Championship Reflections

There is a connection between sports and faith. I’m not just talking about players who profess to be believers, but also the connection between how fans of teams respond after their teams win or lose. During the past few weeks, I have been wondering why sporting events can be so important to me at times, and whether it is healthy to get so emotional about the results of these games.
Athletes and the sports they play have been held in great esteem for hundreds of years. Paul the Apostle used metaphors to compare the Christian faith and athletic training. God created the human body to do some amazing feats, and it is fun to watch other humans push the envelope on what is physically possible. I believe God gave me a passion for sports, and that is a good thing.

But people have passions for many different things: food, politics, religion, intimacy, history, art, reading, collecting things, exercising, travel, video games, etc. The thing about passions is they are sort of like Peter Parker’s Spidey powers: great passions require great responsibility. When God-given passions are mastered, they can enrich our lives; but if not, they can be destructive.

I have a difficult time mastering my sports passions. During the Cleveland Cavaliers championship run, I found I had a love-hate relationship with the games. I was happy that the team was in the finals, and had the potential of winning a championship. On the other hand, I was frequently overwhelmed physically and emotionally during the two-week stretch of games. At times, my breathing had become shortened, and my muscles would ache from the tension. It’s funny. I am disappointed when the teams I follow don’t make the playoffs, but it is much less stressful for me to watch the championship games when they are not involved. I maybe watched two-and-a-half Cavs games in the Finals altogether. It was all I could handle.

Besides being very emotionally and physically uncomfortable, I also began to wonder how I was being affected spiritually. It is not uncommon for my mood to change depending on how a team I care about performs. I can be particularly grumpy when they lose, and find myself apologizing for my behavior. I try to convince myself that “this is only a game,” but inside of me, it can mean so much more. When the teams I follow lose, I hurt. When they win, I am exuberant. All of this emotion over something I have no control over, and at the end of the day means very little.

Whether I watched the Finals games or not, I was still stressed when I knew they were playing. During Game 5, I decided I could not sit still, and I didn’t want to watch the game, so I went for a walk. I walked a mile and listened to Christian music, trying to relax and focus on God. It was slowly working. It reminded me when I was in high school and I had a friend whose dog would get very upset on the Fourth of July because of the loud noises. My friend would put the dog in his car and ride around so the dog could not hear the explosions.

I felt like that dog; outside, away from the TV and walking around with lots of energy, trying not to get sucked into that intensity. At times I felt pretty good. I felt God was showing me that He is so much bigger than all of this. One mile turned into two. It seemed like He was telling me that the fulfillment I was seeking in the Cavs winning, could only be found in Him. I began to see how tying my hopes and to some degree, my worth, to the outcome of the Cavs, was very works-based. God helped me to remember that He wasn’t going anywhere, win or lose.

I was gaining some serenity back. I decided to check the score of the game on my iPhone. Cavs were still winning, but after I checked the score, my stress and anxiety came back. I was wondering what was I supposed to do. Just ignore all the games? Was this something I could even master? I felt powerless.

Two miles turned into three, and I kept wondering why I had this problem. Here is what I think God was helping me to see. That my passion for sports was something He gave me. When I experience it in a healthy way, I can praise God and enjoy it. When I am off track, the stress, emotions and anxiety I feel (for something that is not really that important) is God’s way of getting my attention. I had not walked around and prayed to God like I did that night in a long time. He had my attention.

I can tell you, I am happy the series is over, one way or another. I was still stressed during Games 6 and 7, but not as much. There will probably more opportunities to master this passion of mine with God’s help. I am wondering how others deal with sports and spirituality, particularly during high-stakes games.
 
-Mark

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