What Kind of Message?

large-basketballI know this may be a controversial topic, but it weighs heavy on me. What has become of our culture, that sports has become such a driving force even in our churches? I am all for physical fitness and teamwork, but must it be at the expense of our children's spiritual lives and growth? Perhaps some may think I have a "sour grapes" attitude, that as my children are not particularly athletic or inclined to sports, that I am saying these things. Maybe. The only athletic child I have is Matthew. He is naturally very competitive, yet also a good team player. He loves the physical challenge required to compete. He enjoys working with others towards a task. He is not afraid to take a hit for the team, and I fear lest he hurt himself in the process.

But somewhere in our parenting career, my husband and I decided that the most important thing that we could do for our children was to help them to love Jesus above all else, to guide them in His truth, and to put Him first in our home. That means there is nothing--not academics, not sports, not fads--that we will tolerate as competitors to His rule in our family.

I think that is why it disturbs me when I see so many children and their parents leave church early or come late, or worse yet, skip Sunday worship, because of sports. What does this say to our children? Even if you have the noblest of intentions, and even if you verbalize them to your kids, we all know that children have a way of picking up a very different message. We can tell them that we are doing this "to be a testimony to the community" but what they are learning is that "it's okay to skip church for a basketball, soccer, baseball...game or match."

Am I the only one who thinks this way? I don't think so. As I have been stewing over this issue, I read this paragraph from Dr. James Dobson that provided a little encouragement and challenge for me:

"Children get their values and beliefs from what they see modeled at home. It is one reason why moms and dads must live a morally consistent life in front of their kids. If they hope to win them for Christ, they can't afford to be casual or whimsical about the things they believe. If you as a parent act as though there is no absolute truth, and if you are too busy to pray and attend church services together, and if your kids are allowed to play soccer or Little League during Sunday School, and if you cheat on your income tax or lie to the bill collector or fight endlessly with your neighbors, your children will get the message. 'Mom and Dad talk a good game, but they don't really believe it.' If you serve them this weak soup throughout childhood, they will spew it out when given the opportunity. Any ethical weak spot of this nature--any lack of clarity on matters of right and wrong--will be noted and magnified by the next generation." --James Dobson, Bringing Up Boys, p. 252

Sobering, isn't it?

I have been wrestling with this in particular, especially since I have two boys. I don't want them to be physically inept or unable to play ball with other kids, but must this take up our whole lives? I personally have seen families split up in several directions on Sundays because their kids play on different teams and the games are at different places at different times. What happened to restful Sabbath Sundays? What happened to time to eat a leisurely lunch after church while the kids ran around? Are sports more valuable than relationships?

I know that some may argue that relationships are happening on the court or the field. But what is the root of these relationships? A ball? A game? And worse yet, I have personally experienced the pain of a child who felt ostracized because they did not play. Again, why? The dividing line was a sport.

We all live in a busy society nowadays. A lot of people have said to me, "I can't see how you do all you do," referring to our homeschooling, ministry and now, adoption. Well, here's the truth: I don't. There are a lot of things I don't do. Top on our list is being involved in an intensive sports program that takes our focus away from the things God really wants us to do. To be honest, I don't think God is going to ask me why I can't shoot free throws, but He is going to ask me why I did not have the time to spare for someone in need. When it boils down to it, we only have time for so many things. For us, is it chasing around a ball or is it running hard for the Kingdom? We have to make a choice.

What kind of message do we send to our children by our choices, values and priorities? What does our schedule say? I know there are a myriad of other reasons why people get involved in sports---the exercise, the friendships, the witness. And none of those things are bad reasons. Many of us know where to draw the boundaries. But how many of us are being poor examples for our younger brothers and sisters in Christ (including our children) who don't know any better and are looking to us for that example?

I don't like to post controversial things, but this has been weighing heavily on my heart the past few days. Maybe I'll lose friends over it. If you play sports, I don't condemn you. I know there are a myriad of good reasons why people play. But I do encourage you to think about the messages that your choices may inadvertently be sending. It may not be the one that you intend for your kids to hear.