My son has worn not one, but two bare patches in our front yard. He spends every non-rainy free moment outside in the yard, throwing a hardball into the air and catching it in his glove, or tossing a wiffle ball and swinging at it with the bat, or trying to convince every other child in the neighborhood to play a game with him. That’s why there are two bare patches, one for the pitcher and one for the batter. He’s not as fast or as skilled as some of his Little League teammates, but he makes up for it with solid hits and hard work.
His fascination with baseball is not limited to playing it. He studies the game, past and present. Each morning, he checks the MLB.TV recaps and box scores for every Major League Game. All of his TV time gets used on baseball games. All of his tooth fairy money gets spent on baseball cards. His reading choices from the library currently include Play Book Baseball, World Series Classics, Baseball All-Stars, DK Publishing’s Baseball and a biography of Jackie Robinson. We even started watching Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary a few weeks ago. He’s captivated.
His new passion consumes him for hours each day. He’s only six, and I’m amazed at his attention span in study and his perseverance at play.
His fascination cause me to reflect on the shaping of Christian identity in our home. Becoming immersed in baseball is not that different than being formed by the traditions and practices of faith. The same could be said of any sport, but I think it’s especially true of baseball.
Both religious faith and baseball require a combination of knowledge and skill, study and practice. You can play the sport like a dream without knowing a thing about its story. Likewise, you can know every bit of history, statistics and lore without being able to play the game at all. But doing one without the other somehow misses the point. The same is true of faith—you can study the Bible, quote scripture, know the commandments and recite the Lord’s Prayer like a champion, but faith requires more than knowledge. It requires the practice of prayer, the discipline of service, the agony of dying into new life, the courage of faith. Soul-work demands mind and body both—not just one or the other.
I want my son to learn about the heroes of the faith, but I also want him to practice the work of serving others. I want my son to memorize the 23rd Psalm, but I also want him to know how to cry out to God in his distress. I want my son to love the Bible, and I also want him to live it.
Just like baseball, that means that we have to both study it and practice it.
Deuteronomy 11:19 instructs us to study the words of the scriptures all the time: “Teach them to your children, by talking about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up.” (CEB) It certainly feels like we talk about baseball at least that much these days! How am I talking about God and teaching the stories of the scriptures all the time with him? Do I tell him as much about Ruth and Naomi as I do about Babe Ruth and Nolan Ryan? He knows the nine men in the Red Sox starting lineup, but does he know the Twelve Disciples? As a parent, it’s my task to share the stories of the Bible and why I love them, just as much as I love the stories of Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson.
However, it’s not enough just to learn the words. We must also practice the moves, to build our strength and tone our bodies. As James says, “In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity. Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.” (James 2:17-18, 26) His baseball practice has worn bare spots in the yard. Have our faith practices worn a similar path in our hearts? Have we engaged them with enough regularity and commitment to make an impression? Have we been willing to try and fail over and over again, or do we just give up when something doesn’t work?
The analogy can go on. Faith, like the game, has rules we must learn to follow, not because we’re thinking about it but simply because our bodies know what to do. There are rituals that teach us respect and value—singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” or gathering to receive the body and blood of Christ at the table. There is a community with whom you share your passion and love.
Watching my son wear holes in the front yard practicing baseball makes me want to make sure that we’re practicing our faith just as hard. And not just for a summer or a season, but for a lifetime.