In 1969 when I was ten years old I played on one of the worst baseball teams in the history of baseball—the Barnesville (GA) Little League Red Sox. We went 1-14 that year, although I am proud to say that our one win came in our next-to-last game of the season and was over the first-place Braves, a loss that cost them the league championship. I can still replay the last two outs in my mind; the Braves had runners on first and second with one out and two consecutive batters hit bouncing balls to our shortstop who threw to our sure-handed third baseman (me) for the force outs that ended the game. Our coaches took us all to the Dari Delite for hamburgers as a reward.
The Vacation Bible School at my home church, Midway Baptist Church located on City Pond Road four miles outside of Barnesville, was scheduled to take place at night one week sometime near the end of Little League season. My good parents, who customarily and habitually forced me to go to church any and every time the doors were opened, left it up to me to decide whether to attend Bible School or to participate in that week’s Red Sox loss. Given the quality of our team, it was not hard for me to choose Jesus over baseball.
In 1970 when I was eleven years old I played on one of the best baseball teams in the Barnesville Little League—the mighty, mighty Mets. We finished in second place because we could not for the life of us beat those pesky guys from Milner who comprised the Cubs but we won way more games than we lost which was a new experience for me. That summer, when the week for Midway’s Vacation Bible School rolled around, I chose baseball over Jesus.
That’s right—I was capable of hypocrisy even as a child!
Both years, my parents went to help at Vacation Bible School.
There was nothing unusual about my parents not being present at my baseball games; in fact, back then, it was not unusual for lots of parents not to be there. I guess our parents had other things to do that were important to them and if they could work in our ball game they would but they did not put our ball games first and everything else second. In fact, my best estimate based on my memory is that in my four years of playing Little League baseball, a span in which I played in some 75 games, my parents may have seen twelve of them.
It’s funny how I don’t remember feeling cheated or slighted in any way.
Things have changed and I think they’ve changed for the better. These days, parents do everything they can to be present at every game played by their children, which is some feat for those families that have two or more children involved in such activities. I think that showing such support to their children is an admirable thing for parents to do.
In the rural community in which I live and work, our Department of Leisure Services (DLS for short; it’s what they call the Recreation Department) not only does not schedule ball games on Sundays but also avoids Wednesday nights. As a pastor I certainly appreciate that, given that our church and other churches have important children’s activities on Wednesday nights, but having said that, I would also add that I would not get my halo in a knot if the DLS one day had to start scheduling games on Wednesdays if they had good reason to do so (too many teams and not enough fields, for example). After all, the DLS provides a great service to our community by providing recreational activities for all the children of our community and by bringing all the segments of our community together—I wish that our church congregations were as diverse as the crowds at DLS ball games. Besides, there is not and should not be an expectation that a government agency will accommodate its work to church schedules.
Still, I’m glad they do.
But they can’t always.
And so it happens that during this Holy Week there will be baseball games played in our community on Good Friday night and it will be the same all over the country. Now, I am not about to propose that parents force their children to skip their ball games that night and go to their church’s Good Friday service although it might be a good thing to at least let their children know that it is an option for them. After all, to be on a team is to have a responsibility to that team and we want to teach responsibility. On the other hand, if a Christian parent’s child says, “Mom and Dad, I really believe that I should to go to the Good Friday service and miss my ball game,” those parents should not only allow it but should praise their child for it.
I do have a suggestion regarding what parents should do, though.
I suggest that Christian parents say something like this to their children:
“You know how much we love you. We love you so much that you are the second most important thing in the world to us. Indeed, the only one that we love more than we love you is Jesus—and we want you to love Jesus more than you love us. One Friday a long time ago, Jesus died on the cross for our sins—for your sins. That’s why once a year the Church observes Good Friday. It is so very important that we stop on Good Friday and worship God for sending Jesus to die on the cross so that we could come to God and be saved. The most loving thing we can do for you is make sure you know how crucial our relationship with Jesus is. You know how much we love going to your ball games. But this one night—this Good Friday night—we are going to take you to your game and leave you there with your team while we go to the church to worship Jesus on the day that he was crucified.”
I hope that Christian parents—and grandparents and other family members—will take my suggestion seriously. Think of the valuable lesson that our children can learn if they come to understand that Jesus really is the most important person to their parents.
I hope, though, that Christian parents will remember that you can participate in a worship service every day of the week but your children will finally know of your devotion to the crucified Christ by the ways that you live your lives both in front of them and in secret every minute of every day.
But it’s up to you to teach the lessons that must be taught and to foster the development of the relationship with Jesus that must be developed.
Our children need to know how important they are.
They also need to know that there is One who is more important.