Let me start with this: I’m sorry. I’m sad for you and I’m sad with you. This sucks. I posted on social media last week that athletes don’t need encouragement or silver linings right now. They just need us to be sad, angry, disappointed and frustrated with them. At some point, they (you) will need some guidance on how to deal with the new reality you’ve been dealt. This is my attempt to push you out of the starting blocks of this new season.
Grief doesn’t have a universal timeline and I’m fully aware some of you won’t be in a spot to read this yet. We’re a little over a week removed from the sports world shutting down. Seasons were lost. Careers were ended. Potential wasn’t realized. Championships were voided.
What do you say in a moment like this? I’m still not sure. But I think it starts with recognizing the various emotions that exist right now.
Despair, anger, and frustration for those who will never play the sport they love every again.
Sadness and loneliness for those who are now separated from the community they interacted with daily.
Guilt and shame for those who are secretly happy or relieved that their season (or career) ended for them because they were just tired of their sport, injured or recently lost a starting position.
I know there are many more emotions and categories of athletes who are experiencing this difficult stretch in a variety of different ways. But wherever you land on the spectrum and wherever you are in your grieving process, I want to encourage you with this: you can still glorify God. Yes, it will look different. And it probably won’t involve competing again anytime soon, but God still has something for you at this moment.
The verse we love still applies
1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
For most of my life, I used the “whatever you do” phrase of this verse as encouragement that God wants me to use sport for his glory—not my own. It’s the same phrase that challenges us right now.
Whatever you do.
Athlete, you can still glorify God right now. The “whatever you do” does not apply to sports, at the moment. But it does apply to every other area of your life that occupies your mind and your time. From the time you wake up until your head, you have countless opportunities to please God.
Before we go any further, we need to define what glorifying God means. Briefly stated (and I unpack this much further in my book), we glorify God when we think and act in a way that pleases him and draws attention to who he is.
Ok, let’s get practical.
Glorify God with your words and your mind
Psalm 19:14 says “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” In this Psalm, David (the author) wants to please God through two categories of his life: his words and his heart.
Jesus draws a connection between these two categories in Luke 6:45 when he says “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Athlete, what are you feeding your heart during this season of life? Are you medicating on alcohol? Are you numbing your mind through binging Netflix shows? What would it look like to run to God instead of from him? What would it look like to leverage this abundance of time offered to you (I know that’s an overly optimistic view of a crappy situation), to spend time in his Word and in prayer?
Here’s one of the ways you glorify God right now: fill your mind with the things of God. Listen to sermons. Worship through music. Stay off social media or choose to intentionally follow influencers who increase your love for the Lord. Read the Bible and other books/blogs that point you towards God. Rest. Sleep.
And then use words birthed out of a God-filled heart to speak life into others. Your words are pleasing (glorifying) to God when they mirror how the Bible tells us to use them. Here are a few ways to use words in this digital heavy time:
- Text a teammate or coach and encourage them. It doesn’t have to be long (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Ask a teammate how you can pray for them (Ephesians 6:18)
- Refrain from complaining (Philippians 2:14)
Glorify God with your relationships
For some of you, sports are on hold. For others, they are over. But the relationships you have haven’t stopped. And how you steward (care for) those relationships during this time matters to God. I think the best way to honor God right now through our relationships is to reject passivity and initiate. Now is the time to turn our idolatrous phone into a weapon of encouragement and connection to others for God’s glory.
We glorify God in our relationships when we:
- Act selflessly (Philippians 2:4)
- Show kindness and compassion (Ephesians 4:32)
- Forgive (Ephesians 4:32)
- Confess (James 5:16)
- Do good (Galatians 6:10)
- Show patience (Colossians 3:12)
Up until last month, you had the opportunity to glorify God through giving a maximum level of effort and pursuit of excellent within your sport. Right now you have the opportunity to glorify God by reaching out to a teammate and apologizing for something you said or did. You can glorify God by texting a coach and letting them know how much you appreciate them. Maybe it’s dropping off a meal at an injured athlete’s house or apartment. It could be simply listening to a friend rant for an hour about how frustrated they are by all that’s happening. This could be the time to start a virtual Bible study for your teammates and serve them by helping them engage with God through his Word.
Glorify God with your body
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Athlete, just because earthly authorities have put a hold on our athletic careers, it does not override the heavenly authority mandating us to take care of our bodies. I’m not sure there is a universal answer guiding how this plays out for everyone, but here are a couple questions/categories to think through:
- Are you eating in a way that honors God?
- Are you drinking in a way that honors God?
- Are you sleeping in a way that honors God?
- Are you pursuing purity in a way that honors God?
- Are you resting in a way that honors God?
- Are you continuing to steward your athletic gift set in a way that honors God?
During the unprecedented news to shut down sports, it can be easy to default to eating junk, binging on alcohol, and being lazy with our bodies. This may be the easy way, but it’s not the Godly way.
Why this matters
Maybe this is a test run for you or maybe the death of your sport is your new reality. For all of us, sports will end at some point. And all of us need to realize that we can still please God outside of our temporal identity as athletes. So take the time you need to grieve well. But don’t neglect your opportunity to glorify God with the hand you’ve been dealt.
P.S. If you want me to send you some free resources (including the first chapter of my book The Assist: A Gospel-Centered Guide to Glorifying God Through Sports, subscribe below and I will send you some great stuff! I promise not to spam you either:)