Recently, my ten-year-old daughter played in an all-day softball tournament. It never ceases to amaze me how good these little girls are at such a young age. They hit, pitch, throw, and run with such accuracy and speed. They understand the game better than I ever will, and it’s obvious how hard they work to get to this level of play. Of course, this has a lot to do with the incredible resources these kids have available to improve every aspect of their game. They have speed coaches, hitting coaches, pitching coaches, etc., and it seems that parents are willing to pay whatever it takes, drive whatever distance needed, and sacrifice what little time they have to help their kids be the best at whatever the sport is they choose.
I get all of this investment in kids’ athletics. However, it does make me wonder if we as parents are in danger of sending the message that athletic excellence and the ability to win a game are more important than spiritual excellence and the ability to win at life.
One of the aspects that I love about the league my daughter plays in is what they do after the game. The organizers bring the coaches and players to the pitching mound, link arms, and pray the Lord’s Prayer. For me, watching this scene unfold is the most beautiful part of the day. It’s more exciting than the pitching, more inspirational than the kid that gets hit by a pitch and keeps competing, and more thrilling than a stolen base or grand slam. Why? Because a relationship with God is more important and essential to their overall development as humans than their ability to jack a home run. I believe true fulfillment can only come from Jesus and not from a game.
I get it. Most parents like to dream they have the next prodigy and champion of the world on their hands, and believe they are making an investment into their children’s future by giving them every pitching, hitting, and speed lesson their resources will allow. The truth, however, (hard as it may be for some to hear), is that not many kids ever make the collegiate ranks of sport. Only 2 percent of kids that go from high school to Division I athletics, and much fewer will become professional athletes. Bottom line, high school is the end of the road for most of our kids when it comes to competitive sports.
On the other hand, our kids have a 100 percent chance of being called into a lifelong relationship with God if they will say yes to it. This is the relationship that will not only teach them physical skill, but impart to them an unshakable identity and source of courage and wisdom that do not depend upon their performance or circumstances in life. This is the relationship that will prepare them to face every possible struggle in life with spiritual, mental, and emotional endurance.
I love how The Message put Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:
Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers. (1 Tim. 4:7-10 MSG)
Yes, athletics are so important for our children’s development. They’re fun, challenging, and exciting. They teach our kids how to work hard, how to succeed, and how to fail. Competition teaches teamwork and produces skill development. Athletics, if taught correctly, will help our kids in life. But they mean nothing if we’re not also teaching our kids about God.
We currently live in a time where our children are being bombarded with information that you and I never had to deal with. There is a broken culture working hard to teach and inculcate in them darkness and confusion, a culture that is broken and empty and outside what our Creator wants for us. Are we letting it happen? Are we preparing them and giving them the tools to become counter-culturists, or are we being lulled to sleep by the enemy? Are we taking the time, resources, and energy to produce kids (soon to be adults) who know how to push back against the culture?
I feel challenged—and I want to challenge you—to recognize that our number-one job as parents is to be spiritual coaches for our kids. That doesn’t mean that we spend any less attention on their physical or academic or relational development. It does mean that we put those in their proper order of priority and show our kids that their relationship with God comes first. Obviously, in order to do that well, we need to be living out that priority in our own lives. Our kids learn what is important to us not so much by what we say, but by what we do.
Men, when’s the last time your kids saw you praying, reading your Bible, or worshiping God? I’m sorry to tell you this, but you probably don’t have the next gift to softball, hockey or football living under your roof. However, you do have a precious child of God who longs and needs to know Jesus as their Savior and Friend. Are you leading him or her to Him? It’s time we take responsibility for children’s souls, put their batting average (or GPA, or whatever stat we’re obsessed with) at a lower priority, and train them in the truths of God.