It was a game! A silly little showdown to stop the endless smack talk between my son and his friend, over who was in the better football league. This game would decide it - bragging rights to the winner!
However, this game became so much more! It had more spiritual mojo than any Billy Graham convention. It had greater depth than the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, and was presented to me in such a tender way, by such a merciful God, with the most perfect timing, that it opened my eyes to see the lie I had been drowning in! Yes - I know! A tackle football game of neighborhood boys with a macho-mini-man point to prove!
While both boys gathered their brothers and friends to form their teams, my son took it a bit further. He wrote up plays, practiced the plays with his team. He came up with new plays and they practiced those too. They talked strategy daily for two weeks and the excitement at our house was overflowing!
Finally it was time for The Sunday Showdown. I understood how important this was to my boys. They had something to fight for - something they felt they needed to defend! They were on a mission. So, I insisted that my husband be the referee in order to keep things fair and to keep tempers from boiling over.
Myself, along with another mom, didn't want to miss out on this big event so we found ourselves a spot on the top of the drainage ditch to cheer on all 14 boys that came to play.
And play they did....
My boys immediately gave up a touch down. Then when they got the ball, they fumbled it a couple times before they turned it over. Things weren't looking too good, but regardless of all they pressure they surely felt, they continued to encourage each other and not place blame! When it was their turn again with the ball, they got their first 7. But soon after, they gave up a touchdown and then quickly answered in kind. After that it was off to the races for my boys.
Eventually, though the other team would try so hard, they came up short and my boys' team would win. They would be good sports about it. Shaking hands, complementing the other team on a great run or pass - which is not above and beyond, but expected. So what is it that spoke to me? I didn't figure it out fully til the next day, but that Sunday, this is what I saw...
I witnessed my boys play with more heart than ever before! I didn't know they could run as fast as they did! I didn't know they could cut and spin and put their moves on like I saw that day! They played with true, full-throttle, all-out abandon and grateful, excited, passionate joy! They had nothing to lose and everything to gain! There was no fear of upsetting a coach or letting down a parent. There was no thought that they might upset a teammate. There was no selfish ambition among them. Each kid got equal playing time including the tough-as-nails, tiny first grader who mixed it up with the rest of them!! Each kid got to carry the ball and play in important downs. Each kid got to play different positions in order to put the team at it's best advantage while allowing each kid a shot for glory! They encouraged each other - brother to brother and friend to friend! They played their hearts out!! Fully exhausted, yet fully alive!!
My friend and I, lounging on the sidelines, laughed til we almost cried and praised the boys for their gallant efforts and amazing plays! We couldn't get over the way our kids were playing!!! It was beautiful!!! We truly sat there flabbergasted with our eyes wide open in delighted surprise that our boys could do things we had NO IDEA they could do!!!
Let me clarify something here...our boys play organized tackle football! (Thus the reason for this game) They do a great job! They are players you can depend on. They make some great plays and they make some mistakes - big and small - but they don't play all out. They play cautious! To me, it seems they play with a bit of fear that they might do the wrong thing or they might get hurt or they might upset the coach or embarrass themselves or disappoint their parents.
Ugh! Doesn't THAT sound like life?! Hold back just a little, play it safe, bc if you screw up or make a mistake then you know it was because you weren't totally trying. But if you give everything and go at it with total abandon and then upset someone or make a mistake then you are vulnerable bc there is no excuse for you. You gave everything you had and still "failed" to impress or succeed. That's much harder to accept!
Another reason we don't play all out is bc our hearts aren't in it. It's too much work to defend what needs defending. The priority isn't urgent enough. Our mission is too vague....
But not on this day for these boys! Our boys played with ownership! Our boys played the game their way, as they were meant to play! They were on a definite mission and they gave it everything they had until they accomplished it!!! What a beautiful thing!!!
While these amazing positive things are happening on my boys' team, the opposite is happening on the other team. Please do not get me wrong - I know the boys on the other team and I think they are great kids! They are not the devil incarnate nor are they bad kids, but they responded to the pressure quite differently!
While there was much encouragement and equal playing time on my boys' team, there was dissension in the ranks on the other team....one boy took over and started telling everybody where they needed to be and what they needed to do. He started calling his brother names who, in turn, wasn't gonna take it and returned the favor. There was much blaming and shaming when a good play was made by my boys' team. There was little regard for people's feelings or playing time, so a few boys ended up sitting out a lot. At one point, my refereeing husband said to me, "I didn't come here to babysit.", as he was having to remind the team that they had some players who had been sitting out a long time and that name calling wasn't allowed.
Why do I go to such great lengths to tell you all this.... to glorify my children?! No! To try and entertain you with a story that makes my kids look like angels so you think I'm a good mom? No, no!! Because I have nothing better to write about? Hardly, I finally feel inspired! This was a life changer for me! This was a glimpse into my life that I didn't recognize until I flushed it out with a good friend of mine the next day!
I live my life like the other team played football - a prison of my own making - that does NOT lead to success but rather to exhaustion, frustration and failure.
I am always...
Needing to be the one in control - Just like the boy on the other team that started telling others what to do, I have the best idea how this should go and it will all work out if you do this and you do that. Stressful!
Judging others - Just like the boy on the other team, I make judgement calls on who is good enough to play and who isn't. Who is allowed in my circle and who isn't. The worth and value of another based on what I see and what opinion I form of them with or without knowing them! Ugh!!
Striving to be the best yet not measuring up - These boys tried so hard but still came up short. Sometimes just in the trying I end up working against the goal and those on my "team" only to find myself sprinting alone on the Giant Gerbil Wheel of Futility. Exhausting!
Stirring up competition within the team - or family in my case - Brother was knocking down brother by calling names and not encouraging the other. Sadly, there is competition in my family. It's very subtle, and other times not so subtle, but it's there and it breaks my heart that I have been a big part of the problem! It breaks me down and the relationship. Destructive!!
Blaming - The boys would put the blame elsewhere so that it wouldn't be their fault for not winning! I love to do this one!! Sadly, to the one person who loves me most in this world - my husband!! If only he would... then... I would be so much happier and this family would be better off if only he would.... Sick and WRONG!!
Shaming - "Why didn't you... cover the pass tighter? I told you... it was coming?" Sadly, I fill in my own blanks here for those I love and the effect is devastating!!!
And just like that boy on the other team, I have pulled my family into the same behaviors!! We all live in this same prison!! But Sunday gave me a glimpse of something else!! That a little piece of heaven can mix it up with the bitter taste of earth and come out the winner! That gracious-love will defeat performance-based-love every time! That unconditional-acceptance will out-do conditional-acceptance always! That value-just-bc-you-are-you will overcome value-if-you-can-prove-it time and time again! That playing in your God given freedom if you would just reach out and accept it, is way more fun than playing in a prison of blame and shame.
I am on my knees in gratitude and humility that my eyes were opened to these simple, undeniable and profound truths through a neighborhood football game. The stage was set. The timing was perfect. My eyes saw the game on Sunday and my life through the game on Monday. When I "saw" it, I was a sniveling mess!! I didn't want to be on the "other team" anymore!! I wanted to be on Team Freedom and live with wild joy just to be playing! I was crushed to see just how long I had been living in this prison and how I had sucked my family in with me!! But by God's grace, then and there, He said "enough!". He spoke truth to me through a friend. He sent me home and sat me down in front of his word for more truth. And I have broken out of that prison of lies and grabbed freedom! I can have this little piece of heaven right here on my little patch of earth!
This freedom!! This remarkable joy that occurred on Sunday, that brought me to my knees on Monday is mine b/c on Friday a loooong time ago, my Lord and Savior was brought to his knees with the weight of my sin and imprisonment only to declare freedom on Sunday for all who would reach out and receive it!!! I have finally received IN FULL , here, right NOW, what he has had for me all along!
I may have grabbed on to my eternal freedom a long time ago but Monday I grabbed on to the promise of freedom here on earth!! Oh yea, Satan's coming after me with his lies and I'll likely screw up and believe him for a bit, but I see him more clearly now. I know his "plays" and this time I'm prepared! I've been working out a bit of strategy with the winningest coach ever to play the game!! I'm confident, and excited!! And I'm going out to face my opponent with wild abandon and grateful joy bc I'm playing in the freedom that nothing I do will make this coach love me less or take me out of the game until it's time! So, regardless of the score, I will play this game with everything I am, bc I already know the outcome! My team wins!!!