By Geoff Holsclaw: pastor and professor, and baseball fan.
Baseball is the American pastime, marking our collective consciousness like no other sport. And it can help us remember what spiritual disciplines are for.
What other sport has influenced common speech like baseball?
She hit a home run!—means something went really well.
Get it in the ballpark.—means to offer an estimate.
He has two strikes against him. —means the odds are against you.
He struck out!—means to fail.
She threw me a curveball.—mean to do something unexpected.
Swinging for the fences.—means giving extra effort.
Playing hardball—means going to extreme measures.
What are other ones? I’m sure there are a bunch more.
Baseball as Spiritual Discipline
But beyond influencing our speech patterns, baseball also exemplifies formative spiritual disciplines.
Here are at least 5 reasons baseball trains us into spiritual disciplines.
1) Baseball is all about getting home.
The goal is to round the bases, and return to home plate. But you aren’t just returning to the beginning, but you return transformed—rewarded with a run.
Likewise, spiritual disciplines are all about reconnecting with God, our true home—changed and transformed in the process. Life isn’t just about winning. it is about returning to a place of belonging. As Augustine says, “We are restless until we find our rest in God.”
2) Baseball embraces failure.
On offense, the batter—even the very best of batters—fails around 70% of the time. Their success of reaching a base is just around 30%. And the likelihood of scoring is even lower. In football, if a quarterback only completed 30% of his passes, or if a receiver dropped 3 of 4 passes, they would be out of the league. And the same for basketball. That level of failure would be unacceptable.
But baseball is predicated on expecting and managing failure, embracing human limitation.
Likewise, spiritual disciplines help to humble us by highlighting areas of failure and limitation, helping us to embrace that these as places where God’s grace and goodness to flood in.
3) Baseball is focused on preparation as much as execution.
Baseball is all about focus and preparation between plays. The mind games going on between pitchers and batters are enormous, as each is trying to figure the other’s weaknesses, tendencies, and capabilities. One pitch is used to set up the next pitch. A long lead at first helps the man on third steal home.
Similarly, fielders have to know in advance what they will do when the ball is put into play (where to throw it or how to back up base or hit the cut off man—and that all changes depending on which bases the runners are at and how many outs there are in the inning. Thinking out every situation, preparing in advance, and then executing—these are all essential aspects of baseball.
Likewise, spiritual disciplines help us to reflect on and prepare for life. They help us to practice how we will live our lives so that when situations arise—when we encounter stress, tragedy, bitterness, or anger—we are already in the process of being conformed to Christ so that his life will live through ours.
4) Baseball is slow.
There are a lot of gaps in the action. The big events—hits and home runs—are few and far between. Fielders need to keep their edge between pitches. Batters need to keep their focus as the pitcher prepares. And all the fans need to wait.
There is a lot of waiting in baseball. Some even complain that it’s boring.
But like baseball, there is a lot of waiting in life. Life is full of boring routines, of focusing on the little things, of tending to the ordinary. Spiritual disciplines help us embrace the ordinary, the boring, the routine, as gateways for the extraordinary, the supernatural.
Just like baseball is always creeping forward, so too God is always present and active. What we do in the gaps often defines our lives.
5) Baseball has a really long season.
Baseball isn’t just slow within the game. It is a slow, long season. The longest season of the major sports. It is a marathon of sorts, requiring pacing, resting, and mental as much as physical fitness.
Likewise, spiritual disciplines prepare us for the long haul of life. They keep us spiritually fit through the twists and turns of life, rounding out our weaknesses and building on our strengths. Spiritual disciplines remind us that character and Christ-likeness are built over a lifetime, not just over the course of a month or two.
Watch a game or two—or 50 this spring and summer.
So, as the 2019 season opens, consider how your life might need to slow down, how you might need to focus on the little things, or how you might need to embrace your failures a bit more.
And while you are doing that, maybe sit down and watch a couple games, or a couple dozen. GO CUBBIES!