Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sports and heartbreak

After nearly a month of being away from home, I traveled back this weekend. After a brutally long day of traveling from Shanghai to Tokyo to Atlanta, I faced a 5 ½ hour layover before my last flight; so I decided to spend it in Delta’s Sky Lounge in Terminal F (by far the best lounge I’ve been in, in the States). After a 2-3 hour nap, I awoke in time to watch the end of the Razorback-Aggie game. As an Arkansas alum, it was a tough loss: to lead, on the road, against the #6 team in the nation all game and never fall behind until the final score in OT.

But as I read the Facebook and Twitter comments, I saw a passion and disappointment and heartache there that I know only too well. I used to live and die by sporting events. NFL and NCAA football were my favorites, followed closely by Razorback basketball. When the team won, I was cheering and jumping for the ceiling; when the team lost, I was angry or depressed. Just as bad was fantasy football, which spread my obsession all the way from Thursday to Monday Night Football.

My emotional investments got so bad, that I at one point had to go cold-turkey for a while. I would DVR the games I wanted to see, look at the final score before watching, and then watch. And yet still, my emotions were too high.

Eventually I had to ask: don’t I suffer from enough stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure without voluntarily adding another layer? And for what benefit? When we win, the “high” is gone all too soon: there is always another game to become invested in and disappointed in. Was I really going to spend my Saturdays, Sundays, and Monday nights wasting hours on a game that I only enjoyed for a short period of time each evening?

Well, it is probably a lie to say that “I had to ask” those questions: it is more fair to say that my wife asked me those questions. And at the risk of Jesus-juking sports: she’s right.

I read the heartbreak and pain and anxiety in the Razorback fans; the anger at the coach and—before him—the AD who let go the prior coach over those pesky ethical dilemmas. And I remember all too well that feeling.

So for those of you who (like me, not so long ago) are so obsessed with sports, let me encourage you to take a broader look. No, I’m not going to be talking about the temporary nature and the false glory and the “why can we scream for the Hogs but not the Lord” thing (though there is truth in all such statements). Instead, let me ask you: why do you watch?

“I’m a fan,” you say. But what is a fan? Someone who enjoys something for entertainment. So ask yourself: do you enjoy it? If not, you’re doing it wrong.

Consider the movies. I’m a fan of the Marvel universe of movies. And yet, I didn’t really care for any of the Thor films. But I didn’t get angry at the director. I didn’t write angry message board posts calling for the head of the studio executives. I didn’t call into radio shows and lament that they didn’t hire better actors. I shrugged and said, “Eh, not for me,” and didn’t give it a second’s thought.

The same is true of a book, or a TV show, or anything else that we call entertainment: if it isn’t for us, we set it down, turn the channel, move on with our lives. We don’t get angry and furious. That is exclusively a sports phenomenon.

For some reason, we tie up our identity in sports. “I’m a Razorback,” we say; or “We won!” or “We’re so terrible!” As a result, the performance of the team inherently reflects (in your mind) upon your self worth. And this is where I Jesus juke you: because if you are a believer, then your self-worth is not tied up in whether a group of guys you’ll never meet manage to run a piece of leather across a white painted stripe on one particular day.

If you are a disciple of the Christ, then you are an icon of God: the image-bearer of the Almighty Creator. You were made in His image and, despite failures of our own, have been ransomed from sin by the blood of the Holy Son of God, the Prince of Peace. You are engaged in a spiritual battle not over turf on a field but over the very souls of the people you love. You have been called the co-heir of all creation and the adoptive son of the One True God, who was and is and will be. You are the Temple of His Spirit, and you are being reformed and made daily in His image.

So let me ask you: is your worth less because your team lost Saturday? Of course not.

So please stop acting like it! Football is a wonderful game to watch. It’s a blast. I love the strategy of it. I play it on video games for fun (both Madden and NCAA, and probably far too much). I fully appreciate the fun and can talk about the pros and cons of various alignments and all of that. But it’s just a game. Your blood pressure shouldn’t raise one tiny bit.

It should mean no more to you than any other form of entertainment: a TV show, a movie, an album. And if it does, you’re doing it wrong.

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