Football, Frailty, and Finding Our Way
God’s Wisdom calls out to any who will listen and says:
“The one who finds me, finds life, and the LORD will be pleased with you.” ~Proverbs 8:35
God’s Wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes she is hard to miss. Other times, I wonder when she will finally show up.
You might be surprised to hear me say that Wisdom sometimes uses football as a vehicle.
For obvious reasons, football is more than just a game to me. As the wife of a football coach, this “game” has been a formidable force in the course of our lives. Everything from interceptions and injuries to fickle team owners and errant field goals have caused my family to move and look for home in unfamiliar territory.
Whenever we move we have to cultivate new connections, new friendships, and work to build a new community. There are many blessings that come out of this kind of adventure even as it is hard to feel so vulnerable and to start over.
It’s no secret that things have recently taken on a new level of uncertainty at UNC where my husband coaches right now. If you don’t know about it, you can just Google things like UNC football, Holden Thorp, or Butch Davis and get caught up on the recent unrest.
Could Wisdom have her way with the powers that be in the football world? It seems unlikely so much of the time since the world of football is like a lot other things—like politics, the church, the corporate world, etc. Things are often driven by forces other than Wisdom—forces like ego and power and material gain.
The current football situation has left me, once again, wondering if Wisdom will show up. Is the Wisdom again about starting over, being a stranger in a strange land? Or is Wisdom calling us to see something else about who we are?
Football can embody human frailty and failures to be sure. When trust breaks down, teams break down. Football can embody our best possibilities, too. When trust is rebuilt, teams rebound and do amazing things together. Our frailty is really most clear when we try to go it alone, when we think we do not need each other.
The most dangerous expression of this go-it-alone frailty is when we kid ourselves into thinking we do not need God. You could call this the sin of free agency.
If we are free agents, we just act on our own interest in spite of what is good for the team, the community, and the world. We hurt those with whom we are connected because we deny their worth and their value to us. But most of all we hurt ourselves because we deny our own humanity when we deny our connection with both the people around us and our Divine source of life. Such denial trivializes our existence and, at some point, depletes our ability to draw life from the One sure source of vitality, love, and affirmation.
The challenges of finding our way through situations where trust has been broken are deep. They get to the core of who we are as human beings. Who do we trust and how do we know we can? How do we continue to value and nurture relationships when the conditions of our connections have changed?
These are not superficial matters of appearance. These are matters of our hearts and our souls—how we live in community with neighbors, our co-workers, our friends.
Through the years I have found the most painful part of the business of football is how it conspires against solid relationships. Part of the problem is how intensely competitive it is. Part of the problem is that the stakes are so high. Even with the best intentions and even when you might try to risk making new friends in a new situation, the pressures and the powers pushing and pulling at each other in football can create ruptures that feel impossible to heal.
That’s where Wisdom showed up for me lately—and just in the knick of time. In that place of rupture. And Wisdom showed up to remind me that as hurt as people may be, we are not free agents. We need each other even if it doesn’t feel like it is in our best interest to risk trusting people right now.
There is no way to predict what will happen as this football season unfolds. We can hope for the best. We can brace ourselves for the worst. But Wisdom reminds me that no matter how hurt or confused we may be, if we start to think of ourselves as free agents, then we have lost our way.
And that’s true for all the challenges we face today in our world—the economy, famine in Africa, racism, environmental degradation. If we think we can just opt out and take care of ourselves alone, we have lost our way.
I hear a lot of people talking about not coming to football games this year. And I hear talk about people withholding their money and suing the school. I understand those feelings and it sad to take a look at where we are right now. When trust is broken it shatters relationships. And I understand when people talk about not trusting anyone in politics or not knowing what to believe about the debt crisis. It’s hard to know who to trust. It’s hard to know how to act with integrity.
Realizing anew that we are tangled up with one another whether we like it or not is the first step to coming together to solve problems, to rebuild communities, and to heal our own hurts.
I’ll be at the UNC games this year because I am not a free agent. I am tied to my family, to this team, to this community, and to this world in the mess, the stress, and the blessings of it all. I will be there because Wisdom reminded me that even when I feel like going it alone, I cannot and will not find life that way.
God didn’t make us free agents.
God made us for relationships and asks us every day to find ways to create trusting, lasting relationships built on love and justice.
Football is more than a game, to be sure. And it has reminded me again that, while our frailty is persistent, our promise is real when I am not afraid to find my way in a crowd.