“What was going on in your head out there on the field?” I asked him. “How did you manage to make it through the whole game?”
“I couldn’t think about anything,” he replied, “except just getting through the next play. Just one play at a time.”
This was part of the conversation I had with my 16 year old son, Connor, after a painfully arduous football game Friday night. He had been selected for the starting varsity lineup on both offense and defense – which means he was on the field for every minute of the bone-crushing three hour game: my sophomore son was facing juniors and seniors from the farm-burg of Sunnyside who outweighed him by 50 pounds or more. He played the game in nearly constant pain.
“The screws in my ankle got hit early on,” he explained, referring to the titanium hardware that repaired the leg he broke last football season, “so my lower leg became really sensitive and painful. Plus my shoulder and neck were bothering me – I got a real shoulder stinger at one point.”
“A shoulder stinger?”
“That’s where my whole arm just basically goes numb for a few minutes. And my head got hit so much that I was nauseous for most of the game. It was really tough. At one point I looked at the clock, feeling like I had played an entire game, and it was only the end of the first quarter.” (That first quarter was particularly tough for Connor’s Patriots because it was the first time all season that they had let any opponent get ahead of them on the scoreboard.)
“I knew then that I just had to lower my head and push through a long, long battle. A few of the mistakes I made in my position weren’t because I didn’t know the play, but just because I was in so much pain that I just couldn’t think clearly. This was definitely the hardest game I’ve ever played.”
I should point out that Connor is not a complainer; never has been. I had to coax this description out of him over several different conversations this weekend. And as he described his grueling ordeal to me, my mind was a mix between admiration for his tenacious stamina and parental guilt for even allowing him to endure such bruising punishment.
“Was this the hardest thing you’ve ever done?” I asked.
“It’s gotta be near the top of the list.”
“This coming from a guy who endured a marathon three-hour TaeKwanDo exam to earn your black belt a few years ago.”
“Oh, this game was much harder than that.”
I’m grateful that my son has a warrior’s heart. I don’t know where he got it from (certainly not from me!) His perseverance through painful challenges has often been an inspiration to me. He has endured more than his share of physical setbacks in his short life – facing them all with a mature resolve beyond his years. It makes me proud; but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to see him in a safer position on the team – like on the bench. The quiet prayer meetings that Valerie and I have in the bleachers every Friday night are nothing if not intense. We breath a sigh of thanksgiving every time we see #27 rise up out of a pileup. Sometimes it makes me regret we didn’t foster his love for Badminton instead. Or Parcheesi.
“So is it really worth it?” I asked, trying to find some way to let him back out of this commitment gracefully. “I mean, I’m ok with it if you want to quit.”
“No way, Dad. This is what I want to do. The pain is what makes it fun.” He says this as he is removing the tape from his jammed fingers and placing a half-dozen ice packs on his legs.
“Um, don’t you think that sounds a little crazy? You’re saying you actually like the pain?”
“It’s all about the team, Dad. If this was a solo sport, like boxing, I wouldn’t be interested. But being on team – facing adversity together and battling as a group – that’s what it’s all about for me; that’s what I love.”
Lord, thank you for giving my son the heart of a knight. Thank you for protecting him through another character-forging battle. And may the lessons that he learns on the grid iron forever shape the way he fights battles for Your kingdom.