What does football have to do with grace?



It’s hard to adquately describe what happens inside of me when I watch my boys doing something they love.  But if you’re a mom, you don’t need me to explain it.  You already know it. You, too, feel it in your bones.  The pride. The joy. The limitless love.

This weekend was jam-packed with sports- the thing my boys love more than anything else.  They have their favorites, and right now it’s football, soccer, and golf. In that order.  In our family, you don’t really have a choice about loving football. We’re a football family.  Better said, we’re an Auburn family and a Florida State family.  Thankfully, we aren’t in the same conference so it helps us keep the peace around here.

On Sunday, Cal played in his first tackle football game. After three years of flag, he was ready, in his words, "to lay someone out!"

It’s innate - The desire in boys to physically pummel someone.  It’s mystery #81 in raising boys.

I have to tell you, I truly thought my heart would burst.  I know. That’s an overused expression. But it’s exactly how I felt as I watched my son, Cal, suited up in pads, with a helmet three times the size of his head, wearing a jersey with the name “CUNNION” crowning the #12 on his back.



I just stared at him on the field, fighting back the tears, thinking, “He was just nine months old.  And suddenly, he’s about to be nine years old.”

Lord, it’s going too fast.  Make it slow down.  This baby boy of mine is quickly turning into a man and there is still so much I want to teach him before I give him wings to fly.


I watched Cal play the game he loves. I cheered for him. I prayed for him. I yelled unhelpful instructions to him. (I’m working on getting better at that one.) I jumped up and down for him.  I couldn’t help it. That’s my guy and I love him so much.

And then there was this very surreal moment when, I believe, God put the thought in my mind, “Jeannie, just as you love YOUR CHILD that much, so I love you, MY CHILD, but infinitely more.”

As the game continued I watched Cal play his heart out.  But ……. I also saw Cal get frustrated with his teammate when he made a mistake.  This has always been something Cal has struggled with- giving teammates grace.  And why? Because he has a hard time giving himself grace when he fails.  He is so hard on himself and he doesn’t like to lose, in anything, but especially sports. So when his teammate makes a mistake Cal is more prone to throw his hands up in the air and growl than to go to his defeated teammate and give him a pat on the butt (another thing boys do that I don't understand) or a quick soundbite of encouragement.


Therefore encourage one another and build each other up  ~

1 Thessalonians 5:11


When the game was over, I, of course, praised Cal for giving 100% and playing his heart out.  I told him how incredibly much I love watching him do something he loves. And I told him how proud I was to be his mama.   After a long hug I asked him if there was anyting he felt he could have done differently.  He had a few things, but they were all about how he played the game.  So I asked again, “Is there anything else you could have done differently?  I was thinking more along the lines of the kind of teammate you were out there.”

“Yeh mom.  I know.  I got mad at my teammate when he missed a big play.”

"Will you listen to a story for a minute Cal?"

"Sure, mom"

"We talk a lot about treating others the way we want to be treated.  Right?"

"Yep," he replied without hesitation. He knows this verse well. We use it a lot around here.


 ~  Matthew 7:12


I continued, "So what would you want a teamate to do if you made a mistake in the game?  Yell at you or encourage you to keep going?”

"Encourage me."

"Okay, last question......Can you help me understand what you think getting mad at your teammate does to him?  Do you think it helps him do better next time or does it just make him feel worse?"

"Feel worse."

"Well, Cal, I’m thinking this is a lot like the gospel."

He knew I was about to give him some Jesus. That wasn't the plan actually.  I'd never before understood what football has to do with grace but God made it clear in that moment.

"When we mess up, does God come to us angry, frustrated, yelling, 'What were you thinking?  How could you have messed that up so badly?  Next time, do it better. Try harder! Man you're a disappointment.'”

Or does God come to us in kindness, with compassion, full of GRACE, abounding in LOVE? Desiring to rescue us and empower us with His spirit?

"The last one," Cal said, a smile beginning to spread across his face.


 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  

~ Psalm 103:8


Knowing his attention span was waning, I said,......

"I promise this is the last thing I want you to hear.......

You can play hard AND give grace.  You can do both.

I want to encourage you to ask God to live through you out there. When you feel like your anger or frustration is going to get the best of you on the field, just pray, 'Jesus help. Give me your grace to give my teammate.'

While it’s a beautiful thing to watch you play the game you love and grow in the giftedness God has given you, it’s significantly more important to Daddy and I that you see this as an opportunity, like everything else in life, to grow more and more into the man God made you to be. To grow in Christ-like character.

You know, while I watched you play, I felt so much pride and so much love in my heart for you.  I could barely stand it.  And you know what, God reminded me in that moment that His love is infientely more wild for you, and for me, than anything I could ever understand.  And at the end of the day, that is all that matters to me.  That you know how wide and how deep and how high and how long God’s love is for you.  And in the meantime, I am going to enjoy every second of watching you play the game you love."


Cal smiled.

I'm not sure how much he absorbed. But I do know that I'm thankful for the gospel.



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