This year I’ve been coaching Little League baseball. It has been a lot of fun, for the most part, because 12-year-olds experience the whole “Field of Dreams” mystique in a way that is lost on older players. It is also a marvelous thing to watch these young boys mature in the game as they learn to hit and field; to play as a team and not devour another player when he makes a mistake; to control one’s emotions (and they are often more accomplished at this than most of their parents in the stands); and to persevere in difficulty.
They also learn a little about faith, because in their natural state, they have very little of the stuff. How can I say such a thing? Well, they don’t trust their coaches, evidenced by the fact that they refuse to follow our instructions.
“Run!” the coach says. But they won’t budge. “Stay!” I scream, but inexplicably, they run. The admonition, “You can’t hit a fastball thrown above your hands,” is repeated to them for the umpteenth time in a game, but they keep swinging as if swatting at swarming flies.
This is more than a lack of discipline on their part. Twelve-year-olds, with minuscule experience on the field and with life, think they know more about playing the game than we three old men who are coaching them. It all comes down to faith, for the question put to these players time and time again is this: Will you trust me enough to do it my way?
That’s a lesson, not just for prepubescent boys playing baseball. That’s a lesson for everyone. Life will always come down to doing things your way or living God’s way. There is nothing else. You will trust you – what you can do, what you can see, what you can predict, how far you can go – or you will trust God – in what he can do.
Sure, you can go all “Invictus” with life and be “the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.” Admittedly, it will be invigorating to face the storms alone, to navigate the waters solo, and to call your own shots; at least for a while, but eventually it’s simply exhausting. Or you can hand the responsibility for your life over to God and allow him to direct and do with it as he pleases.
I think this is what Jesus was getting after when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” He wasn’t talking about self-inflicted punishment or depriving oneself of anything that is the least bit joyful. He was saying, “Don’t trust your own ego. Live the self-surrendered, self-sacrificed life.” Or if baseball had been Jesus’ field he might have said, “Don’t play the game your way. Trust the coach!”
In another phrase that Jesus used – and instructed us to use in what we now call the Lord’s Prayer – the life of faith is summarized in a single phrase. And if you can just once in life utter this prayer with sincerity, it will likely be enough: “Thy Will Be Done.”
Humanity has been managing its own destiny for more than a few millennia now, and while our knowledge and technical proficiency continue to grow, our measure of wisdom and common sense seems as stunted as ever. We have never, at least not for more than a generation, relinquished the clutching grasp we have on our perceived destiny. Yet, we aren’t really steering anything. We are strangling ourselves. We manage only to hurt others, our planet, ourselves, and our future with greater speed and efficiency.
So the decision is left to make, a daily choice though it may be, either to continue with our destructive ways or entrust the control of life and life’s events to God, trusting him with all outcomes. If we truly believe, we will choose the latter – the life of surrender – because we are what we do, not what we say we believe.