I had two loves growing up: youth group and softball. I got a high from both of those activities that nothing else gave me.
My church friends were my closest friends. Plus, I thought a few of the older boys in the youth group hung the moon. (Now I married one and I realize he doesn’t even hang up his towel but that’s a different blog…)
But more than all of that, I can truly say that I had an unquenchable fire for the Lord that was growing inside of me at a very fast rate. And church fed that. I even wanted to be a missionary one day thanks to the influence I was gaining at church.
I also loved softball. Scraped knees, dirt under the nails, and horrible tan lines were my fashion statement. I had dreams of playing ball in college, but I quickly realized playing high school ball three months out of the year wouldn’t get me there. It became a year-round effort that required me to play on a travel team as well.
There was one problem: Travel ball meant playing on Sundays in the summers.
Many church parents have found themselves in this predicament. They are faced with the same decision: pull your child off of the team so they can attend church or let your child miss church for the sake of the sport.
I grew up feeling the scrutiny of many church folk for missing church in the summer. And they weren’t the only ones bothered. I hated missing church.
But I knew travel ball was vital if I wanted to play college ball. So what was I to do?
I even remember expressing this frustration to my parents when I was a teenager and the rest of the youth group was on a mission trip in New York while I was home, playing in a softball tournament.
It ended with my mom telling me that I could quit if I wanted, but to remember that softball wasn’t forever. And missions weren’t just in New York.
I got done with that conversation and began thinking about which I wanted more.
I figured the fact that I could be on a mission trip in that moment had to mean softball was not the right option. I began to entertain the idea of letting go of travel ball, and with that the likelihood of playing in college.
But as I let my thoughts travel down that road I realized that leaving the team wouldn’t just mean leaving the sport.
It would mean leaving my teammates…my friends.
Sure, travel ball gave me a lot. It gave me top-of-the-line competition so I could become better and it gave me the exposure to college coaches.
But in that moment I realized that it was giving me way more than that.
It was giving me 12 friends that also weren’t going to church on Sundays. Most of who were unbelievers.
And my mom was right- Softball wasn’t forever. I was in a unique time of life and it was my one chance to show Jesus to the girls I grew to love, that I was doing life with all summer.
Sure, I longed to be at church many days and I longed to be on the mission trip my friends were experiencing.
But instead, I was playing softball. I was growing relationships with girls who had never experienced the transforming love of Jesus like I had.
I realized that the same fire I had for the Lord when I went to church was burning even stronger as I felt the weight of the opportunity I had. Opportunity to show the Jesus I love to the teammates I love.
I realized that “missions” wasn’t just the week-long trip to New York or the ability to move to Africa one day.
My mission field was the softball field.
And that realization changed everything.
That realization made me keep playing softball. That realization led to a softball scholarship. And that realization ultimately led to some of the most intimidating circumstances my faith has ever experienced- like beginning a Bible study with my teammates. Like being mocked for my faith at times. Like being the go-to for teammates when serious situations, like unexpected pregnancies or thoughts of suicide emerged.
Sure, I missed a few Sundays growing up. Sure, I missed a few mission trips growing up.
But my faith is stronger for it and I can joyfully say The Kingdom is bigger. Not because of anything I did. But because I let God use me where I was…even on the softball field on a Sunday.
Please hear me when I say I don’t think this is a formula for every child. Obviously not every kid views their sport as a way to reach their teammates for Christ. I’m only asking Christians to reconsider the commonly held view that it is always horrible for parents to let their children miss church for any activity – especially activities that are for only a season.
I believe in keeping the Sabbath holy, but I believe there are many ways to do that. And just as Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10), I believe something as simple as softball can bring healing to the lost.
And maybe, just maybe, if we taught our Christian children to view whatever they participate in as the mission field, then more WOULD view their sports that way. And maybe even their lives.
Question: What do you think? Do you think Christian parents should ever let their children miss church for any activity? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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