My wife and I had the privilege of spending the month of February in Arizona. At the community where we stayed, we discovered a very well organized and active Pickleball club. While we had played the game some before, we had never been a part of a club setting such as this. It was highly social, people were friendly and everyone came with their appropriate garb, court shoes, and matching backpack (except us!). However, there was also a real sense of seriousness about it all. It was competitive, it was highly structured, training was offered, players were “rated” according to their skill level, and there were court rules and etiquette that were to be followed – and if you didn’t you were gently reminded of them. There seemed to be multiple tournaments going on, but you could only participate if your rating matched the tournament rating, and court availability on certain days was often according to a person’s “rating.” I found this “world of Pickleball” all quite fascinating and somewhat amusing. One day I wryly said to my wife, “Down here, Pickleball is a religion.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoy the game – and I like its competitiveness! In fact, I like sports; I played sports; I watch sports: baseball, football and hockey, so this is not an attempt to bash the world of sports. However, sports are not, and never will be a religion to me. But in our western culture, I would suggest that sports have too often become our religion – our god at whose altar we worship. Consider the current Stanley Cup playoffs – people not only fill the arenas, paying absurd prices to be there, but also fill the streets outside the stadiums creating pandemonium every time their team scores. Professional athletes are paid ridiculous amounts of money to play a game because the “faithful” continue to cough up the soaring prices for tickets. In small town Canada, we pack our kids all over the place in order to compete in sporting events in the slim hopes that some will make the “big-time.
None of these things are necessarily “wrong” in and of themselves (I’ve done them myself), but they should make us ask some deep questions concerning our life priorities. Sports become a religion when they become an all-consuming priority and passion – actually, they become our god. We display much more passion towards our favourite team than we do in our worship of God. And yet God told the nation of Israel, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Have sports come before the true God in your life? Do sports come before worship? Do sports interfere with your relationship with God? Whenever sports have the priority of attention and affection over God in our lives, they have become an idol. Think about that!
Enjoy your Pickleball or whatever your sport, but don’t allow it to become a religion.