I’ve watched all five of my kids play sports of all kinds for over three decades. I can’t count the number of meets, matches, and games I’ve faithfully attended. Whether it’s been sitting on the sidelines in freezing rain, in the bleachers on a 90-degree summer day, or putting up with the loud rap music they play for warm-ups, my heart’s desire as a mom to be present always trumped my physical or mental discomforts.
What I have learned in later years is the beautiful art I call “praying the game.” It’s an art because there is huge battle with noise and distraction, and one must find a way to connect with God even though there is so much going on. Initially, we can’t believe this sporting event could really be a place of prayer. It takes some discipline and practice to really master the art of it, but I have found it truly rewarding! Here are some ways that while my kids play the game, I “pray the game.”
First of all, I recognize that God is there in the young athletes. He’s in every heart, mind, soul, and body that He’s created. And He loves us all the same. (You mean He loves those archenemy rival people too? Indeed He does.) I see in my mind’s eye the guardian angel of every player, and spend some time asking them to protect all the kids. (I have actually pictured guardian angels flying over each player as they move about the field or court, which makes for some good mental creativity! It’s actually a beautiful sight!) I ask that the athletes will not only be physically unharmed, but also that if in some way the Lord wants to use the game as an opportunity to help them on the way of salvation, He would do that. Perhaps they must temper their anger, or learn how to take a bad call. Maybe a coach takes them out of the game, or they miss the winning shot. Maybe they’ll need to exercise humility, if they’re the talented one on the team, and are being showered with abundant praises. Whatever it is, God can use all these things to teach them about the real meaning of life and its ultimate goal of union with Him in heaven.
Secondly, I recognize God’s presence in the other parents and spectators around me. No doubt, we end up in conversations with friends and that can be part of the fun for us. We catch up, share stories, and maybe complain about the refs together. I find that listening more and talking less here can be key. I pray for the needs that my friends share, or the hopes and dreams they might have. An inner prayer might go something like this, “Lord, you see how my friend here is hurting, and you see how much she loves her family. Please touch her heart today, and let her know that you are near. Let something happen today to that might help her see your Hand in all the events of her life. Console her in her heartaches as a mom, and give her grace. Mother Mary, give her peace.” Depending on how the Spirit leads, I might even sense God wants to use me to share a bit of the faith … how God has worked in my life lately, or how I believe He can bring us true joy.
The last way I pray the game is to try to see the whole event as God does. I imagine Him rejoicing in the love and gathering of families. I imagine Him rejoicing in the human body and its capabilities in the gift of playing a sport. I must pause here and say I truly marvel at the ways the body can coordinate its movements, its speed and agility, and its strength in the battle. A swimmer doing the butterfly stroke is poetry in motion. And the lengths to which a body speeds and stretches out to make the diving catch in baseball is amazing. This, of course, cannot be separated from the soul within! God sees the drive of the heart, the discipline of the mind, and the tenacity of the human spirit at work among His people. Though I do think He grieves that He is not remembered or thanked often for these gifts, I know He still loves and because He is so good He gives the athletes the joy of exercising those gifts in the game. I pray that God will help all of us present in the big crowd to come to an understanding one day that this longing we all have for communion, and for winning, is really based on the human heart’s longing for heaven. We will not worship a sport or the players, but the one true God. We’ll gather to see that the enemy of evil and death has been conquered. And with God on our side, we’ll sing as they often do at games, “We are the champions.”
It’s been fun to learn the art of praying the game … and it CAN be done!
Copyright 2018 Cindy Costello