Prayer on the football field

Will Johnston

I sat in the back of the quiet bus. My teammates’ faces were tensed in concentration, and the faint murmur of music through headphones drifted in the air. Some tried to sleep; others bounced their legs anxiously, looking out the window. A small red box sat in my lap. I shuffled around inside to find five small stones. They were meant to symbolize the qualities and spiritual ideas I’d need to think about before the game. I looked at the words written on each one: strength, protection, confidence, gratitude, love.

A week before, my high school football team had played in the sectional championship for our division. During one play, an opposing player’s face mask caught me on my right shoulder. I felt a shooting pain down my arm, which then lingered in my shoulder. I was playing outside linebacker, a defensive position, and it was the same shoulder I used nearly every play. 

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At first I tried just to play through the pain, but then I remembered what I had learned in Christian Science Sunday School. And it had nothing to do with willfully “pushing through” a painful situation. I started to think about how God created me with spiritual qualities like strength, grace, and agility, which I pray about expressing when I play sports. I was made in God’s perfect image and likeness (see Genesis 1:26, 27), and I reflect Him every moment. This meant that I could express joy and play wisely and with integrity. I was able to finish the game, and my team ended up winning by a large margin, earning us our second sectional title in a row. My shoulder still hurt pretty bad after the game, though, and I didn’t practice a couple of days the following week to see if it would get better. There was more prayerful work to be done. 

The following day, to almost everyone’s surprise, our team was selected to play in a championship game against a team with players who were Division I prospects. Newspapers said it was great that our smaller school was given the opportunity, but not much else. The projected score was 44–14. No one in our own school even gave us a chance to win. 

I could express joy and play wisely and with integrity. 

Since football is such a rigorous game, my classmates asked me if my team and I were scared of getting hurt and if we even wanted to play the opposing team. While the opposing team was bigger, faster, and stronger, I did not feel afraid, as I referred to a Bible quote I had prayed with all season whenever fear of injury tried to creep in: “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalms 23:1). Just as a shepherd leads his sheep and keeps them safe, God leads me and protects me as I am striving to glorify Him in all I do. 

The night before our big championship game, I called my grandmother, who has helped me pray many times in my life. She talked with me about how when I’m praying and working to express God, I’m protected from harm. Also that I am the image, likeness, and idea of God, and since God created me, and He knows no evil or pain, then I could not be subject to pain, either.

The next morning, after an anxious night of sleep, I went downstairs. There on my desk were five smooth stones that were meant to remind me of the ones David had carried in his battle with Goliath (see I Samuel 17:4–50), and a note from my grandmother, who lived close by. Her note shared some ideas from the David and Goliath story in the Bible. I immediately took the stones up to my room and wrote on each one a single spiritual quality or idea that reflected all the things God had graciously provided me: strength, protection, confidence, gratitude, love. 

Thinking about these spiritual qualities and ideas helped. I saw that “divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 494). God gives me strength and protection as He guides me, confidence in the gifts He has given me, gratitude for the opportunity to play in the game, and love for my teammates, my coaches, my family, and of course God, my Father. He even gives me love for the members of the opposing team. Right before I left the locker room I looked at each of these stones and reminded myself that God was with me and He was guiding my thoughts, actions, and decisions. I took the field, feeling calm and confident. 

When the final buzzer rang, the score read 42–7. Not only had we won the game but we had completely stunned the team, the school, and the city. I had my best game of the year, including two sacks and a fumble recovery. 

After the game I ran to my parents and gave my dad a big hug. He then asked, “How’s your shoulder?” 

“My what?” I replied. “Oh, my shoulder!” 

The pain was completely gone and the injury that had me nervous all week was nonexistent. I continued to play during the following week in the state championship, where I had no trouble with my shoulder at all, and I have not had any since.

Obedience to Truth gives man power and strength.

—Mary Baker Eddy,
Science and Health with Key
to the Scriptures, p. 183

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