Saturday, March 16, 2019

Name the Temptation: A Spiritual Exercise for Athletes

On the first Sunday of Lent, we hear the same Gospel reading: The Temptation of Jesus. Look closely at Luke Ch 4, it says, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil." 40 days! I knew Jesus was a spiritual decathlete. I was aware that the desert and that period of time was demanding but to give pause and consider the length / extent of His temptation humbles me. We read that "He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry." Jesus was in this arid, separated place all by His lonesome. For all intensive purposes it's safe to assume He was weak...and yet we know, He was strong.
The Word is written so that we can further reflect upon the life of Christ. Through knowing Christ, we can love Christ. We are called to determine what He did for us and how His example may assist us in our own journey....and against our own temptation.

Temptation is all around us. Every single day we face some sort of it, big and small. If Jesus was tempted for 40 days in a row, we better believe we are too, and no where is it more real than in sports.

Athletes are tempted in every which way. Temptation to complain about the referee or playing time. Temptation to criticize the coach or worse, a teammate (John Wooden would have none of that). The temptation to not complete the task, drill or set is very strong. I hear my inner-monologue right now: Coach told me 50 push-ups. Here we go...ok how about 40. Today I'll get 40 good ones instead of 50 bad one will know. Professional athletes face great temptations with the lures of money, status, pride and glory at hand. 
 Quite often, competition leads us into temptation. No wonder so many teams pray the "Our Father" The opportunities for temptation are more pressing as the stakes for what we may gain or what me may lose are much higher. A tennis player knows the ball hit a sliver of the line but it looks out. A golfer is aware that her opponent didn't see the mis-hit. Why count that stroke? Those of us who watch water polo don't see so much of what is taking place under water. This might be a good thing. Water polo is a very physical game.—kicking and other forms of physical contact are bound to happen. Does that include scratching and clawing? I'm sure you can offer your own examples, from your favorite sport.

As a coach, I have offered what I hope is a useful tool on the golf course and in life: name the temptation. 

I run my team through this spiritual exercise. Upon completion of a hole, a golfer ought to tell their opponent their score. I say, "every last part of you may want to tell her that you got a four when you shot a five. Pause right there. Admit it to yourself. Recognize what you want to do. NAME THE TEMPTATION—in other words say to yourself exactly what you want to do. Some athletes will use a physical cue here e.g. a two tap, head nod, etc in order to reset. Great call. Take that moment and that physical cue and commit to do what is right. Give the honest score." I add, "not all of you will struggle in the same way with this example, but the spiritual exercise remains. When you are faced with a temptation, just name that it is there. Call it out." Often, this separates you from the emotion and the desire. That momentary distance can be a good thing!
Knowing the name of a person or place is the first step in building a relationship. To name the temptation might do the same. We need to relate to temptation and familiarize ourselves with its many faces, characteristics, alleged promises and potential impact. We may face the same temptation for forty days or different ones during that time—but it's a universal part of the human experience. To suggest otherwise is delusional, and I dare say—the work of the devil. Oh how the devil would love for us to think that temptation is not real...that it is far away.....and confronts us infrequently. 

Let us look to Christ, who faced temptation for 40 days, especially during these 40 days of Lent for inspiration. And, be sure to use this spiritual exercise to name it, when it's both easy and when it's tough. Blessings.

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