to neglect my calling to train and teach my kids in these ways, trusting a coach and sports program to do it instead?

Also, if sports are so effective at making quality human-beings out of our children, then why is it that 99% of the time the most successful athletes are the last people I want my children looking up to?  I know that there are exceptions to this, but I suspect that athletes like Kurt Warner, Tim Tebow and David Robinson are men of character and integrity despite their involvement in sports, not because of it.

One of my biggest concerns is the tendency for pride to flourish on the sports court, field or arena.  I've seen men totally lose their Christian testimony while participating in sports.  I’m afraid I have done the same thing in the past.  I have often felt that ugly things come out of me while competing in a sport that I never experience in all the other areas of my life.  I know that not all Christian men seem to struggle this way, but there are enough who do to cause me considerable concern.

In my opinion, pride is a more dangerous enemy to my children’s souls than anything else because it is the great granddaddy of every other sin.  Not only that, but in my life I feel pride to be THE HARDEST sin to combat because of its many disguises and its ability to deceive me.

If I view pride the way God does, would I involve my children in an activity that can quickly cause pride to sprout and flourish in their hearts?  Jesus said that when something causes us to sin we should cut it off.  Unfortunately, I like most other men I know, have a pretty hard time imagining cutting sports out of my life and my children’s life- even as I am suspecting that sports could be spiritually detrimental.

That in itself gives me great cause for concern.  Have I unintentionally made athletics an idol?  And if I have, am I willing to crush and burn it?

There is so much more I could write on this topic, but I’m curious what other people think.  Feel free to chime in…

1 comment:

  1. Hey Ryan,

    very insightful blog entry! Sports do not define men. After all they are ultimately a "game". The lord ultimately calls us to "put away childish things" as adult men. I stumbled upon this entry after reading one of your wife's that I stumbled upon after searching for pilgrim images (long story, youth group teaching). Basically I am impressed and inspired by your love of God and family and your desire to form your children's souls and not just their physique and athletic prowess. I would describe myself as similiar to you in my view towards sports. I am a husband and father of little ones and growing up I was an all-state baseball player and avid sports fan. Sports did lead to a raising in my self esteem but also a raising in my pride. Sports taught me to work hard to acheive but didnt help me prioritize what was worth working hard for. I think that you have it right, as the father you have to be the protector of your family. Maybe they don't play as much sports as the other kids, maybe they start later and dont play as many different teams. But you will have talked about who the real winner is and how the real important thing is not the game on the field but the life you lead outside of it. Competition is a fact of life, working hard is a fact of life. They dont have to play sports to understand that. Show them and tell them how hard you work for them and how much you love them. Tell them that they are more important than your job (even as a preacher) but tell them no one is more important than their mommy except for God. Tell them God loves them more than you could ever dream of and tell them you love them enough to willingly die for them. The home is the domestic church, children either see God at home or don't see God at all. No sports team, no school, or no church program can ever replace, make up for, or compensate for a home life that lacks love and example of self sacrifice. The thing that a lot of men will have to deal with at the end of their lives is knowing that they put more work into their jobs or their hobbies (sports included) at the expense of the education and moralization of their children. Their children who do not know truth and live God-less selfish lives will be a testamony to their failure as fathers. Let's not let that happen to us. Let us be able to say with clear consicence that we did everything in our God given ability to moralize and educate our children in the ways of the Lord. If they live God-less and selfish lives we will be able to stand before God blameless for their free choices and not the cause of them.

    St. Vincent de Paul
    Houston, TX