Our company has a set of really great tickets to the local minor league baseball team, just three rows behind the home dugout. This past summer, I got to use them to take my son to his first game. My wife and I took Jordan and his pal Victor, watched them gorge on hot dogs and sno-cones while dancing hilariously to every song blared over the loudspeaker, and had a grand ol' time.
Making the experience even richer was that the boys, who brought their baseball gloves, got not one... not two... but THREE baseballs that night! One was given by an older gentleman who had snagged a foul ball during batting practice. Another we caught ourselves. The third came when one of the fielders who had caught it as the final out of an inning tossed it into the crowd on his way back to the dugout. Of course, the moment that made me the most proud was when the boys, already with one ball each, decided that it would be nice to give the third one to a kid who hadn't gotten a ball yet. It was hard not to get a little misty watching my son seek out a younger boy of a different race and ask if he'd like to have a ball. I just love baseball.
Then came game two.
The next time we got to use the tickets, we took Jordan and his little sister. Again it was an idyllic evening, but this time... no foul balls. My son was hard to console on the walk to the parking lot. The little guy had no framework to understand what I was telling him: that of all the games I have been to in my life, I have never come away with a ball, outside of our last trip to the park. Most fans don't. The reason we bring our gloves just boils down to faith, hope. But he still couldn't get it. How could we have gotten so many balls last time, but none this time? What did we do wrong?
Game three came a few nights later. It was the sixth inning, and still no baseballs. Jordan was losing hope, getting a little grumpy. He looked up at me and said, "I've decided that if we don't get a ball I'm not going to be happy. If we do get a ball, I'm going to be happy."
Well... My 'teachable moment' alarm went off, but as usually happens, so did my 'not just for Jordan' alarm. I had a second to carefully consider what to say and use as an example.
I put my hand on his little Red Sox cap and bent down to whisper to him. "That's pretty wise what you said, son, and you might not even realize it. It IS your decision. Since that's true, if you wanted to, you could make a different decision. You might decide to be happy anyway, just because you're here with me, and not in bed yet, and watching a great game on a beautiful night, and hoping like crazy for a shot at a ball. That way, whether we get one or not, we still win, because we're still happy."
He didn't say anything, but somehow, I could tell I'd hit home, probably because his demeanor changed ever so slightly. Then, I spent most of the next inning silently considering the ramifications for myself of what I had just sold my son. Words from my own past and present came to mind. "If I get this job... if I don't hit traffic... if the house isn't a mess... if I get recognized for what I did... if I'm appreciated... if I get a raise... then I'll be happy..."
There's a reason why the Beatitudes intermingle the word "blessed" (meaning happy) with a lot of circumstances that don't sound altogether happy. Meekness, being poor in spirit, and making peace hardly seem like the parts of a happy life or time. But being happy based only on whether things work out how we think is almost as odd to consider as being happy at all because there's so much suffering and hardship around us, whether it's happening directly to us at the time or not.
Joy is consistent, happiness is fleeting, and blessedness is always going on whether we take time to recognize it. But when we do? It's like catching a baseball at every game you attend.
Incidentally, we did end up getting a ball in that third game. A player threw it to me, and a pre-teen snatched it out of my glove. But when he saw who I was catching it for, he handed it to Jordan. I didn't expect that, and neither did my son. That was the blessing that night. On the way out of the park, Jordan walked to the boy's seat to thank him, as did I. The kid was shy about it, possibly even regretting having given up his prize.
Intersecting Faith and Life: Do you ever regret showing mercy, doing right, or making peace? If life is like a baseball game, what do you think - should we attend expecting or not expecting a foul ball to come our way?
By Shawn McEvoy