Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Should Athletes Thank God in Victory and in Defeat?

When Patrick Mahomes was named MVP of Super Bowl LIV, he told the world one thing; he was going to Disney World. Good for him. What would you have said? Would you thank God? Many do. Here are but a few thoughts on this question—one I am often asked inthe world of Sports and Spirituality. 
People have strong reactions to PDF: public displays and public declarations of faith. Quite often, a person's comfort and appreciation for PDF is associated with the message and/or the messenger. Rabbi Arthur Weiner agrees. In the article "Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?" he states 
I am not overly impressed when I see certain people who have not been paragons of virtuous or moral behavior doing some great athletic feat then praising God because it seems very contrived,” he said. “But if it’s an honorable person who’s behaved nicely and played by the rules kicks a field goal or scores a touchdown and at that moment acknowledges his creator, I think it’s a wonderful thing.
I believe this is an important message to share with young sports fans. In teaching young people about faith, yes, they need to learn how to pray but I think we often overlook guidance and formation on how to speak about our faith. Yes, faith is personal—but it is also communal. We all need mentors. To have a mentor in faith is a wonderful thing and athletes can and do serve as positive role models in sport and in spirituality.
From student presentations in "Faith and Football" I learned that Andy Reid, like Steve Young is LDS.
Father Warren Hall, director of campus ministry at Seton Hall University, said 
When you thank God, I don’t think it’s necessarily always about ‘Thank you for making me win today’ as much as it is ‘Thank you for the gifts you’ve given me, the place you’ve put me in,'” said Warner. “But that is how people are going to read into it — you win a game or make a play and say, ‘Thank you Jesus.’ (People) think why does Jesus care about him making that great play? I think a Christian or anyone expressing their faith is doing it in a bigger manner than just thank you for letting me make that play.  
McGovern and Warner caution that people not read too much into the fact that faith seems to be announced after a win – it is not often that a losing player begins a post-game interview by thanking God. 
True and true. A public demonstration of faith—a public prayer—before, during or after a win ought to be viewed for what it is. Aquinas defines prayer as "raising our hearts and minds to God."  Practically speaking, prayer is the building block of a relationship with the Divine. How? Why? Prayer is communication. Prayer is speaking, listening, showing up and making space for silence. I don't know a single relationship that doesn't depend on communication in its many forms. 

Thinking of prayer and public demonstrations of faith in this way—Why would we thank God for a loss? We would never thank God—in the moment—for personal losses or when things don't go as we hope. I have never thanked God for getting dumped or rejected from a job. I can't remember a time that I praised God for competing poorly or losing my cool.
Great message, great messenger
In time, I have learned from losses and from failures. In many of these experiences—over time and with God's grace—I have grown grateful for them. It's not immediate; I do not know that it could be. Things haven't always been easy, but the Lord is my companion. I am thankful God has never left me to carry my burdens alone. God has given me strength for the journey and beyond, but that is on me to understand and recover.

PDF can teach us as much about an athlete as it does about ourselves. I invite you to consider both the message, the messenger the next time you encounter PDF. What's being communicated? Please share....

Photo Credits
Young and Reid

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