As we wait for Super Bowl LVIII coming in just a couple of weeks, I am reminded of my football career. Over forty years ago, I went to football practice at Triton Regional High School in Byfield, Massachusetts. I had always wanted to play football and decided to try out. I had never played organized football before. No pop warner or youth football leagues. I had played with my brothers and local kids in my neighborhood –Dresser Hill Heights.
Walking onto that field was both exhilarating and intimidating. I surely looked the part. All suited up in shoulder pads and helmet. I told the coach I was interested in the positions of quarterback and tight end. He put me in first at tight end. As I lined up, I looked across at the defensive end facing me. He seemed like a giant in my eyes. A full-grown man. The ball snapped, and he proceeded to flatten me. It was a humbling experience. As the practice went on, I began to realize this was different than playing with my brothers. These guys appeared to have no regard for their physical safety. They threw their bodies around with utter abandon. I lasted an entire two weeks and decided it wasn’t for me. The reality of actual football was so different than I had expected.
My faith journey has been similar. To say, “I believe,” is so easy. The words just roll off the tongue, and when we say them, I truly believe we mean them, wholeheartedly. But saying them is like walking onto the football field. It’s what happens next that is more difficult. Living out one’s faith is harder than it looks.
Paul makes it sound easy like in Ephesians 4:28, “If you are a thief, quit stealing.” Yeah, that makes sense. If you’re a thief, quit stealing. If you’re an addict, quit using. If you’re a liar, stop lying. If you’re a smoker, quit smoking. Paul goes on to say, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29). Okay. Yeah, no expletives even when you accidentally hit your thumb with a hammer or walk into a low hanging light fixture. “That’s fine,” some of you are saying. I can stop stealing. I don’t steal anyway. I think I can stop swearing too. No worries.
But what about when Jesus says, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39)? And “…love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)! That’s like a 200-pound defensive lineman hurtling right toward you. The truth is, sometimes you’ll get flattened. Other times, you’ll flatten them or slip out of the way and score a touchdown.
Either way, the reality is a faith journey does come with its share of bumps, bruises, and occasionally even a broken bone or two. Those of us who stick with it though – who get up, brush ourselves off and get ready for the next play – are the ones who get better and better. That’s why Romans 5:3-4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”
My football career lasted all of two weeks. I have done a bit better with my faith journey, which I have walked for thirty-five years now. Sure, I still get sacked sometimes. Other times, I throw a touchdown. Sometimes the bump is so severe I end up on the injured reserve list for a few weeks. But as soon as I can, I am right back at it. Utterly focused on winning the Super Bowl.
Yeah, football looked different on TV. In reality, it was much harder. The same could be said of my faith journey. It’s easy to talk but walking the walk is a bit more difficult. Nonetheless, the reward is far greater than a trophy. Jesus was clear, “…the one who endures to the end will be saved”(Mark 13:13).
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