Heaven’s Sport: Baseball
Tonight, Jeremy Guthrie is the starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals in Game 7 of the World Series. He attended BYU for one year before heading out on a two-year mission and then finishing his college career at Stanford. I’m watching as much of it as I can—and certainly cheering for the team that hasn’t won a World Series in 29 years.
I have long loved baseball. My earliest memories are of my father cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals when Bob Gibson was pitching. You didn’t mess with Bob Gibson. He owned the inside part of the plate and then some—and you knew it. I played on my first team at age 8. Growing up in Seattle, we played in the rain—a LOT. I was never any good. When I was 10, the Seattle Mariners were born. I listened to the entire first game on the radio. They lost 7-0. I listened again the next night. They lost 2-0. They were clearly headed in the right direction and I got excited—a feeling which has never subsided over 38 years.
Baseball is, in fact, the one true sport. Let me share with you 9 of my reasons for loving it so much. One for every inning:
- Baseball is a thinking man’s game. What pitch should you throw? Where should you throw it? Where should you position yourself? Who should be in the lineup against this pitcher? In what order should they bat? When do you sacrifice, hit and run, steal, pitch out, pinch hit or take a pitch? What pitch is he going to throw to me? There are lots of mental games within the game of baseball and every player, coach, and manager does their best to beat the odds.
- Speaking of odds, they can be quite long in baseball—which makes it a character-building pastime. In baseball, you succeed as a batter if you fail merely 70% of the time. What other sport asks you to persevere in the face of such persistent disappointment?
- Speaking of character, baseball is a marathon. A game could be played in just 3 or 4 innings, but no. It takes 9 full innings and hundreds of pitches. No loser of a baseball game can claim he didn’t get enough chances. Beyond that, a season lasts 162 games. And every. One. Matters!
- Baseball may be a team sport, but each game consists mostly of a series of individual efforts. In baseball, every man is part of a team, yet he must frequently stand alone. He stands in the batters box alone. He faces the batter alone. When the ball comes to him, it is his, alone, to handle. Hank Aaron said, “You stand up there alone, and if you make a mistake, it’s your mistake. If you hit a home run, it’s your home run.” Baseball includes total accountability. Your performance is never lost in the melee.
- Baseball does not require a specific body type. Some great baseball players are short; some are tall; some are thin; some are… less thin; some are fast; some are slow. Yes, it takes a genetic gift to be able to throw a ball 95 mph—and it probably takes a genetic gift to be able to hit an 83-mph curve ball. But by all outward appearances, baseball is and can be Everyman’s (and every little boy’s) sport.
- Watching a baseball game in person is not for the easily amused. Watching a baseball game correctly requires an enduring attention span, expansive knowledge, passion for detail, serious conversation skills, the ability to relax, and a love of peanuts and hot dogs. It does not require a lot of loud music, flashing lights, or constant scoring. By the way, hot dogs are called hot dogs for a reason. Mustard is required and ketchup is totally inappropriate.
- Baseball is about hope, optimism, faith, and anticipation. Nevermind that every season ends (speaking for Mariners fans) in disappointment. Hope returns every spring. There is never any doubt: this could be the year!
- Baseball is clearly eternal because it transcends time and space. There is no clock. The game ends only after every side has had their last chance. And there are no dimensions. Bases may be 90 feet apart, but outfields can be whatever shape their owners wish. The Houston Astros have a hill in their center field.
- And lastly, my very favorite thing about baseball… Every batter’s ultimate goal is to come back home.
Happiness in Manhood
I worry that men, women, and children are suffering from misunderstandings about and a lack of appreciation for manhood – or, perhaps “real manhood” if we want to distinguish between true manhood and the world’s misunderstandings of it both past and present (and I think we should).
Real manhood blesses lives (that is the whole point of it!) and returns peace, happiness, and even joy to the man. Perhaps it has these six primary components:
- Absolute and active commitment to God.
- Complete devotion to his wife and her well-being in every respect (see #4 below).
- Complete devotion to his children and their healthy development (see #4 below).
- Constant striving to possess the attributes of Christ more completely – including becoming more loving, patient, kind, diligent, etc.
- Willingness to proactively lead (and share leadership with his wife).
- Profound respect for the equality, roles, and attributes of women – and for the roles and attributes of men.
For this week’s post, I’ve decided to begin a list of important scriptures with regard to manhood. However, rather than list those scriptures here where they might remain stuck in a finite list, I’ve decided to create a page for them on this site and list them there. That way, it will be easier for me to add to and revise the list from time to time – since I’m sure I’ll miss a lot in this first round. In fact, I very much welcome your suggestions for adding to this list! You can find it here.
The Greatest Book Ever Written?
Different people find comfort in different places. Linus van Pelt found it in a blanket. Southerners find it in “comfort foods.” Addicts might find it in any number of vices. Mormons know that peace can be found in temples. I find comfort in the Gospel According to John.
The 21 chapters of John are full of beauty – in words; in concepts; in what is taught about the nature of Christ; and in what is taught about His relationship to us and ours to Him. We believe in seeking after things that are virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy. When in doubt about where to find such things, turn to John’s rendering of the gospel. Here are some of the beautiful and comforting things we find there.
Chapter 1: Besides the poetic beauty of “the Word,” we read twice the invitation, “Come and see,” which in many ways sums up the simplicity of strengthening our testimonies. Come, do, and see for yourself what living the gospel of Jesus Christ does for you.
Chapter 3 (and 7 and 19): We learn of Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews,” who loved Jesus and whom Jesus loved; whom Jesus taught and ministered to; who stood up for Jesus, though perhaps too quietly.
Chapter 4: The woman at the well, a Samaritan. Another example of Jesus ministering to an individual. We find him here responding to his own questions: “If ye love them which love you what reward have ye?” and “If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?”
Chapter 5: Here is an illustration of Jesus as the Master Healer. Four times in the story of healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda, we read the phrase “made whole” and we are beautifully reminded that we, too, can be made whole. We also find a sermon-in-a-phrase when Jesus afterward “findeth him in the temple.”
Chapter 6: The Bread of Life sermon! “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” When his teachings were ill received, we hear sadness in the voice of the Savior, “Will ye also go away?” And we read Peter’s confident and faithful reply, “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” I am reminded that there are many others to whom I could go, but none others fulfill the Savior’s promise when he said, “Come and see.”
Chapter 7: Living Water! In this chapter, the Savior follows that “come and see” invitation with the promise, “If any man will do his will, he shall know.” But the most tender part is when he stood among the masses at the conclusion of the feast of tabernacles – a conclusion which featured a great outpouring of water, literally – and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”
Chapter 8: The woman taken in adultery. “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” There is hope for me! Talk about comfort!
Chapter 9: My favorite story. First we learn that not all hardships are the result of sin. Then we learn (again) that the Savior can do the “impossible.” Then, as in Chapter 5, we learn (again) that the Savior continues with us in our needs when he “found him” again. Perhaps most beautiful of all, we read the healed man’s perfect response to the “come and see invitation: “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” Amazing grace!
Chapter 10: The Good Shepherd. He is the door to the sheepfold. And He is the Good Shepherd. The hireling “fleeth,” but the Good Shepherd knows his sheep and they know Him and He gives his life for them. “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.”
Chapter 11: Lazarus. That we may know that we are never beyond Christ’s capacity to heal. Everyone should read Crime and Punishment.
Chapter 13: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Indeed! And this: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Can any men, let alone all men, see me as the Savior’s disciple? If ye have not charity, ye are nothing.
Chapter 14: More gems: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” And speaking of comfort… “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Chapter 15: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” And again, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” And yet again, “These things I command you, that ye love one another.” “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” I should like to be his friend. It feels wonderful to be loved by Him. I must increase my love for others.
I will stop there, but one last thing about the book of John—perhaps my favorite thing. John refers to himself, not by name, but as the one Jesus loved—at least four times. (The word “loved” is found in John more often than in Matthew, Mark, and Luke combined.) I imagine if I spent time with the Savior, I, too, would no longer think of myself as Chris, but as one Jesus loved. Perhaps it is no coincidence that in all four of those verses, John also refers to himself as a disciple.
Is the Gospel According to John the greatest book ever written? I don’t know. But it’s definitely in the top two.
May I (and you) be His disciple and His friend. May we drink living water and partake of the bread of life. May we love one another. And may we truly “come” and “see” and “know” – that He can heal us and that His peace is real. Happy are we if we do.
Follow-up to… On Prayers, Answers, Timing, and Importuning
Last week’s post brought some interesting responses – three of which I’d like to share with you.
First, I received this question: “Sometimes I struggle to know if God just wants me to keep asking or if he’s already answered my question with, as you say it, ‘Let’s hold on to that one for a while–it’s not the right time.’ How do I know which is which?”
I’m curious to know how you all would answer that, but here’s my answer: If what you’re praying for is ultimately important and likely aligned with God’s will, I would never stop praying for it. However, all such prayers should include expressions of submissiveness and a willingness to wait on the Lord, such as: “thy will, not mine, be done” and “help me to learn the things I need to learn” and “help me to be patient and submissive and productive while I wait” etc. Then, such expressions should be backed up by two kinds of actions: those that will help bring about the desired blessing and those that will keep you moving forward if the desired blessing is not granted. On the other hand, if the thing you’re praying for is ultimately not critical or is only doubtfully aligned with God’s will, I wouldn’t persist in praying for it for long.
Second, I was told that Elder Holland just delivered a talk on living after the manner of happiness. Excellent!! You can read that talk here.
Third, I received a copy of an important poem, which I think poignantly reflects how many of us sometimes think and feel about the answers we receive to prayers. You can read it here.
On Prayers, Answers, Timing, and Importuning
Does every prayer get answered? What does it even mean for a prayer to be answered?
Matthew 7:7 suggests (rather clearly) that every prayer is answered. Arguably, it even suggests that every prayer is answered favorably and might even imply to some that all prayers are answered immediately. At least, it says nothing about answers ever being “no” – nor about our having to wait for them. The Savior said:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
This same passage is similarly repeated in Luke 11. However, before going there, I would like to state one emphatic belief of mine: every prayer is answered.
However, I do not believe that every prayer is answered the way we want. We do not believe that God is like the genie in the bottle, there to grant us every wish exactly when and how we like – or even at all in some cases. Some answers are “yes.” Some answers are “no.” Some answers are “not right now; let’s hold off on that one.” And some answers are “you need to struggle through this one on your own for your own benefit; I’m going to let you do that.” You could come up with your own variations on those themes, but that’s how I see it. In fact, it troubles me whenever I hear someone say their prayer was answered, when they say it in a way that suggests that the proof of it being answered is that they got what they wanted – which in turn suggests that their prayer would have been unanswered if they didn’t get what they wanted. I think we need to be careful to never suggest that “answered” prayers are comprised only of those whose answers we like.
Back to Luke 11. This is an interesting chapter! It begins with one of Jesus’ disciples asking him to teach them to pray. The Lord responds with what we know as The Lord’s Prayer and eventually gets into words similar to those in Matthew 7, quoted above. But, interestingly, between those two things he asks his audience a question involving “importuning,” which, according to Google, means “to ask someone pressingly and persistently for or to do something.”
“Keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking…”
Let me quote Luke 11:5-10. However, I’m going to quote the International Standard, rather than the King James, version. (The everyday language of the ISV may be startling to some Latter-day Saints, but I find it insightful sometimes to review other translations of the New Testament.) It says:
Then he told them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine on a trip has dropped in on me, and I don’t have anything to serve him.’ Suppose he answers from inside, ‘Stop bothering me! The door is already locked, and my children are here with us in the bedroom. I can’t get up and give you anything!’ I tell you, even though that man doesn’t want to get up and give him anything because he is his friend, he will get up and give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. So I say to you: Keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened for you, because everyone who keeps asking will receive, and the person who keeps searching will find, and the person who keeps knocking will have the door opened.”
The part I italicized is rather interesting. It is a completely different translation than the KJV because it adds in the “keep asking/searching/knocking” part, which doesn’t seem to exist in the Greek text at all. I’m definitely not suggesting the ISV is a more literal translation of the text. Nevertheless, isn’t it expressing what we believe? And isn’t that, in fact, what the Savior is teaching? Verse 8 in the KJV says, “I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity [his “pressingly and persistently” asking] he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” (Emphasis added again.) The Savior is teaching that receiving doesn’t always immediately follow asking; nor finding seeking.
That teaching might remind us also of a parable the Savior teaches seven chapters later – a parable which begins with an instructive preamble!
“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.”
Now that last word is a little confusing, as is the comparison of God to an “unjust judge.” Nevertheless, the teaching seems unmistakable: men and women ought to pray repeatedly over the long term and never give up praying, because, even though answers will come “speedily” when they do come, they won’t come necessarily immediately. Some answers take time. And sometimes the answer is “no” and sometimes the answer is “wait” and sometimes the answer is “you’re on your own.”
Blessings, in real but not pre-specified forms, always follow obedience quickly (see Mosiah 2:24 ). Prayers, however, are not always answered the way we wish. Nor are they always answered the way we wish without consistent “importuning.”
What, then, should we do about our frustrations over our prayers not being answered when and how we want? The same thing we should do when our prayers are answered exactly when and how we like: be humble and submissive; maintain a broken heart and a contrite spirit; trust in the Lord and wait on Him. Getting impatient and angry with God will not result in happiness. Waiting on Him with faith and submissiveness, however, is critical to living after the manner of happiness!