Thursday, February 07, 2013

How God Destroyed my American Idol

I loved sports.

I loved playing sports. I loved watching sports. I loved the NFL, NHL, and NBA. I loved college basketball and football. Eventually I even started following Major League Baseball. I would watch other sports too when my favorites weren't on. Heck, I wouldn't even pass up a good curling match (match?) on the Canadian channel.

I took pride in knowing stuff about sports. I knew all the scores, schedules and statistics. I collected the cards (indeed, pretty much any time I got money, as a kid, I spent it on packs of cards). In my free time, if I wasn't playing some sport somewhere, I was probably inside watching one (or playing the video game or, later, doing fantasy sports).

I didn't realize how much sports were part of my identity. I certainly didn't realize my love for sports had become an idol in my life. But at a most basic level, an 'idol' is simply something (other than God) that you devote your life to and center your life around. Sports had become my center, my god.

But it's not any more... and I thought it would be interesting to reflect on how that changed... to write about how God helped me to stop idolizing sports.

First, looking back, I actually wonder if one of God's prevenient graces in my life was the fact that I wasn't very talented when it came to sports. I was a late developer (mostly because I didn't realize I had poor vision for quite a while, and then resisted wearing my glasses as long as possible). But even after I developed, I was never great at sports. I had my moments, but it was clear I was never going to be a star athlete. Perhaps God protected me from falling even more deeply into idolatry by not gifting me in these ways, but this is pure speculation.

Second, I came in contact with a greater god, the one true God. I was 17 when I really understood, for the first time, the bigness of God, what God had done for me, and what God wanted to do in my life. I don't think one even has the capacity to get rid of an 'idol,' until something greater comes along (even if it turns out to be just another idol), so my surrender to God was essential to overcoming idolatry. But beginning to truly worship God did not automatically destroy my idols any more than entering the Promised Land destroyed Canaanite high places for ancient Israel. Like I said, at that point, I didn't even know sports was an idol in my life.

Third, God put me in touch with a little article by Keith Drury titled "God #2" (link below). Drury asked me to think about how sports had set itself up, in American culture, as a competing God and how many Christian men were treating it as a god without realizing it. I'd like to say that Drury's questions were enough to convict me into repentance of my own idolatry. But the truth is, I was only impressed with his insight and saw the article as a helpful tool to use in order to confront other men with this issue (you know, the ones who REALLY struggled with sports idolatry).

Fourth, I was invited to be part of a short-term mission trip to China. What does that have to do with sports? Well, it was my internal reaction to the invitation that ultimately alerted me to the fact that sports was not just an idol, but MY idol. My first thought upon being invited was... what sporting events will I miss? At that point I realized that I dreaded missing March Madness... or even the NFL Draft... MORE than I delighted in serving the real God.

Breaking the sports IDOL took more than just awareness that sports was a god in my life. It took turning from sports and toward China. It also took time. In the years following that first trip to China, I found myself less and less dedicated to sports. It wasn't that I started hating sports. I started liking sports instead of loving sports. Sports became the thing that it is, and stopped being the center of my life and an object of devotion. I didn't get upset when I missed my favorite team play. I cared less whether they won or lost. I spent less time on fantasy sports and basically no money on memorabilia.

Demolished as an idol, sports has become a tool. I use sports as a point of connection for fellowship. Sports is a fun hobby. I enjoy sports for the lessons it can teach me about God and His kingdom (which are many). I like sports a lot. But I love God.


Jecca said...

I can totally relate to this. It was entertainment for me, in all its forms. That was 4 years ago, and my life drastically changed when God became #1. One of my primary inspirations was Leslie Ludy's "Set-Apart Femininity". Thanks for sharing Matthew!

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing...