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  • Writer's pictureRichard Parrish

Keep Your Head in the Game

It wasn’t the first time I had retrieved a foul ball, but this time was different.

She picked up the errant baseball extending it toward me. “Here it is,” she said, smiling. I stood, stricken. Her hair fell softly on her shoulders, and her dark brown eyes matched her hair color.

It wasn’t the first time I had seen her. Autumn was in my class. Although I knew her name, I had never really noticed her — until now.

“Do you want the ball?” she asked.

I quickly took the ball while diverting my eyes. I hope she didn’t see me blushing, I thought. She saw me staring at her.

Words could not express my feelings. “Stunning” hadn’t become part of my vocabulary yet. The best this eleven-year-old boy could mutter was “WOW!”

One moment I was playing ball (my favorite pastime). Then, suddenly a girl caught my attention. In one unplanned and unexpected moment, Autumn had eclipsed the sun! My attraction to her – distracted me from my love of baseball!

There will always be an “Autumn” that captures our attention and competes with our priorities.

It isn’t easy to keep your head in the game if you’re attracted to something — or someone — else. That’s true whether you’re playing baseball, attending to your relationships, work, or education.

Whether you participate in Lenten season or not: it’s critical to identify distractions that hinder us from loving God.

In his wilderness experience, Jesus is keenly aware of temptations intended to redirect his attention from God:

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)

Jesus is fully aware of Satan’s enticement. He briefly and accurately summarizes Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20:

“You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

Jesus understands his priority. Maintaining our focus on God alone is what keeps our heads in the game.

Not all distractions are as attractive as the prospects of power, fame, fortune — or even a girl named Autumn.

Whether attractive or not: any diversion that obscures our focus from God encourages us to forget our priority. And without warning, we find ourselves on the sidelines, out of the game.

A teacher of the Law overheard a conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees (those known for their strict adherence to Moses’ Law).

In scribal circles, debates were common surrounding the 613 individual commandments of the Mosaic Law. This man is impressed with Jesus’ instructions. So he asks: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28).

Jesus’ reply goes beyond the commonly debated controversies of the Mosaic Law. He begins by reciting a creed familiar to faithful Jews — then and now; — one they pray twice a day:

“Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” [See Deut. 6:4-5]

It’s a necessary reminder for all of us. Although there are many attractive “gods,” the greatest commandment is for us to love and serve God alone. To obey this commandment requires all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

To love God with everything we have requires our personal, comprehensive, and unreserved commitment. In other words, we must remain in the game wholeheartedly!

Jesus adds a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When “hate” is widespread in our communities, we must remind ourselves: loving our neighbors is critical. But let’s not forget that to truly love our neighbors begins first, with our love of God.

It’s essential we keep the commandments in their order — God first, then we can demonstrate genuine love to others.

What’s capturing your attention? What is it that distracts you from loving and serving God alone? How focused are you on making sure you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?

These are questions I’m asking myself. I recognize that staying focused on God requires me to keep my head in the game.

With too many attractive diversions (like Autumn), and uncertainties in life, it’s essential to keep our heads in the game.


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