December 3, 2020

Carrying One Another

By Chaplain Mike

One of my favorite sports stories of all time comes from an incident that took place in a college softball game between Central Washington and Western Oregon in April, 2008.

Sara Tucholsky, a senior for Western Oregon, stepped up to the plate with two runners on base and did something she had never done in her 21 years of life. She smacked one over the fence. A three-run home run! So excited was she about this unlikely, timely display of power that she missed first base. Turning back to touch the bag, her right knee buckled, and she went down, crying and crawling back to first base.

What could she do? She was unable to walk and her teammates were not allowed, by rule, to assist her around the bases. The umpire let the coach know that if she could not proceed any further, the other two runners who scored would be counted, but she would only be credited with a single.

Then Mallory Holtman, Central Washington’s first baseman, spoke up and asked, “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?” The umpires huddled and ruled that her opponents could do that within the rules. So, Liz Wallace, the CWU shortstop ran over and she and Holtman picked up the injured Tucholsky and began carrying her around the bases. They lowered her at second, third, and finally home. As both teams and fans brushed back tears to see such remarkable sportsmanship, Sara Tucholsky celebrated her first home run, carried in the arms of her opponents.

What an unusual display of humanity! And of course it is all the more remarkable to imagine competitors bearing up a member of the opposing team, even when it cost them in the game. In this splendid way, a group of college softball players exemplified Paul’s apostolic exhortation: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

In a January 25 article for the Christian Century, Rodney Clapp puts an another unusual spin on this practice of bearing one another’s burdens.

He writes about times when we feel “spiritually incapacitated.” Have you experienced what he is talking about? When trying to describe what it is like, those well-versed in the spiritual life sometimes use the imagery of being spiritually “dry.” Pictures of the desert, wilderness, and drought come to mind. Others have portrayed this condition by referring to darkness, exile, or alienation. When Clapp speaks of being “incapacitated,” sports illustrations come to mind. Sara Tucholsky became incapacitated when she injured her knee. Playing in the game any further was out of the question. Her opponents would have to carry her. A teammate would have to take her spot on the field and in the batting order.

Whatever metaphor or illustration we use, a key characteristic of such spiritual seasons is that we find it hard to pray. God seems far off, and we lack the energy and desire to seek him. A thousand and more reasons may account for this. But no matter what the cause, we find ourselves without a prayer.

It is at times like this, says Rodney Clapp, that we need to consider the ministry of bearing one another’s burdens.

It is then, perhaps more than at any other time, we need others to pray for us.

I mean the for in two senses. Of course we need others to pray for us in terms of what ails or worries us. We need prayer for the healing of a cancer or for coping with the death of a loved one—or for the return of more robust faith. This is the usual, and highly important, sense in which we think of praying for others. But we also need others to pray for us in the sense of praying in our stead, praying prayers to substitute for our weak or absent prayers.

I found this to be such a gracious and loving thought!

When I can’t pray, my brothers and sisters can pray in my stead. They can fill up what is lacking in my devotion. In sporting terms, they can substitute for me when I’m injured, pinch-hit for me when all I’m doing is striking out. I can go to the bench for awhile and know that someone capable can play my position while I’m out. If I need to, I can go to the trainer and rehab until I’m fit to take my position once more. I’m just one player on the team, and there are plenty to take my place. And the opposite is true as well. As a member of the team I may be called upon to step up and step in to substitute for an incapacitated teammate.

In such situations, Clapp encourages us to give: (1) permission and (2) a promise to each other.

  • First, let us give permission to one another not to pray when we are beset by spiritual drought or overwhelmed by life’s burdens. It is OK if we have to go on the spiritual disabled list once in a while. Why should any believer think he or she has to be a spiritual hero, always giving the impression of being on top of his or her game? We can help each other know when it’s time to take a break and that it is alright to do so.
  • Second, let us give a promise to one another that we will take up the slack for those who can’t “play” at any given moment. If you can’t pray for awhile, I will redouble my prayers in your stead. As Rodney Clapp says, “This is what the church is for; this is why prayer is plural (Jesus prays to “Our Father . . .”). We are all in this together. Like the marines, we will leave no man or woman behind. We will carry our wounded.”

There are many occasions when I stumble and fall, injured and incapable of continuing in the game. In fact, it could happen that I might be out for the season. And you may find yourself in the same situation.

At such moments, may God grant us grace to carry each other.

Comments

  1. Chaplain Mike,

    I’m going to be honest here. The first thing that came to mind was that these young Central Washington ladies would have been booed in Philly. They boo everybody. 🙂 Then I thought, “what a wonderful gesture, I wonder where Mike is going with this.”

    Although I haven’t had many other Christians give this kind of aid in our last several years of hardship, I do have somebody out there that prays all the time. It’s not much, but when I realize that somebody is really taking that time to pray, it makes things a bit easier. They’re the people you’ll tell first when things get better.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Philly fans get a bad rap. Last season there was a game at Philly where an idiot ran out onto the field. The security people were circling about aimlessly trying to trap him. As the guy was running around, he went by the outfielder for the Atlanta Braves (hardly the most beloved of divisional rivals!). The outfielder saw his opportunity and took the guy down, letting the security people catch him. The fan reaction? The Braves outfielder got a standing ovation.

      Philly fans are a demanding bunch. A halfhearted effort doesn’t cut it. But they respect full effort, whether from their side or the other side.

  2. Once, when going through a hard time, I confided to a lovely nun, “I am so upset, I can’t even pray!”. She said, “Who says you have to use words to pray? Do you think God hasn’t felt your pain?” That changed my prayer life forever!
    As mother I find I constantly carry round at least one of my children every day, lifting them up to God in prayer.
    But your analogy of carrying the opposing team around – that is the challenge. How many people would actually be brought to the foot of the cross if we truly carried them there in prayer every day?

    • Thank you for sharing your story about the nun that helped you. I think we may both know the same nun. That kind of encouragement is so real and so meaningful that you never forget it.

  3. My husband and I were living in Kyrgyzstan, a Muslim country, on 9/11/2001. People were touchingly kind to us shortly after the attack, even strangers, but as the US prepared for war we became concerned about how we would be treated. Several weeks later a KGB (secret service) man came to our house. I was convinced that we were in trouble, maybe even were going to be told to leave the country. My response was defensiveness — so much so that it took me a while to realize what he was saying. He had come to make sure we were all right! He was telling me that if any of our neighbors gave us a hard time we should come to him for help.

    I was reminded of this incident when I read about the sympathy of those expected to be opponents. It happens frequently enough, but the sad thing is when those you expect to be your friends and supporters try to cut you down. That also happens from time to time. Grace comes from unexpected places.

  4. “spiritual disabled list”

    I know about that list. I have been on that list.

    Touching story about the competitors carrying the injured woman from base to base, Chaplain Mike.

  5. Thanks, CM. I just forwarded this on to the members of our potential church plant. One of our goals is to build healthy community with each other, and this paints a beautiful picture of this.

  6. I went through a period of spiritual disability several months ago. God was nowhere to be found, He wasn’t answering except to pile on more heat and more pressure, and He certainly wasn’t doing what everyone said He would do if I obeyed like I was supposed to. Between that and my schedule at work, I barely had time to take care of my family, let alone my own prayer life (which seemed pointless anyway).

    I cried out via an IM conversation to a Peruvian brother that we met on a missions trip last year, and he said the very same thing to me — “If you can’t pray, don’t worry about it; let others pray for you.” And he proceeded to do exactly that. It was the first time another Christian had ever ministered to me that way, and it was beautiful. Bearing someone’s burden for awhile means we have to be willing to get down in the dirt with that person; if the Church would do that, it wouldn’t need stupid gimmicks to attract people to Jesus.

  7. I also have the experience of carrying an injured ballplayer. My case doesn’t quite match up the the one Chaplain Mike cites, though.

    The injured player was my teammate, and I was the base coach who waved him around third and sent him on to a close play at home. With my shouts of, “Go, go , go!” ringing in his ears, he raced toward home for all he was worth, turned his ankle on the plate and broke it. I heard it go ‘pop’ from 90 feet away.

    I helped carry him off the field, and later I helped his family move to a new house while he hobbled behind on crutches. I don’t think that makes up for me sending him into the situation where he broke the ankle in the first place. But maybe that is part of the lesson. We can’t all be part of a “most inspirational” scenario, but we all have chances to bear one another’s burdens.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    All I can say about this is I’ve never been much of a praying man, so you guys are going to have to carry my load while I fulfill other things.

  9. This is a great post.

    The problem is American evangelicalism’s obsession with growth, seekers and converts. An established member with a problem is just a burden which takes time and resources away from closing the deal with someone with a real problem (in other words, someone with a “felt” need which can be exploited to add someone to the member rosters).

    • “obsession with growth, seekers and converts”

      Ouch. The truth in that comment gave me chills.

    • Dumb ox….here’s one thing to remember about Christianity in the United States….

      It’s a business!!!!!!!!!!!! They follow a business model, market themselves, develop growth stratregies (sound like Countrywide, Wells Fargo, or dare I say Enron?) and push a product in a commercial sense.

      The only thing many evangelical churches have not done is ask for a bailout like AIG, Lehman, etc..

      Remember Christinaity in this country is nothing but a business….

      Okay..I’m making dinner 😀

  10. I hate to keep harping…but in my experience when I was a Christian, I leanred that Christians know how to kick someone when they are down and execute their own. This happened to me, it was a bitter, horriffic lesson to learn. And it’s the main reason why I keep Christians at great distance. There are few that I’m willing to associate with, and when someone identifies themself as a Chrisrtian or a “follower of Christ” already my defenses go up and I’m on alert.

    So again…stories above are nice but evangelicals taught me they are not the norm. Christinas executing their own is and will continue to be the norm.

    • Funny, any time a tradesman, (i’m a painter), like a plumber, carpenter, etc. advertises themselves as a Christian I tend to shy away. I don’t want them to preach the gospel to me, fix my toilet, and overcharge me. Just fix my toilet.

      • Yup Chris, that’s me, too. If a business uses a fish logo or other overt sign that says “WE ARE CHRISTIANS,” they don’t get my patronage.

  11. Denise Spencer says

    I love this! I’d never heard that story before. Thanks, Mike.

  12. Recently I have been faced with a major situation of loving someone fully and carrying their burdens.

    I’ve been shown an acute amount of grace in my life. I am convicted to walk that grace out now. In real life time. Not words, not Bible verses, but day to day life. Though it’s not familiar to me.

    Strange. I’ve always wanted to be so different from the Christians I’ve known……I just didn’t know how hard it would be.