Let me set the scene.
On Saturday morning my one and only son, Nelson, played in a basketball game that kicked off a tournament. Single elimination. Have I ever mentioned how much I love sports? Well. My heart beats at a quicker pace when I watch any of my children play; we are connected out there against the competition. His basket is mine, her shot is my near-miss. Their victory validates me (a little too much) and their defeat makes me pull my hair. I take great pleasure (and way too much pride) in their athleticism, but also take it personally when they fall short. Yes, mama needs to get a grip. But all I can say is, sports are a great joy to me. I’m always pushing those sweet things to try sports I never played, to practice their soccer moves, and for heaven’s sake, hydrate.
Let us pause here a moment.
We thought we knew what Daddy did on Saturday until I received this picture from a person who shall remain in protective custody. Daddy says he’s coaching basketball when he’s gone to faraway places…but really…he’s playing Starsky and Hutch dress-up?
So. While driving Nelson to his basketball tournament on Saturday, we had a little pep talk about heart and soul. Of being aggressive and smart and yeah, be a good sport, too. He made his mama proud and played his heart out on the basketball court. His defense was at its best. His offense was at its peak. At 11-years-old, he lives for a basket; it can make or break his mood for hours after. Me? I want to win, but I get over it quickly. I’m finally maturing enough to see how FUN it is just to play. How FUN it is to turn without your knees hurting.
Saturday he dribbled, passed, and shot. Though none of his shots were going in, he was my hero; I saw the heart and soul.
His team was ahead and the clock was counting down and my Nellie had the ball, five, four…”Shoot the ball” the crowd cried. “Go, Nelson!” My hands clenched, I stopped breathing though my heart pounded. His team didn’t need him to score, but I prayed, please God, please let this shot go in for my Nellie…please…he neeeeeds this!
Three, two…He went up for the shot but was blocked. “Shoot the ball!” the crowd cried again. One.. He went right, dribble step, and let the ball fly while getting hit in the face. The ball soared through the air as the buzzer went off. And then it swished through the net for a 2-pointer.
I almost cried.
The shot didn’t win the game, but it won my son. Knees skinned, shins bruised, face clawed, he was exultant. And need you ask? So was I.
The team advanced to the next round, which was held the next day. And even though I was prepared, my heart sank a bit. The next day was Sunday. His whole team would advance to the championship games together. Without Nelson. Without me in the stands – and who wouldn’t be sad about that??
Picture taking, bonding, rough housing, high fives. Perhaps a few would ask, “Where’s Nelson? Oh yeah, it’s Sunday.” Some think it’s weird, some think it’s dumb, some even think it selfish to let a team down after practicing and competing together for three months and we can’t be there “just because it’s Sunday.”
I have wanted to write this post for a long time, but I always got stuck, worried about offending. Let me say, I’d be horrified to come across as self-righteous. That is not my intention, friends. I’m just going to explain my “Why.”
As a Christian I interpret “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy” as a day that I should keep the Sabbath day holy. What does that mean to me? Sunday is a day we go to church as a family. We don’t watch the Disney Channel or play with friends (and that’s easy because none live on our road.) We don’t go to restaurants or out for ice-cream or to movie theaters because that would mean we are making someone else work. And it kills me sometimes, but it also means no basketball tournaments.
It also means I’ll never run the New York City Marathon even if I qualify or win the running lottery. I’ll never run the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon in Vermont – something I’m supposed to do as a New England runner. Marine Corps marathon? Nope. Dallas? Pittsburgh? Well, I’ve never wanted to go there anyway. It means a lot for the future, as so many thing are now being scheduled for Sunday.
Some “no’s” are harder than others, but in this case it’s easier to be all or nothing. If I run one race on Sunday, why not another? If we go to one birthday party, then why not the next? If anything, I’m trying to be consistent. I can’t be the hypocrite. I just want to do the right thing and not have my kids wonder what crazy mama is going to change her mind about next.
It’s not something I ever agonized over; it’s just something we always did. I suspected for a long time it was because my mother liked napping so much. And the Sabbath is the day of rest. Bingo! I get it now! If there is anything that is more appealing than sleep to a woman with children, well, I’d like to hear it. Sorry, honey. And anyway, if the Lord himself needed to rest on the seventh day, then why can’t I?
When I was a kid our church was located right next to the swimming pool we belonged too. We swam there everyday except on Sundays. On hot summer days my dad would drive past that beautiful blue pool, us kids shoved in the back seat of the olive green station wagon that never had air-conditioning and say wistfully, “Look at all those sinners having a terrible time.” Meanwhile my best friend would be canon-balling off the diving board and shrieking with glee. They sure looked like they were having a terrible time. We’d sulk and scowl and my dad would laugh his head off. I guess I’ve continued the tradition of torturing my children, too.
In college it occurred to me that I didn’t have to go to church. I didn’t have to keep anything holy! I could sleep. I could skip. I could hop on the back of that motorcycle and drive to Tennessee. Yee-haw, I miss those Idaho days! But the guilt complex was too much for me. And anyway, I like my naps, remember? These days, I rarely get a Sunday nap. I’m busy being mama or getting a lesson ready.
My ma or pa aren’t here to tell me not to go swimming on the Sabbath. My husband and I had to decide a long time ago what family life was going to look like on the Sabbath. And we had to think: Why? Why doest it matter at all?
Why I don’t play.
1. Physical regeneration. I’m exhausted by Sunday. I need the Sabbath to get rested for the onslaught of the coming week. I give the world six of my days. Can’t I just give the Lord, one? “Come unto me, all ye heavy laden and I will give you rest.” I need that rest.
2. Spiritual growth. I don’t think you need to go to church to feel the Lord’s spirit, but it is a very rare Sunday that I wish I had stayed home after I go. I always leave with a better feeling than when I arrived. I need it. I crave it. I need to remember who I am and what my purpose in life is. A prayer, a scripture, a thought…it all helps me, especially when I’m surrounded by people who believe the same. Their spirits feed mine.
“Your neighbor’s vision is as true for him as your own vision is true for you.”
– Miguel de Unamuno.
And whatever your vision, I respect that. Each of us must decide what we stand for and then do that thing.
There are conflicts. Because we don’t have gas stations just around the corner, and because I don’t plan well, sometimes I have to fill the gas tank. I don’t like that. Sometimes my husband has to work on Sundays because he works at a boarding school and students need him. Sometimes he can’t go to church with us. When we lived on campus we went to church and then came home to be dorm parents to twelve teenage boys. It was our job. But it was still the Sabbath and the boys knew it. Some would ask who that picture of Jesus was and why we went to church. Once a student said to me, “I’ve heard of Moses – wasn’t he a really great actor?” I always thought that very funny. And a little sad, too.
A woman I recently interviewed is a printmaker named J.Ann Eldridge. Her light is strong. You can tell by the thoughtful way she speaks that she means to do live with purpose. She is not of my faith and I have no idea what she does on Sundays. One of her prints is entitled, “My Religion Has Something to Do With Compost.” The earth is her greatest passion and she takes care of it, recognizing its gift. I find that holy.
Once, when we were at church it was announced from the pulpit that a member of the congregation was having a water issue at their farm. It was a dire situation and they needed help immediately. The service was cancelled so we could go home and change and go to the farm with our shovels and trowels. I’ll never forget my dear friend telling me how much it meant for her, as she sat in the middle of her farm, worried that all was lost, to see her church friends show up with shovels, food, and ready to work. The farm was saved by brothers and sisters working side by side. That’s holy.
The Sabbath was meant for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
I have to admit, I had a moment of wavering yesterday. As I drove my son home, I thought of how badly I wanted to be at that game. How badly I wanted to see us win – surely we would! How badly I wanted to see my son dribble and pass and play in the championship. I looked over at my son and told him how awesome he was. I even sang him a little Alecia Key’s, “This Nellie’s on fiiirre!”
“Man, it stinks that the game in on Sunday,” I said, whacking the steering wheel.
“That’s why I played so hard,” he said. “Because I knew it was probably my last game.”
I wondered if it was unfair of me to make this decision for him. After all, I hadn’t even asked if he wanted to play. And he hadn’t asked either. He hadn’t begged or cried or said one word about it. And the game didn’t actually overlap with church. He could play in the game and we could watch him as a family. Then, as a family we could drive to church together.
“What do you think, buddy?” I asked. “Do you want to play?” What would I do if he said yes? I wondered. I think I would have to take him. Perhaps it could be just this one time and we wouldn’t do it again because it really wasn’t what felt right to us. But as I looked at him, I knew he had to make the decision for himself.
He shrugged. “Well, it just wouldn’t work,” he said. “It’s Sunday.” True that. Thank you, son, I thought. For helping me be strong. For saying no when mama almost wanted you to say yes. But not really.
Killer, how badly I wanted to go to that game.
As I recounted my son’s buzzer-boy-basket to his dad this morning I was animated and lively. “I probably care more than Nelson does!” I said, looking at the clock. It was one hour before game time. Nelson put his arm around my shoulder and said, “That’s probably true.”
So we didn’t go. In-between hair-combing and picking out the church dresses and gathering our Sunday stuff, I checked my phone anxiously as a friend sent texts of the play-by-play nail-biter. They lost by 8.
Would I do it any differently? Nah. We drank smoothies for breakfast, dressed for church, squabbled in the car, heard two of the best talks I’ve heard this year, and drove home together with less squabbling because we were all feeling the spirit a little better and a little louder. And then we had dinner, a short family night and played Pounce and ate Thin Mints for dessert. As a family. I guess it’s just the way we roll.
I often wonder, if I died tomorrow and found out everything I ever thought was true, wasn’t, would it have been worth it? Would I be mad I missed the tournament? I’ve decided not.
The Sabbath day has served me well and so I do with that as I will, and keep it the best I know how. How, I wonder, do you do it differently?
Here’s something I believe with all my heart: We are all brothers and sisters made in the image of the same God who loves us all. We are here to learn how to be happy, but we must all find out how to do that for ourselves. I’ve felt the power of God and his spirit. It is very real to me. My adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ might set me apart from the world, but it’s also the one thing that unites us all. I know I am a child of God and I also know that so is everyone else.
It was on the Sabbath day and at the feet of my mother and father that I truly learned that. I was also taught to honor God. In return, God would honor me. He hasn’t let me down yet.
So tomorrow is Monday. And then I shall play.