Suburbia and The Idolatry of Sports

August 20, 2008 — 3 Comments
You shall have no other gods before me.”
Exodus 20:3 (ESV)

You see them blanketed on the windows of minivans and SUV’s darting to and fro in the suburbs – stickers in the form of basketballs, baseballs, cheerleader megaphones, ad infinitum – adhesive messages which, for many, unfortunately proclaim to the oh-so-disinterested masses what recreational idol has consumed their child’s life. And because many suburbanite parents hazardously revolve their world around their kids, the entire family is caught paying homage to these false gods of gridiron, diamond and tumbling mat.

Exaggeration? I’d like to think so but when I watch parents magically transform into over-caffienated bus drivers zipping their kids around to every event that has a jersey and a final score for each and every one of their progeny, it looks more like family NASCAR than family fun. Recently I spoke with a parent in my congregation who was extremely agitated at the number of weekly practices his kid would have to participate in when pee wee football began this fall. The number? Four, plus games on Saturdays. You have to be kidding me! Others who have their kids in club-related sports say the time commitment can be even worse. Add another brother or sister and you’ve got the making for a lifestyle that may already teeter on the verge of insanity.

What’s more frightening is that many a Follower of Jesus doesn’t even blink. Like lemmings they undiscerningly follow the masses over the cliff to dash their spiritual health on the rocks of suburbanite expectations of kids and sports duped into the myth that this is “normal life”. This frequently forces them to drop something from their weekly schedule. Often church and anything related to it becomes the first causalties. If I’ve seen it happen with one family I’ve seen it happen to a hundred of them: a family is faithful and energetic for living out the mission of Jesus both personally and corporately then Lil’ Jonny and Jill reach an age where they can get in organized sports (which in suburbia seems to be almost disturbingly younger and younger). So they join this or that club sport and then “POOF” – the family essentially vanishes. They show up at church maybe once every other month, their personal devotion takes a nosedive and while the kids excel in hitting a ball and sticking that landing, they have little hearts for the things of Jesus.

It is idolatry. Plain and simple. It is giving your heart and life to that which only should be reserved for God. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the damage it takes on the Christian soul, in both a personal and familial sense. No question, it is one of the great golden calves of suburbia.

Am I anti-sports? Not at all. I grew up playing sports with my two other brothers. My parents are both great athletes and coached us throughout our childhood. I love sports and think kids should play them. (See my earlier post Hope on the Hardwoods) Participating in team sports helps children learn about community, dealing with success and failure, and so very much more. The problem is that instead of being an aspect to life sports become our life – both kid and parent. As a result, these activites become a black hole which continually holds families within its disastrously powerful grip.

That’s why my family has chosen to limit how much organized sports our kids will participate in. I currently have three boys and we are seeking a rotation, if you will, that will have one child in an organized sport at a time. What we’ve found is that gives us margin to have lifestyles with a healthier pace. We don’t look at other aspects of our lives (e.g., church involvement) as burdensome. Will we ever have times where mutilple kids are playing in the same seasons? Probably, but hopefully that will be few and far between.

Our sincere aim is to fight against the suburban legend which says our lives should have a huge chunk of it given to our kids involvement in sports. But if you can sit still and gain some clarity, I believe many would realize that the demands it makes on our lives time-wise exposes it for the idol it truly is. Parents look at the trajectory of your family concerning this area of your lives. Does this help grow or retard growth? Is the pace of your family glorifying to God? Are your kids stronger for Christ and his cause as a result of the lifestyle you lead them in living? Do you get more bent out of shape that they didn’t perform very well on the field or that they didn’t spend time in God’s Word throughout the week?

Hopefully, Followers of Jesus who live in suburbia will make wise, even if countercultural, choices that might leave us with images of sports covering our windows without covering our hearts.

Yancey Arrington

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Lover of All Things Texas. Acts 29 Network Fan. Redemption Hound. Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in League City, Texas. Author of TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You.

3 responses to Suburbia and The Idolatry of Sports

  1. it’s so easy for us to feel that we’re not giving our kids something that they deserve when we choose to limit their intake in any area, be it fun or stuff or junk food. thanks for the call to make countercultural choices.

  2. First of all, thanks for your blog. I have been a ‘sans comment’ reader for some time now. It has been very thought provoking and challenging for me.
    This post has been timely as I am seeking to put more ‘margin’ in my life these days… One thought… don’t you think that this form of idolatry can happen in a lot of areas in our lives, even with church related activities? It takes a lot of guts to stand up and hold your family and marriage as a priority high above anything else. The pressure can be even greater among our Christian church friends I think. Any pointers on keeping this balance? :o)

  3. Yancey Arrington August 25, 2008 at 4:06 am

    Good question Sarah. Yes, I believe other things (e.g, shopping, working out, AND church activities) can also take up inordinate space in our lives if we’re not continually examining our heart and pace in life. And that’s really the only advice that pops in my head at the present – it’s regularly stepping back and looking at your life asking, “Is this weekly pace and involvement really glorifying God?” I think we have to be intentional about setting apart time (possibly an evening away from the house once a quarter) to evaluate how we handle our time.

    I don’t know if we ever get balance. Frankly, I tend to think the notion of balance is a myth because everyone will be involved with different things to different degrees. I focus on rhythm. Does my life have a rhythm to it that is moving me more toward Christlikeness and Kingdom effectiveness? That’s what I shoot for and realize more and more that suburbia tends to promote certain things (e.g., kid sports) that in truth wreak havoc on a healthy rhythm for me. But I don’t think I’m the only one.

    Okay, that’s what I’ve got in my head at about 11PM. Thanks for asking!

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