Friday, June 22, 2012
Faith, Sports, and the Hearts of Our Children
Before I begin this post I want to say that I am not a parent, as in I do not have my own flesh and blood children that I have to make decisions, HARD decisions for every day. I have not had the personal experience myself, both growing up, nor as an adult as to what this blog entails. But what I do have is a group of high school and middle school students that I see each Sunday (often times more than that) that I care deeply for. And this blog is not just for them, it is because of them, and for their parents.
Sports. I did not grow up in Houston, or in Texas for that matter, and the role that sports played in my 40,000-person town, was NOTHING like it is now or here. I have a hard time distinguishing whether the current role sports plays in the lives of children is a product of the time or place or both. Regardless, growing up - the role sports played in my life, the lives of those around me, etc. - was nothing like it is now.
Let me first say that I think sports are great. Seriously. I know after reading this post you might think I am one of those people who would become a parent that would keep their kid on the sofa watching TV all day, but I am not.
Over the past three years in youth ministry I have seen and heard some crazy things. But recently, I heard something that ABSOLUTELY blew my mind, heart, and soul out of the water. A student, a kindhearted, funny, joyful student, who was an outstanding, all star (multi-sport) player, was held back a grade (in middle school) so that they could be the bigger, stronger, better player on the team, the next year; getting the opportunity to play another year of middle school sports, and ultimately getting another year of high school sports.
I have known this amazing student for just over a year; however, seeing them only a few times throughout our first meeting, and this past one. Last year, after spending a week with this precious kiddo, I placed them in that 'wow, that is one amazing student' category and hoped they would become a full time part of our youth ministry. Well, time passed by, and I just only recently had the chance to catch up with this student. This student was completely different. Not just your regular middle school changes in stature or behavior, but it was like someone had come in and switched that wonderful light in them, that I saw almost a year ago, off - and they were now misbehaving, acting out, looking saddened, and crying for attention.
I had no idea what was going on until I was told about how this student had been pulled out of their school, away from friends, away from teammates, away from the familiar, and held back, put in the same grade, at a new school, with new people, and lots of change. A lifestyle that was comfortable and familiar, perfect as it was, was then filled with a different sport each day, no time with best friends, or even dinner around the table.
I cannot even imagine.
This one instance placed a great fear inside my heart for students (both now and going forward). However, I have been privy to many of other the conflicts that arise between church time, family time, and sports time. If we just took a look at church and Sunday attendance alone, we would see that Sunday is no longer the last remaining sacred day of the week - meaning, even if every other day of the week was taken up by sports, school, extracurricular activities... Sunday, for the longest time, seemed to remain free and sacred, for family and church time. But this is just no longer the case.
Students can hardly even be free for a weeklong, in town, missions experience without having to leave at some point for something else (usually sports related). AND what makes me the most sad about that situation - is if given the choice, without pressure, or a predisposition that they would be missing out on something greater, more important, every student that I encountered during a recent missions experience, did NOT want to leave.
Hang in here with me for just a second longer....
Kids are so overwhelmed with the pressure to be in sports (by their parents, by their peers, by their coaches, by themselves) that if they miss the opportunity to be in sports, it's as if they are an oddball, left out of the crowd. It doesn't matter that a family might have to make the choice between keeping a summer lake house that has been in the family for years, or have two of their daughters play club volleyball at the price tag of $4000 per year, per kid. That price is for ONE, just one club sport. That doesn't even include all of the extras you encounter for that year (travel, new uniforms, competitions...etc.). Now take that and multiply it by 2 other sport, per kid (because one is not usually all they play), and now you are up to per kid, more than some college tuition.
I might be the only person in all of Houston who thinks this is absolutely absurd, but I think it is ABSOLUTELY ABSURD.
And here is the deal my friends (whom I love, and whose children play all kinds of sports) we put so much time and effort into our children's schedules, filling them with basketball, football, ballet, acting, violin lessons, cheer leading, etc., because we do not want our kids to be overweight, lazy, or unsuccessful. And then we also tell our children that having faith is important, and we take them to church 1.2 Sundays a month - where as a family (maybe) we connect with a community of faith (filled with others who we maybe see 1/7 Sundays, because their schedule is just as crazy as ours). Then sometimes, we even send our kids on retreats or mission trips. So then at the end of the day, our children are supposed to be well mannered, upstanding, trophy winners, who will all play division one sports, be a team player, go to college, earn a degree, and most importantly, love Jesus with all that they are.
Did you know?
1 out of every 16,000 students will play professional sports. Only 2 out of every 100 students will play ANY COLLEGE SPORTS at all.
Only 4 out of 10 students will have an active growing faith beyond high school.
At the end of the day we put more emphasis on our children's schedules than their hearts. We get so caught up in the whirlwind of being busy that we cannot see that there is something so much more important at stake. Parents, you tell me all the time how much you want your children to know and love Jesus. And I believe that you do. But I also believe that in order for that to happen we are ALL going to have to start asking some serious questions.
At the end of the day what is going to make or break your child's heart and soul? Is it sports? Is it faith? It is no longer, nor has it ever been enough to just drop your student off at church and expect that they will gain a growing faith in CHRIST (who ultimately is the most important factor in the eternity of your child). For the majority, we cannot expect that if what we want (our child to know and have a growing faith in Jesus) that it will happen because of club volleyball or one more year in pre-college sports. It has to be so much more than that. (Another blog for sure)
Tough thoughts for all of us significant voices...parents, coaches, and youth leaders alike.
In HIS love,