Written by: Tendai Chitsike
Article source: JOY! Magazine
The Rugby World Cup has just come to an end, and Bok fever remains high in intensity, both in real life and on social media. So, with sport very much on the mind, it may be an appropriate time to consider how a Christian worldview impacts the arena of sport. In particular, how could it provide an appropriate degree of joy, while not eclipsing our primary affection reserved for Christ alone?
Learning as a coach
Sometime in August, I began my new side hustle: providing football coaching to ten kids. Initially, I thought I would dust off the mental cobwebs and try to remember the best of what my football coaches taught me in the 80s and 90s. But while that has definitely come in handy, I have discovered the absolute necessity of coaching them in how to enjoy the game for the gift it is. On the one hand, this has involved teaching them not to be crestfallen and sullen if they didn’t score or their team lost, while also encouraging teamwork – passing to your teammates instead of being a “glory boy” who goes for the spectacular. Why would this be important in coaching? My observation, looking at the kids and my younger self, is that without a cultivation of finding delight in simply enjoying the game as part of a team, they could either relentlessly pursue self-adulation, or reject the game outright because they ended on the losing side. The problem with either of these is that, repeated often enough, winning will become the only thing and they will not truly enjoy the game.
Drawing from personal experience
You might ask: why not just teach the kids football? A snippet of my story might help. In my teen years before I committed my life to Christ, I was obsessed with playing football and supporting my favourite team. Looking back, I could see that it dominated my inner world, hurling me from unrestrained anger to disappointment and occasional moments of euphoria. Yet, even when I enjoyed my team’s success, after a few minutes, I was haunted by the hollowness of it all. In retrospect, I see that I attempted to use sport to occupy a void that God alone could and should fill. Similarly, many of us may have to admit that sport acts as God’s poor substitute for the affections of the heart. Though his struggle was not in the area of sport, the words of renowned saint Augustine in his autobiography Confessions are equally applicable when he wrote: “But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in Him but in myself and His other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error.”
Ultimate joy in Christ
Years later in my varsity life, I remember talking to a fellow supporter in our residence shortly before a big televised match was about to start. To his consternation, I said I wouldn’t be watching the game, and walked out. Exasperated, he shouted: “What kind of a supporter are you?!” If I was quicker on my feet, I should have replied: “One whose joy doesn’t depend on whether they won this weekend, because Christ has won my heart.” I had experienced enough of that former life of trying to find ultimate joy in something other than God, and as Augustine pointed out, it led to pain. In Christ, however, we can experience the joy of watching a game or going for a walk instead, because we now know a deeper and lasting joy that will remain long after a sporting trophy is won or lost. In Christ, we are “free” to watch and enjoy the moment, or enjoy doing something else, knowing that the joy He gives, nothing and no one can take away.
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Date published: 03/11/2023
Tendai Chitsike – Pastor of Every Nation Church in Makhanda. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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