KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL
It was the 9th inning and my turn to bat. There were two outs, two runners on base and we were down by one run. I stepped up to the plate, my nerves were on edge, “Do not strike out,” I told myself. “You have got to hit these guys in.” As I took a couple of warm-up swings, 3 of the cutest girls in my class came right up behind the backstop and began to shout loud enough for me to hear, the most humiliating, degrading insults you can imagine about me. They were very hurtful and were really starting to mess with my concentration. Part of me wanted to take the bat and smash it against the backstop fencing right beside where their faces were and scare the crap out of them! In addition, the guys in the infield started to pick up on some of those taunts and began shouting them at me.
At that moment, these words kept running through my mind that my dad and coaches had told me over and over again, thousands of times. “Mark, keep your eye on the ball. Don’t take your eyes off the ball.” I just kept repeating that to myself, as the first pitch came, I swung and missed. The taunts got louder. Again, I took a practice swing, the pitcher wound up, the ball streaking to the plate, I swung and whack, that ball went sailing, hitting the outfield fence. I ran as fast as I could around those bases, my first ever triple! Two of our guys scored, putting us in the lead by one. Our next batter struck out leaving me on 3rd.
As I ran to the dugout, the coach grabbed my arm and said “Mark, I am putting you in left field, I need your defensive skills and your arm.” I remember how good I felt that my coach had confidence in me. I ran out to my position eager to play my part to help win this game, as this was now our opponent’s last time at-bat. Their first guy struck out, the next guy got a hit and was on first. The next guy struck out. Two outs and their heavy hitter came to bat, and his favorite place to hit was left field. I was crouching like a tiger, ready to run in any direction to catch the ball.
Suddenly that guy smacked the ball in my direction but sent it flying extremely high in its trajectory so that I briefly lost sight of the ball. I was running full blast toward the infield where I was sure it was going to land, and for the first time ever in my life, I overran the ball! I tried to make a backward lunge to leap and catch the ball, but it literally fell right behind me. I looked and felt like an absolute idiot. Those 3 girls were laughing, screaming, taunting me, and all of this was happening in milliseconds.
I remember thinking, “Mark, just turn around, find the ball, and throw the guy out at second base. Don’t lose your focus. Keep your head in the game.” I spun around as fast as I could, grabbed the ball on the ground, and with all my might threw that ball to the second baseman so his glove would catch it right at the runner’s sliding body, and wham, he caught the ball, tagged the runner and we won the game!!!
Those two events, 50 years ago at Bonebright Field, were my most thrilling sports moments. I have never forgotten them, and they are a reminder to us as fathers, of two of the most important lessons of our lives.
1. Never take your eye off the most important things. Do not let the things of this world, or the ridicule of others, distract you from what is most important.
Men, the world right now can be very, very distracting to your fathering. There are so many wicked and unjust things going on in America. There are so many things vying for our attention. You must keep your eye on the ball! Building your children’s character, preparing them for life, instilling genuine Christian faith, and authentic love for God in them, are the most important things. Do not let all the craziness and insanity of our times cause you to take your eye off the ball and get you worried, anxious, and mess with your head. Instead, allow it to fuel your passion and determination to work even harder to accomplish your mission with your kids, and beat the world at their wicked game!
Be very careful that your drive to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ does not cause you to lose your kids because of the gospel. Many pastors, missionaries, and active church laymen have lost their own kids to this wicked world because they were “too busy with the things of God”.
2. Fight through the discouragement that tries to swallow you alive, as you deal with setbacks, mistakes, injustices or heartbreaking obstacles that you are confronted with. Find a way to recover. Keep your head in the game!
I gotta be honest with you, I have had to fight through levels of discouragement that many times felt like it would swallow me alive and consume me, especially the last 3 years. Many times a voice screams inside of me, “Just quit Mark. No one is listening to you, you aren’t making any difference at all. You are completely irrelevant. All has been lost.”
Not a day goes by that I am not fighting for my life in some way or another.
I have revisited the story of David in 1 Sam. 30 so many times, as he and his men came back from a raid, and found all their children and wives had been kidnapped, their stuff burned to the ground by a war party of savage enemy warriors. David and his men are overwhelmed as they have already been running for their lives, and now this! They all begin weeping till they can weep no more. Then his men begin to angrily whisper and slander him saying, “This is all David’s fault. If we were not out trying to help David, leaving our wives and kids alone, this wouldn’t have happened. Let’s stone David to death, he deserves to die!”
This is a really bad situation. It is gut-wrenching, and David himself is overwhelmed by his loss and his men’s loss. Now on top of it all, he has to deal with the genuine fear his men may kill him!
Then we find these words, “And David encouraged himself in God”!
That passage has gone through my mind thousands of times in the last 46 years, and especially the last 3 years. “Run to God Mark. Run to God! Go talk to God! Go encourage yourself in God. Mark, God will help you recover, don’t quit. Keep your head in the game! Find a way. God will make a way, where there seems to be no way. God can make roadways in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
I have read and re-read countless times God’s promise after promise, Psalm after Psalm, strengthening myself in the Lord my God! I have recounted time and time again, all God has done for me in the last 46 years.
Men, we cannot afford to lose or quit the most important game of our lives, Our family!
Helping you become a Strong Disciple,
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Mark Darling