Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Free Agents

I love the headline I read this morning on a local news website. "Byrd signs with Saints; Bills resign Carpenter". Here's what it really says, "The top free agent safety left the Bills, BUT Buffalo keeps its kicker." WOOT  When life is dark we hang on to the smallest glimmers of hope.

Yesterday at 4pm the NFL Free Agency period began. It's the time of the year when players without a contract can sign with other teams. For good players it represents a large payday as teams compete for their services. For some players it represents the end of their career. They don't hold a press conference and announce their retirement. They don't get to tour the stadiums and receive applause for a career well played. For many players their careers just fade away as no one offers them a new contract.

When a great player leaves the fans left behind sometimes turn on him. They remember shortcomings and amplify them. "There was that game when he...." "I never really liked him. He was overrated anyway."

Other fans recognise the allure of the large wads of cash being thrown at him. They admit that they'd probably leave too for all that money. It hurts, but it's understandable.

But sometimes it's not about the cash. Sometimes a player just decides he needs a "change of scenery". It will be better for both of us he says. Sometimes he suggests, "You're a loser, and I want to play with a winner." And that hurts.

It hurts because the player is looking for a shortcut: to win on the back of work others have already done. It hurts because he views his current team as having no value. He's given up on them. He regards them as incompetent at best and inherently beyond help at worst. It hurts because others are left behind and he doesn't seem to care about them anymore. It hurts because he's saying that anywhere else is better than here. It hurts because it seems personal.

And often it is.

I have a couple of friends in the middle of filing for divorce right now. It hurts.

In sports we understand how the system works. Players come. Players go. Sometimes the team releases the player. Sometimes injury forces the player to retire. Sometimes the player ditches the team. We know how rare it is for a player to spend his whole career with one team.

In life and marriage we expect greater permanence. We expect people to honour their word. We expect people to stay. In an era of tremendous transience, we still expect marriage to mean something. But when marriage vows have no more meaning than a football contract... it hurts.

It hurts because a person is looking for a shortcut: unwilling to do the work it takes to succeed. It hurts because someone views their current spouse as having no value. He's given up on her. She regards him as incompetent at best and inherently beyond help at worst. It hurts because children are left behind and it doesn't seem to matter anymore. It hurts because divorce says that anywhere else is better than here. It hurts because it is personal. It hurts.

I'm not at all suggesting that the pain a football fan feels from a player leaving is comparable to the pain felt when a marriage disintegrates. Rather, I'm sharing how the conversations around this year's NFL free agency  prompt me to remember and pray for my friends. The concepts are similar even if the emotions are worlds apart.

When life is dark we hang on to the smallest glimmers of hope. It's my prayer that in all of my friends' lives they will see God as one of those glimmers. It's easy to place God in the darkness. It's easy to blame him for the way life has collapsed. But where they are now is not a place God ever intended for them.

I know words seem empty to them. I know the church can't bring their loved one back. I also know that the church will still be there for them when no one else will sign them to a contract. When no one else wants us, God longs for us. I know words can't turn darkness to daylight, but maybe they can provide a glimmer...

Psalm 88 is a lament that contains a cry of desperation and no simple solution. It's devoid of hope as the writer describes their darkness. EXCEPT the psalm is written to God. Even in the deepest hurt where words of goodness sound shallow and empty, God is present. Sharing our hearts with God when we don't understand our life circumstances is often the greatest step of faith we can take.

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