Aaron Craft is a former basketball player for The Ohio State University who currently plays professionally overseas with the Italian basketball club, Aquila Basket Trento.
God has used this COVID-19 pandemic to help me understand myself better and, more importantly, to draw me closer to Him.
But before I begin, I want to say to all the athletes and coaches with cancelled games, tournaments, and seasons that it’s ok to feel distraught and hurt. What I say will probably not make your feelings simply go away, but I hope maybe it can help reveal some of what God is trying to show, teach, or correct within us through this experience.
"I want to become an athlete of influence!"
Playing basketball has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember, and that’s probably very similar to your respective sports. We spend countless hours training and preparing to be the best. We think and strategize how to gain any advantage. We analyze film to correct our mistakes. Our sport is what we do! I believe this is one of the first things God reminded me of when the Italian government decided to postpone my season until further notice.
Basketball is just that: it’s what I do, not what defines me.
More than I’d like to admit, basketball tends to cross that line and starts to tell me how good or bad I am as a person. My performance in practice or a game dictates my emotions and feelings of worth. This is a dangerous place to find myself in with no team activities scheduled for quite some time. However, God graciously called me back to Himself when He compelled a friend to send me Psalm 62:5-7.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. - Psalm 62:5-7
Words that instantly jumped out at me were “hope,” “salvation,” and “glory.” They punched me in the gut because those are all shoes I know I’ve used basketball to fill over the last month.
True Hope, Glory, and Salvation
At times, my hope is tied to basketball on a daily basis. My mood easily swings depending on the type of practice I have. I expect a good shooting performance to give me the value I desire. Following a bad day I quickly convince myself tomorrow is another chance to find a groove and get my spirits back up.
Then comes glory. Isn’t that what we are all told to chase? I feel I have a shot at ultimate glory with every game I play. Maybe I’ll make an electrifying highlight, hit the big shot, get on SportsCenter.
Playing overseas does not usually garner much attention back home, but if I make a big enough play, maybe someone back home will notice and I can get some pub, if only for an evening. Then I repeat the process with the next game.
Then there’s salvation — something I think a lot of us dream our sport can give us. We hope our sport can save us from a myriad of things, but I think for me the biggest might be insignificance. I think if I win enough championships, collect enough stats, or earn enough money, I will solidify my spot in history. People will remember me as a “winner.” My performance can speak louder than the traits I would rather hide like pride and envy. I hope to create a version of myself revered and admired by myself and others, well after I’m finished playing.
That might sound pretty heavy or like too much of a stretch, and maybe it is for you. But I know I’ve viewed basketball through these lenses before and still tend to look through them from time to time. But neither basketball nor any other sport is able to carry that weight!
I have had zero team activities for the past two weeks, and for now, I don’t have one scheduled in the near future. With my hope, glory, and salvation wrapped up in basketball, how could I function?
How are you functioning?
That’s why I love the words in this psalm. They call us back to the only One capable of being our true hope, glory, and salvation. Hope in God roots itself in the very character of God. He chose to love me when I didn’t deserve it (Romans 5:8). He is not subject to change daily (like my ability to put a ball in a hoop). God offers me a glory beyond my comprehension because He offers me Himself. He gives me a glory that will not and cannot be surpassed by whatever happens or doesn’t happen, but includes everlasting joy in His presence (Psalm 16:11).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, God grants me salvation. Real salvation doesn’t hide my shortcomings but sees them, knows them, yet chooses to nail them to a cross with His Son Jesus in order to forgive them (Colossians 2:14). He offers deliverance for my soul resting on nothing I did, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22-25). His salvation declares that I’m loved and valued, regardless of how I perform or whether or not I even get the chance to play competitive basketball again. My friends, this is such good news.
I’m not sure why God saw fit to bring the sporting world to a halt, but I am starting to understand one reason He did so for me. And dare I say it, I’m glad for this time because He has opened my eyes to some of the foolish ways I’ve elevated basketball above Him.
What about you? You now have some free time at your disposal. Why not take a dive into your hopes? Uncover where you seek your honor and glory. Put into words what (or who) you expect to save you from the brokenness all around and especially within you.
Perhaps we will come out of this far better equipped for our sport than before.