One of the fun things I am able to do at my university is to be involved in athletics. On the surface that has nothing to do with teaching Religion classes. But that does not mean I cannot have multiple interests. And they might actually not be as disparate as you might think. In both cases---religion and athletics---people are the key. Without people, you have neither religion nor athletics.
Part of the fun of being involved with athletics stems from my own days as an athlete. I played ball almost as early as I can remember. I enjoyed so many aspects of athletics, as I moved through the levels of school. And graduation did not end my athletic days. Even as we get older, we can keep playing some sports. And some things, like tennis, golf or others, we can do well into our senior years. Being active has many benefits and I hope to enjoy those benefits for a long time yet.
As I reflect on it, I can say that I grew up with athletics. In my earliest days of basketball I was not strong enough to get the ball up to that ten-foot hoop. I did not get discouraged; I knew I would get stronger and the hoop would still be at ten feet! If you have ever watched a bunch of little ones playing soccer, it is a mess. Often there are twenty-two kids milling around the ball. There is a whole field available and they are sardined into an area smaller than most living rooms!
The area of sports where my interest wanes is professional sports. Of course, at that level, there are elite athletes. They can do things I never imagined doing. But frequently something changes when men and women get paid for doing a kid’s game. “It’s a business,” is the common refrain…and indeed it is. I can truly say that my amateur status is firmly intact. I have never come close athletically for anyone to pay me a nickel!
I enjoy my college since we can give no scholarships for athletics. Guys and gals play sports for the pure love of the sport. They are “normal college students” who happen to play sports. The way I see it, athletics is one more part of the collegiate educational scene. Many things can happen on an athletic field besides a touchdown.
Recently I went to a media day for our athletic conference’s kickoff for another sports season. A number of coaches from various colleges spoke about their teams, their hopes, etc. At one point one of the coaches from another school, whom I do not know, was talking about one of his athletically gifted athletes. I was only half listening, but one line jumped out at me.
About this young man the coach said, “I hope his mental maturity can catch up to his physical maturity.” At first I laughed, because I thought it was a funny line…and still think it is funny. But then, I was impressed with this insightful comment. Probably without fully appreciating what he had said, the coach went on. I was, however, stuck with this profound insight.
I realized this was true, not only about athletics, but about life. And is certainly is true about Religion, that academic discipline of mine. As I began to ponder it, a number of points came to my mind. The first point is almost always true for us human beings. Given enough time, we will grow up physically. With enough years and nurture, seven-pound babies grow up into regular-sized adults. Of course, there are exceptions, but not too many.
This physical development, the coach recognized, had already happened for his young athlete. The question is whether there would be comparable emotional and spiritual maturities? These are not a given. Emotional maturity needs to be nurtured, just like physical development does. Like athletics, getting better emotionally requires practice, usually entails some failures and takes some time to mature. Emotional maturity takes us to places where we are more loving and caring. We become less egotistical and demanding. We become altruistic and much less aggressive.
Spiritual maturity is yet another dimension of the fully mature human being. For some folks it is a non-issue. Spiritual maturity has some of the hallmarks of emotional maturity. In fact, I hold that it is impossible to be emotionally immature and spiritually mature. Spiritual maturity is connected to a larger vision and purpose to life. It puts us squarely on to God’s agenda and minimizes our own agenda for our life. Jesus put it succinctly when he said, “not my will, but thy will be done.” Spiritual brats cannot utter these words!
There are all kinds of “teams” that can help us develop maturity on all fronts. Athletics do their part. Churches, synagogues and other spiritual places are good maturation laboratories. Coaches, mentors, and friends are almost always godsends to our human development. It does not happen overnight. Each of us is a life-long project. Stay in the game!