Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Championship

I’m a ball park Pharisee. It’s not about the rules and making sure everyone keeps them. I’m not that kind of Pharisee. In fact, I neither know nor understand all the rules of baseball. My Pharisee-ism is of a different kind. It’s the kind that Jesus described when he told the story about those two men who had gone to the temple to pray. One of them – a Pharisee – built his prayer around this theme: “Lord, I’m glad I’m not like other people.”

That’s me at the ballpark when my son’s team is playing. I remain calm as other parents scream – sometimes at their kids – and get all worked up. I try to rise above the fray and say to myself “I’m glad I’m not like that.”

But the truth is, I am like that. I’m just not loud about it. That truth became very real to me a few days ago as my son’s baseball team played for the championship of his league. I didn’t change my behavior and suddenly get loud and frantic as if college scouts were secretly seated in the stands and my son’s future hung on this one game. I retained my even keeled demeanor. But what a hypocrite I am. Inside I could feel my vital organs convulsing every time my son took the field and every time he stepped up to the plate to bat.

As I sat there I became aware of how emotionally involved I had become in this game and in my son’s performance. It wasn’t the first time I had felt that way at one of his games. But for just a moment I wondered about this unseen thing that transpires between parents and players, between fathers and sons.

There was moment in the game when I realized that whatever this unseen thing is, it is at some level an exchange of questions: the child asking one kind of question, the parent answering with another kind of question.

An error was made in the field. I don’t even remember what it was – a missed grounder, a bad throw to second. Interestingly, it seemed so critical at the time but it hardly matters now. Of greater significance than the play was what happened for just a moment after the play had ended. I saw the player look over to where his dad was standing. It was a short glance, not the kind where the parent is trying to coach or encourage. It was the kind of look that asked a silent question: “Am I o.k? What do you think of me?”

How often does that question get asked from the field? How often does the question get asked in other places? How frequently do our sons look to us to know if they’re o.k., if we approve of them? John Eldredge says that every boy needs to know that that they have what it takes, and the person who can best tell them that they do is their father.

That quick glance from the field nags at me. I wonder if my own son has glanced my way, perhaps when I wasn’t looking. I don’t know what that young baseball player saw the other day, but I would hope that that kind of glance and the question it carries would always be met with another question. We look back at our sons and ask “do you know how proud I am of you?” “Do you know how glad I am that you are my son?” “Do you know how much I love you?”

There are plenty of us that look to God mainly out of our awareness of our failures, the mistakes we’ve made, the play we missed. For whatever reason, some see God’s response as stern and demanding and the essence of life before this God is about playing flawlessly.

But maybe, when we look to God out of our failure, God answers us with this question: “do you see what I see in you? Do you know how much I love you?”

John’s team won their game – a high moment for players and certainly for the parents. They are champs. The season may be over, but those questions are still exchanged. When my son looks to me, what do I reflect back to him? Is it about the scoreboard or the well executed play? I’ve not always answered him well – but I hope that somehow when he glances my way he’ll know good news. Love isn’t earned by always getting it right. Love is simply there. This is the gospel.