Down! Set! Hut!

By: James Thompson

My son, Isaac, is “playing” Upwards Flag Football this season. He came to the program a clean slate: he couldn’t catch, he couldn’t throw, and well, he barely knew what a football was. I realized then how I had failed this boy during the “tryouts.”

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“Tryouts” – an attempt by the program to assess the ability (or lack thereof) of all the boys in order to place them on teams with boys of similar skills (or lack thereof). On Friday nights, I now find myself sitting on the sideline watching him at practice, and on Saturdays playing against other teams. At practice, one of the boys on his team went out to catch a pass.

The ball passed through his outstretched hands and hit him right…in…the…face. He didn’t cry (although I wouldn’t have blamed him), he didn’t blame someone else (I guess he’ll learn that later), he just kind of stood there – stunned. His father, who was sitting next to me, told him basically “You’re okay. You’ll do better next time. Try Again.” He then went back to the huddle for the next play.

I hate to admit the whole thing made me laugh a little. And, when I say “a little”, I mean a lot. I cried more than the kid did.

A few plays later, my beloved son (with whom I am well pleased) got the handoff and immediately ran in the opposite direction. I’m sure I heard the father sitting next to me chuckle. On another play, Isaac rushed the opposing quarterback and grabbed his flag before he could even hand the ball off to the running back. It was beautiful.

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I yelled “Way to go!” and “Good Job!” Isaac’s team was penalized for that play because the rules (of which I was not familiar) require that the handoff take place before the quarterback can be “de-flagged.” Well, at least it looked good.

These boys are learning a new sport. They start from a knowledge base of zero. They may have only seen it played on TV. It is unlike anything they have ever done. They have to learn where to stand (and where not to stand), what they are supposed to do on a play (block, get the handoff, or catch the ball), what needs to be done to be successful (avoid the other team getting your flag), and what the end goal is (to score). Along the way they’ll learn that you don’t score on every play, sometimes you need to rest and regroup, practice makes you better, and get up when you fall (not if you fall).

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All of this reminded me of my Christian walk. I’ve come a long way. I have a good idea where to stand, what some of the plays are, some of what I’m supposed to do (and a lot of what I’m not supposed to do), and some of what to do to be successful (don’t let the D get my flag – D is for Devil).

But, what struck me most is that kid who got hit in the face. I have had that same experience as a Christian. I know what I’m supposed to do. I have studied. However, actually following Christ is different that it is on paper or discussed with others. It is often more difficult than I anticipate, requires more effort that I think it will (or that I may be willing to put forth), and I am not always successful.

And, yet, for some reason, it surprises me when I fail. It leaves me, at times, “stunned.” And, I’m sure there are many non-Christians on the sidelines laughing at my failures.

God is like the coach. He is there to instruct and encourage us. And, despite our best efforts, we all fail sometimes. Sometimes it hits us when we are not expecting it. Other times, we see it coming and think we got everything handled…wrong!  And, we get it right between the eyes!

Sometimes it makes us cry. Sometimes, we are just left stunned. What happened? The good thing is that God is also like that father on the sideline telling us when we fall short that “We are okay. We’ll do better next time. Try Again.”

N.T. Wright wrote “Jesus himself taught his followers a prayer that includes a clause asking God for forgiveness. He must have thought that we would go on needing it.”

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,

your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Wow.  I never thought of it that way before.

So, when you fail (and you will), ask for forgiveness, you’ll do better next time, and get back in the game.

James