pastoral/spiritual care

Pigskin, Prayer, and Providence

I have heard that theologians from centuries past used to debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Or was it rabbis who did the debating? I am not sure. How about the seemingly simple and non-emergent question: Does God really care who wins the National Championship in college football tonight? I can fondly and anxiously remember my younger days (older childhood and teenage years) of hoping and even silently “wishing and hoping” (Is that prayer?) that the rain would stop in time so that my little league baseball game would not be rained out. Talk about lack of focus in 6th grade math class! No wonder my grades were average! I was more focused on getting the chance to wear my uniform (the A’s and the Cubs to name a few) than listening to how to do pre-algebra. After all, playing catcher and trying to hit the ball were much more fun than doing math homework. There were some sad afternoons and evenings when the coach or coach’s wife would call (no email then) and say the game had to be cancelled. Other days my prayers and hopes had been heard and seemingly answered. Thank goodness for answered prayers. 

Fast forward from the 1970s to 2010--from King of Prussia, PA to Charleston, SC. Picture the chaplain going into the Ashley River Tower chapel on that awesome night (June 29, 2010) when the Gamecocks won the National Championship in NCAA Division 1 Baseball. Picture this chaplain going into the chapel and praying (I have tears in my eyes even now) asking God to allow the University of South Carolina to win one for the “old timers,” those who had been long-suffering through very average Gamecock sports through the last century. I am almost embarrassed to say I prayed that prayer, but I did.

In the hospital, I kiddingly and seriously tell people that I very rarely pray for “my team” to win. There are a lot more serious concerns in life, such as kids beating cancer, adults praying that the biopsy is negative, and getting a good report that surgery is not indicated as first feared. So, I tend to reserve my prayers for times when people really need God like never before. Praying for the Gamecocks to beat Kentucky on a beautiful fall, blue sky day in October--No. Praying for a child to wake up and to have no serious brain damage after his parents’ car was hit by a drunk driver--Yes. 

Tonight in the National Championship game, neither of the football teams is “my team.” I have a pick but it’s not life or death. It’s just a football game. Will God decide the winner? The game will be decided by the hard work, preparation, and skill of the players and coaches. Will the die-hards from each team be praying? Maybe so. Maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be. We should question our motives for prayer. Why are we asking and what are we asking for from God? Do we want to win for selfish reasons? Is there something “higher” at stake such as “God’s glory,” or winning it for the fans who have never won before? I have more questions than answers. I am about as uncertain as the ESPN pundits and fans who are divided on their pick. 

The team who plays best tonight will win. That is almost certain. God is going to be at the game because God is with the players and the coaches and fans. God has given us free will and the chance to compete in athletic games and the game of life. Above all else, we know God has a plan. Is that plan for one team to win and another team to lose? No, not in my opinion. Rather God’s plan is for the team and all the rest of the people to enjoy the game. So, let the game begin and pray if you must! 

Dear God, be with all of the players and coaches and fans tonight. Thank you for the game of life. Amen.

-- Chaplain George M. Rossi


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