Over the past fourteen years, I’ve promised God so many random things. “Lord, I won’t kiss my wife ’til we’re married.” “Lord, I won’t watch a single movie this year.” And most notably, “Lord, if you wake me up at 10:32 tomorrow morning, I’ll try out for my high school football team.”
Yeah, the last one really happened. The summer after my junior year in high school, I had an aching desire to go out for the Northwest Mountie football team. I was a self-proclaimed basketball specialist- a single sport guy. And I’d never played organized football in my life, besides one short stint with a flag football team in sixth grade. While I tried to hide behind the “I wanna make it to the NBA” persona as an excuse for not trying any other sport out, I was really afraid of looking stupid and/or getting injured. The truth is I always wanted to be a football player. In fact, after I graduated college, I had this huge epiphany. “I’d rather throw on pads and a helmet than shorts and a pair Air Jordan’s.”
As soon as I uncovered my secret longing, I started rattling off emails to a plethora of small college football coaches with the subject line, “6’6″ 200 lb. Former Basketball Player Interested in Playing for you.” Every coach I contacted immediately replied. They even searched the NCAA and NAIA rule books to see if I could join their team while going for my master’s degree at their school. Each of them emailed me a second time and disappointedly announced that since I had already graduated, I would never be eligible for college football. It was too little too late.
Sometimes I wish that I had the same opportunity as Nicholas Cage’s character in Family Man– a movie where a successful executive gets to live life as it would’ve been if he hadn’t left his college sweetheart for a lucrative job opportunity. Except in my script, I’d be a junior in high school again and say, “God, if you wake me up at 10:32 tomorrow, I’ll try out for my high school football team.” After waking up at the prescribed time, which actually happened, I’d decide to try out instead of wimp out. Maybe the next scene would be a twenty-two year old version of playing for the Michigan Wolverines, or in the NFL draft, or maybe not. It’s really anybody’s guess.
Although I’m thirty years old and re-imagining a moment in my life that I’ll never get back, I’m no Uncle Rico. I don’t mope around all day, crossing my arms so that my biceps look bigger or blame all my current shortfalls and broken dreams on the decision that I made that morning. I’m a happy guy- a full-time musician. I have an intricate network of family and friends. And I’m getting married in three months. I love life. God is good!
That’s why I’m getting so sick of lying to Him. I barely ever lie to others, but I lie to Him consistently. “Lord, if you do this, I’ll…” or “Lord, I’ll never…” fill in the blank. Then I end up renigging on my promises or doing the exact things that I promised I wouldn’t do. And when my temporary short-term amnesia clears, it’s only because I’m drowning in the ice cold water of regret. Just last week, I flashed my middle finger at an opponent in a pickup basketball game. Tonight, I finished off a whole pizza out of greed, not hunger. Some of the commitments that I list might seem insignificant and even laughable to you. I don’t care.
They’re important to me because I’ve realized making little stupid decisions in life is like turning the wheel of your car a little bit off center. Pretty soon you end up in the ditch. Think of the guy who devours a few too many Kit Kat’s and Mountain Dew’s each day and ends up with diabetes. Or the family who spends so much time in front of the television they know the characters of their favorite shows better than the person sitting in the recliner next to them.
Our individual lives have so many directions and ditches to fly off into. After all there’s 359.99999 degrees in the circle of life that are wrong. There’s only .000001 degree that’s complete truth. Turns out “the straight and narrow” is extremely narrow.
I heard someone once say, “Love God, and do whatever you want.” Do whatever you want? Wait a second… So maybe it’s not about all these promises or crazy commitments. Maybe it’s just about taking every second of every day to love God. And when I fall short, I’ll get back up again and ask for His forgiveness. If I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, He’ll give me the courage to do the right thing. That’s why if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t say, “God, if you wake me up at 10:32, I’ll…” Instead, I’d just say, “Lord, I want to know you more. And as I get to know you, give me the strength and the wisdom to recognize and act on the desires you’ve put in my heart.”
Maybe “the straight and narrow” is more about an intense love and desire for God and less about rigid boundaries or committing to perfection. And maybe if I focus on God and His love for me and the people around me, I’ll start making the right decisions with the motive of love as the driving force instead of ambition, pride, or selfishness.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Lately I’ve focused so much on the ditches that I’ve forgotten to keep my eyes fixed on God and His kingdom of love and forgiveness. While I want to be aware of the traps on either side of the path, I don’t need to stare them down. This only causes me to desire them or fall into other traps like legalism or pride.
I don’t want to make outlandish commitments to God any more or say “Lord if you wake me up at 10:32 tomorrow morning, I’ll…” All of these promises are born out of self-righteousness and pride, not love. And while perfect love casts out fear, pride and foolish promises invite regret.
That’s why I’m sick of lying to God. I just want to know Him.