I am a huge college basketball fan. Well, actually I am a huge Duke Basketball fan, which means I tend to know more about college basketball than any other sport. This week is the Duke-Carolina game – one of the biggest rivalries in the country and certainly one of the biggest sporting events all year in my home. What is so great about the rivalry is that no matter what the rankings are for either team at any point in the season, and whether the game is played at Duke or at Carolina, you never know who will win. Something about the intensity of the rivalry means that no matter how dominant one team might normally be that season, and no matter what advantages being the “home” team might bring a team, there is very little way to predict how the game will evolve. Consequently, watching the Duke-Carolina games each season make me intensely nervous and anxious. In fact, as I have gotten older, I have even turned the TV off when I get so stressed.
I have been thinking about that phenomenon and wondering what in our faith life is like the anomaly of the Duke-Carolina game. Where in our lives do our normally highly functioning spiritual selves get short circuited? I have begun to wonder whether my prayer life might be the Duke-Carolina game in my faith journey. There are times when I feel like my prayer life is solid – I find a practice that I really love and I find that keeping the practice is easy and enriching. But then I have weeks when I get to the end of several days and cannot remember the last time I prayed. Or I realize that instead of sitting down in the empty church for a time of prayer each morning, I have just starting praying as I pass through, not feeling like I have the time to really stop. Sometimes the season – in particular Lent – makes me more disciplined. But even the steady rhythm of Lent does not guarantee that I am steadfast in my prayer life.
The truth is, whatever the Duke-Carolina hiccup is in your faith journey, I am not sure there is much you can do about it. Much like neither team can seem to master the intensity of the rivalry, I think we will always have a flawed area in our faith life. Perhaps knowing that fact will allow us to not be so hard on ourselves and enjoy the ride. Certainly that does not give us permission to sit back and pretend things are out of our control. Neither team goes into the Duke-Carolina game resigned to lose. Our task is to keep on trying, to keep tabs on when we are getting slack, and to slap the floor, and get back in the game!