A few weeks ago around the start of March I found myself feeling like a little kid — the same as I do every year in March — excited about all that March and this Spring were about to offer.
Like any sports fan, the month of March is one of the most iconic and exhilarating months in the sports calendar. For me, I was excited about watching my alma mater Western Kentucky make a run toward the NCAA Tournament, and I was planning this weekend around the potential of them playing for a Conference USA championship (probably to fall just short in the championship game for a third straight year, but that’s beside the point).
This month also meant four shows — a comedy show featuring Trey Kennedy and my friend Jake Triplett (which we got to go to before their tour was postponed), a Lauren Daigle/Johnnyswim concert in Evansville, Beauty and the Beast featuring my 10-year-old nephew and Matilda featuring my 7-year-old niece. I’ve been so excited to see them perform their shows because I know how excited they were to be performing them.
My final season coaching high school tennis was set to begin on March 16, and I’ve been so looking to one more run with a program that’s meant so much to me, particularly with a group of seniors who were freshmen on my first team. I’ve gotten to see them grow up, and I was so excited to coach them their senior year. This is also the most talent we’ve ever had on the girls team since I’ve been the coach, so what coach wouldn’t be excited about that potential?
The Major League Baseball season was also set to start in a couple weeks, which means we’d soon get the glorious overlap of the NCAA Tournament and the start of baseball.
My wife Emily and I also have a vacation planned in a couple weeks in South Carolina which we now have to postpone.
It’s crazy how all our plans can change in an instant, and it’s completely out of our control.
How We Got Here
The tidal wave began early last week, with several big events deciding either to limit attendance or cancel altogether, and it all came to a head on Wednesday and Thursday when the major sports leagues and entertainment companies decided to cancel or postpone activities as we try to figure out how to deal with the global pandemic we’re living in due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Like everyone else, I was incredibly bummed. It’s a huge buzzkill when just one thing you’re excited about is canceled or postponed, let alone several.
For some people it probably felt a lot like how a child would feel if a few days before Christmas they got told that Santa just decided to take the year off. Can you imagine that devastation on a child’s face?
There are people who build their entire schedules — heck, even their entire lives — around their sports teams. Here in Kentucky, for instance, it’s hard to describe the atmosphere during the NCAA Tournament, especially when Kentucky is playing. It’s like heightened excitement meets heightened anxiety, then mixes with a lot of alcohol.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the adrenaline that every tournament game brings, and it’s one of the main reasons we’re all so drawn to it. I love being caught up in the excitement of sports and seeing the stories of perseverance from athletes.
Aside from that, sports are just genuinely entertaining, particularly the NCAA Tournament when we all become novice gamblers for a month and try to prove our expertise in our office pool. There are few things more exhilarating as a sports fan than correctly picking a first-round upset on your bracket. In a lot of ways, this time of the year is one of the few unifying things our divisive country shares each year.
I’m a huge sports fan, but this week made me realize that maybe I’m not as big of one as I used to be, or as big of one as a lot of other people are. Years ago, this would’ve absolutely crushed me. I would be panicking — not because of any fears over the virus, but fears of how I’d spend my time and where I’d find my joy.
Maybe I’m still that same sports fan, I’ve just finally grasped some perspective I didn’t have or just chose to ignore years ago.
After that initial onslaught of news and cancellations, I’ve honestly been OK. Thank God for that. Also, I’m just a fan. Imagine how the athletes affected might feel.
I wrote a story for Sports Spectrum on Oklahoma softball player Shannon Saile getting baptized this past week, and I asked her what she thought about her senior season getting cut short abruptly. (The NCAA is working on granting waivers for seniors to be able to come back and play next year if they choose to).
“Softball doesn’t define me,” she said. “I will keep my faith regardless of the cards we are dealt. I have faith I didn’t play my last softball game. I hope through Jesus to remain a light in people’s lives through this pandemic.”
In no way am I trying to patronize or scoff at people who are upset over the cancellations, because part of me still is. No one could’ve ever foreseen any of these cancellations happening. This is unprecedented, and the chances of anything close to this happening again in my lifetime are slim.
We’re all still trying to process this major upheaval of our everyday norms, and that’s understandable.
Up at Night
Truthfully, I’ve had trouble sleeping some nights since this has all happened and it’s one of those things that I find myself having to remember, “Man, this is really happening.”
Aside from the September 11 terrorist attacks, this is the single most significant historical event of my lifetime, especially when you think about the impact this has on our everyday lives now. So many of our systems that were in place that we often take for granted are now canceled or closed.
But this is a unique opportunity for us to really slow our lives down. When horrible things like this happen to loved ones or society as a whole, we often turn to things like sports or entertainment to distract us. Even with 9/11, within days the MLB season resumed, and it was a chance for people to unify and get our minds off of what just happened.
We don’t have that opportunity now for the most part, and maybe that’s a good thing. It’s a chance to recalibrate where we place our identity and where we find our joy.
For me, that’s in Jesus. That’s my hope for you, too.
In No Hurry
When I created my podcast In No Hurry last year, I prayed for several months for God to give me wisdom in what to name it. Picking a name for a podcast might seem like a frivolous exercise, but that’s the identity of the show, and I wanted it to mean something.
This idea of not being in such a hurry — pulling back from the hectic, busy lives we live and this idea that what we do is who we are — kept showing up on my heart. Around that same time, four prominent authors — John Mark Comer, Jefferson Bethke, Rebekah Lyons and Emily Ley — all put out books around the same time all about the same topic.
It was evident this was something God was trying to tell his people.
In December I had author Manda Carpenter on the show, and we talked about her devotional called Space. Here’s what she had to say about this:
“We need to be with God so that doing the work of God doesn’t kill the work of God in us.”
Did you catch that? Just be with God.
Last month I got to have author Daniel Im on, whose new book You Are What You Do: And Six Other Lies About Life, Work, and Love speaks to this so beautifully.
“A life dictated by doing is not much of a life at all,” he writes. “How many more executives, entrepreneurs and spiritual leaders need to lose their families, and their own souls, for us to get it? And how many more public personalities need to implode before we learn from their mistakes and pivot? When we let this lie define our lives, we inevitably end up neglecting the relationships that mean the most to us, our emotional well-being, and our spiritual health. Isn’t that why we’re called human beings and not human doings?”
Again, just be — with God, with your spouse, with your family. No sports on now means instead of being glued to the TV to watch a game, I can give my wife more time – time she should’ve been getting all along. Instead of watching a game, we can watch a show together that we both like.
This is also a perfect time to just put our phones down. I don’t have any games to follow, so unless I want to continue being inundated by Coronavirus news, I don’t have a reason to be on my phone for hours on end.
I love how John Mark Comer puts it in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry:
“We are distracting ourselves into Spiritual oblivion.”
I don’t agree with the people who are saying God is using the Coronavirus as punishment or anything like that, and I’d encourage any Christians who are saying that to immediately stop, because it’s not helpful nor is it accurate. But I do believe this is an incredible opportunity for us to open our eyes and see what God has been trying to tell us all along.
For me personally, I have zero distractions now unless I create them myself — whether that’s binging Netflix, or playing an entire season of NCAA Football on Playstation, or whatever else. I may never have a situation like this in my life where all I can really do is not be in a hurry and just be.
This pandemic will go down as one of the most significant events in my lifetime — both globally and nationally. We need to seriously take all precautions to care for ourselves and each other, particularly those who are most vulnerable to this virus. Just because you’re healthy doesn’t mean you should do whatever you want, because you could catch it, become a carrier and then pass it on to someone whose immune system is more compromised.
Please use caution in all that you do, but also please rest in the fact that God is in control. Whether you’re a Christian or not and you’re reading this, God has shown time and again that He will take care of His people.
Hebrews 6:13-16 says, “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.”
This was a passage that Gregg Farrell, our pastor at Crossland Community Church here in Bowling Green, Kentucky, spoke about. In the context of this passage, when someone made a promise, they needed someone greater than them to back them up on the promise. It’s similar to when you have a parent or someone else co-sign a loan. It’s assurance to the other party that you will come through on the promise you’ve made.
This passage demonstrates that God doesn’t need anyone to co-sign His promises. There is no one greater than our God, and He always comes through on His promises.
Whether it’s COVID-19, or anything else in your life, when the mountains in your life become bigger than your faith in God, that’s when you’re going to have problems.
He Is Greater
One of the prevailing themes of this series on Hebrews at our church, titled Greater, is this idea that God is not greater than anything. He’s greater than everything. When you believe He’s greater than everything, then He’s always going to be greater your anythings.
God never changes. Ever. His perfect love casts out all fear.
I don’t have an answer for why pandemics like this happen, or why loved ones are dying. It’s tragic, and we need to be praying diligently about all of this. But what I do know is that far from the first time God has dealt with a pandemic or a global catastrophe, and He will take care of His people.
We also need to do our part in helping take care of each other.
My guest for the March 16 show was author Barnabas Piper, and we talked about how Christians and churches can respond to this virus. This is going to have a significant financial impact on everyone, and it’s imperative that we do everything we can to help each other and be examples of Christ’s love.
“Maybe this will be something that will be really beneficial for a selfish America to realize that we can do some things for our neighbors,” he said. “There are going to be those who will be financially impacted. Some of us can work from home because of the internet. Others, if they don’t go to work, they don’t get paid, so they need help. There’s going to be opportunities in this to really serve people and to get out of our own self-centeredness. I think that could be a significant positive outcome of all of this.”
Our beloved sports will return eventually. Shows that were postponed will be made up. Our lives will come back to normal.
Before that happens, let’s not waste this chance to love our neighbors, to be good citizens, and to be with God.
After a career in journalism and education, Cole lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky where he hosts the In No Hurry Podcast and is writing his first book. His work has been featured by RELEVANT, Sports Spectrum, USA Today, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Sacramento Bee, Bleacher Report and other outlets.