5 Lessons I am Passing from the Foreign Mission Field to the Hometown Football Field
I am going to spend many evenings this fall sitting in bleachers, cheering on various sized football and soccer players. All four of my sons are playing, so that’s at least four games a week. It’s a new mission field for me and in some ways much harder than an orphanage, but I am going to take what I’ve learned about people, authenticity, trauma and Jesus and bring it with me.
1. I am going to take time before the game to say important messages to my sons. They are already anticipating being coached and I have the most important game plan. “I care more about how you treat your team than I do about the yards you cover.” “I want you to at least once during the game, say thank you to Jesus for a body that works how you want it.” “Success isn’t given, it’s earned. Do you part with all your heart!” Later someone will watch game film with them and critique their performance, but I want them to hear from me the most important plays only Jesus sees.
2. I am planning on having one authentic conversation with one person in the stands with whom I wouldn’t otherwise interact. This is as important a mission field as any foreign soil I’ve walked. Life is about relationships and the gospel sits on top of those connections. Here’s to hoping I make some.
3. I want to remember to pray for the coaches during the game. Everyone has commentary about how they are yelling or not yelling, putting or not putting their kid in the game, and it’s easy to see them as characters and not people. They have a significant opportunity to impact my son and when I pray for their marriages, health, spiritual sensitivity and friendships, I see them for the people of influence they are.
4. After the game, I want to take a moment to not rush to the next activity on my agenda, but to speak powerful truths to my son. I have the opportunity to tell them what I saw, my perspective on how to handle a bad call, or a great play. One of my sons recently got a touchdown and it was afterwards I encouraged him to thank the guys who blocked for him, their names weren’t announced on the loudspeaker, but he couldn’t have done what he did without them. He’s brought that up twice since, confirming to me how open he is to feedback in that moment.
5. Finally, life is simultaneously messy, full, hard and beautiful. I want to put this and any sport in perspective. Our lives cannot, will not, revolve around a ball wrapped in pigskin. That means we can’t to be mean to each other as we rush late to a practice. We will not let our mood be altered by a loss or our attitude towards a player change based on their performance. We might miss a practice or a game if a critical family gathering conflicts. A year from now we will remember we missed the wedding, we will not remember that we missed the practice.
Athletics provide an opportunity for connection and learning. While living in Mexico, I saw how even a trip to the grocery store or an afternoon at a pool provided ripe prospects for reaffirming good messages and addressing suspect behavior. What I bring home with me from Mexico most of all, is an understanding God is multi-faceted. He wants to grow me up, while I am growing up my family. He wants to use the intentional conversations to plant seeds and reaffirm values.
The loudest lessons don’t happen when we sit for a devotional in a circle, they happen when we are shoulder to shoulder, in a real-life situation. Most likely, my boys aren’t going to play in the NFL and I need to remember this is an activity for them to grow as people. My role in that growth is dependant upon my intentionality and submission to maturation alongside of them.