I wanted to name this post “Against Football,” but that’s a knee-jerk reaction. The realization of idolatry’s effects on my heart is due in large part to my town’s near-total football saturation, but the lesson is much larger than the gridiron.
Before I started grad school, I made two commitments: I would read the Bible every day, and I would take every Saturday off. Up until this point in the semester, I’ve adhered to both imperfectly but still very satisfactorily. This story, however, is the tale of how I failed at both over a 48-hour span and why I never want to do that again.
Many horrible things start off as a good intention gone wrong, and so begins this. On Thursday night, I watched Captain America with my roommate and then did some work for Friday. I hadn’t hung out with my roommate or our downstairs neighbor much in the last few weeks, so I acquiesced to watching the film, even though I knew it would keep me up late working. Good intentions, however, led me to get 5 hours of sleep <em>and</em> not finish the work I needed.
But I woke up at 5:55 a.m. and rushed off to men’s Bible study (side note: Bible studies for men are always at horrible times for night owls). When that ended at 7:00, I went straight to work to finish working on the project due at 9:00. I finished at 8:45, then rushed off to other meetings; I did not read my Bible in the morning, as I usually do, even though it was in my office with me. Nor did I pray.
The rest of the day passed in a hurry, and I fell asleep at 1 a.m. Saturdays are my no-work days, so I slept in (glorious sleeping in, how night owls love thee). But because of the hectic previous day, I hadn’t written on my music blog, responded to e-mails, run (only one more run before my half-marathon!) or handled several other minor things on the computer. I took care of all of that, which only took a couple hours. I did not, however, read my Bible—it was still in my office. That’s okay, because I didn’t think about it all day.
Here’s where things get interesting. The most critical section of the college football season is upon us, as everyone in this town will quickly and comprehensively tell you. I have tried very hard to separate my ego and emotions from OU football, because a. it’s a bummer to be a fan by yourself and b. A game shouldn’t control my emotions. As you can see from my point order, I’m still working on B.
The weekend was one of upsets, with OU (my team), OSU (rival team) and several other top 10 teams losing ignobly. My emotions ebbed and flowed with the games, but I felt a growing unrest. Even when OU lost dramatically, I didn’t feel upset; I just felt off. I went to bed feeling very upset at the fact that I had no idea why I was upset.
I got to church worship band practice late, for which I felt annoyed at myself. Because of this annoyance, I couldn’t focus well, and played poorly. Because I played poorly, I couldn’t focus on the sermon. I felt myself getting more and more upset. I resolved to not talk about football after church, so that I could try to talk something of my problems out. Instead, all of the conversations revolved around football, as they always do. On the way home, I was about to explode. Why is everything here about football? Why is even church about football? Doesn’t anyone get it?
Somewhere between church and my house, I realized that I didn’t have my Bible, nor had I read it, nor had I really rested the day before, nor had I tried to initiate any conversations that weren’t about football (I just went with the flow). My lack of discipline over two days (yes, just two) had set me adrift in a miasma of emotions, cultural obsessions and finger-pointing. It was a minor Nathan-calling-out-David moment. By not thinking about God, I filled that hole that I usually fill with football and work, then been angry when it didn’t satisfy me.
This is not a new idea, but the conditions under which this situation occur are terrifying for me. I’d spent a whole semester diligently studying and resting, maintaining a relationship with the Lord my God. I lose sight for two days, and things went wildly awry in my heart. Granted, this is the most exhausting part of the semester, but that doesn’t mean that yesterday and Friday get a free pass. They still sucked, and my replacement of the Lord my God with idols (work, college football) made it suck.
I thought I understood the “No worshiping idols” commandment, but it’s clear that it’s a much deeper problem. Putting things before God is much simpler than I expected. I felt lost after two days of separation; no wonder Christians (most of whom, according to various Barna polls, suck at discipline, like I did before this semester) are having so much difficultly being different than the world. Not being actively in the life of God daily means that we are of the life of the world (instead of just “in” it, as the verse goes). That’s a hard word.
But the frustration, anger and lostness of two days apart from doing things God’s way have impressed upon me this: I never want to do that again. I thank God that he kept me and grew me through my undergraduate degree, when I did not have anything resembling consistent daily Bible study; it’s purely the grace of God that kept me from derailing even more times than I did. I wasn’t listening to the overwhelming testimony of the word (READ ME), and my life has reached a point where not doing that is just impossible to my daily function.
I don’t want this to be a guilt trip: this is what happened to me. Other people have walks that go in other ways. But here, on this day, this is what I am learning. Please do not see this as one-upping.
Because while it excites me that I’ve grown to this point in my relationship with the Lord, it’s also scary. Dependency isn’t fun to acknowledge, even though we are all utterly dependent on God for things like “waking up in the morning” and “not getting in a horrible car wreck on the way to work.” Acknowledging that he runs my life and that his commands are necessary for my life, is tough to write. I’d like to be all autonomous and American.
But the alternative sucks; and before this point in my life, I didn’t realize that there was an alternative. I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve grown to see that idols truly don’t satisfy: being whipped around by the whims of various players’ ACL strength is not the only way to be, and work is not all there is. I knew this; you probably know this. But until we can see ourselves for the idolaters we are, we can’t understand that. As of today, I see it a little better. Thank God for his forgiveness and restoration. Hallelujah! Amen.