The Panthers aren't doing well this season. This reminds me of a story ...
January 22, 2006: Why can’t I stop brooding about a stupid football game?
An hour earlier I’d turned off the TV disappointed at the Carolina Panther’s dismal showing in the NFC championship game. The 34-14 score said it all. I hadn’t expected the Panthers to make it to the Super Bowl when the playoffs started, but they’d done well in the first two rounds. Then this night against the Seahawks they had been completely flat.
If left to myself that night, I would have done one of two things. I could have gone to bed, trusting that in the morning I’d only feel a brief tinge of regret at the sad outcome. Or I could have gotten on the computer and rejoiced in my human skill and intelligence triumphing over the villainous yet stupid artificial intelligence that vainly sought to conquer my empire.
But I didn’t have either option. I had volunteered for security duty at my work place, which meant driving around the campus for two hours making sure every door was locked and building alarms had activated successfully. Perhaps the worst thing to do when you’ve just seen a disappointing football game and want to take your mind off of it.
But I really couldn’t believe how bummed I was feeling about the game. Why did it affect me so? First, I’m an intellectual. I know better than to get caught up in these mindless spectacles of popular culture. Second, I’d only lived in North Carolina for eight years, I was hardly a life-long Panthers fan. Now if the San Francisco 49ers had a really bad game in the playoffs, I might conceivably feel a brief pang of regret.
The thought came to offer my feelings of frustration and regret to God in prayer, and ask for his help. I dismissed the thought, this was hardly a spiritual issue. Twelve hours from now, I wouldn’t be worried at all about the game. What personal stake did I have in the outcome anyway? But I remembered an earlier reflection I'd had on prayer. No need is too big to bring before the Lord in prayer, since he is greater than any of our difficulties. But also is it not also true that no need is too small to bring before the Lord in prayer, since he calls us to live in relationship with him? Does not the Scripture say that he works in all things for good?
My skeptical mindset retorted that Paul hadn’t written that verse about football games. Could I seriously expect that when I get to heaven the Lord would show me some great blessing he worked in my life because the Panthers lost the NFC championship this day in 2006?
I decided to go with my impulse. “Lord, I know this is really trivial, but for what its worth, I’m bummed about that football game. I know I won’t be bummed about it tomorrow morning, but could you help me tonight.”
I can’t remember that my mood changed much after that prayer. There was no sudden sense of peace, and no angelic messenger brought tidings of great joy for the next season. Like I had predicted, the next morning I had only the briefest pang of regret about the game.
The next Saturday, in my quiet time, something reminded me of my prayer that evening when I was upset about the Panther’s game. I had the impression God was telling me he approved of my honesty in bringing that frustration to him in prayer. How odd, I thought, my skeptical mind had insisted that there could be no blessing coming to me from that disappointment, and yet here was a blessing.
Was there a larger lesson in this? If God values honesty in prayer, even over very short term disappointments like your team losing a game, how much more would he welcome honesty over the big issues in our heart. Yet I often fail to lay my emotions before the Lord. Why? Sometimes its my pride—the thought that I can handle this, or the desire to pretend that I’m not really upset. Or it doesn't seem like a pious thing to do, which shows I haven't been paying attention when reading the Psalms. Or else I think that since God has allowed this painful circumstance in my life, he either does not care or is not going to help me cope with the emotions.
But what if God wants to help me cope, but waits for me to ask for help? Why not level with him what I'm really feeling, since he knows I feel it anyway?