Throughout the summer, a rag-tag group of 10-year-old boys gathered on the field, buzzing in the dugout that this would be the game they’d finally win.
Loss after loss, they smeared eye black on their cheeks like major leaguers, laced up their beat-up cleats, and donned their sand-stained hats. They kept showing up and smacking each other on the back, only to suffer the heartbreak of yet another strikeout, yet another loss.
As parents like me shlepped water coolers and baseball bats down to the field one last time, I found myself feeling a little disappointed on their behalf.
They were trying their best. They’d improved so much! Couldn’t they catch a break?
I hunkered down into my lawn chair, ready to cheer them on. To everyone’s surprise, the team gained momentum. Player after player crossed home plate. I marveled at their resilience. I glanced at the scoreboard. It was finally happening! They were winning!
Until they weren’t.
The first baseman fumbled. A couple of players struck out. The pitcher had more walks than strikes.
Summer sunlight turned to dusk as ballpark lights flickered on. With a score of 8-9, the other team was up to bat to polish off the last half of the inning of the last game of the season. The crowd whispered, wondering who the coach would put in to pitch in this high-stakes scenario. Whoever it was, could he hold the other team off and prevent them from scoring?
Could he pitch through the pressure?
My eyes grew wide as my son walked onto the mound.
He looked so small, so serious.
I’m not Catholic, but at that moment, I may have just channeled my dear Catholic friends and crossed myself. I uttered every iteration of every prayer I could think of – not that they would win, but that my son wouldn’t put too much pressure on himself.
The stands held a collective breath.
You don’t have to know much about baseball to know that’s a good thing. Soon, they had two outs under their belt – just one more to go. They were so close to winning they could taste it.
And then – a hit from the other team. The player made his way to third base. He was so close to home plate he could taste it.
There was a full count – three walks, two strikes. Another walk would mean the player on third would score. I saw my son wipe his brow, take a deep breath, and wind up.
The game was over.
Our Bad News Bears team had WON AN ACTUAL GAME!
The roar of kids screaming and laughing, dancing and cheering filled the neighborhood ballpark. Kids flooded the field as they scooped each other up.
To them, they’d won the World Series.
The sweaty, stinky kids were overcome with emotion. Pure joy filled their eyes with tears. They didn’t care about looking a certain kind of way in front of anyone else. It was genuine elation, an uninhibited celebration.
I tell you this story not because I’m necessarily super into sports – or that you have to be, either.
No, I tell you this story because these kids taught me – and can maybe teach you – something about the unabashed, unashamed joy of a child.
As we journey through life and experience many losses of our own, we can start to hedge our emotions – tamper down our experiences of joy, stifle the emotions we can barely put words to.
But what if, in that masking of self, we are also preventing ourselves from experiencing the joy God has given us? What if, in our hopes of not being “too much,” in our efforts of being “put together,” we are missing gifts from God?
What if our inhibitions are blocking us from experiencing the full spectrum of what it is to be human, what it is to be a beloved child of God?
In 1 Peter 1:8, we’re told that even though there’s so much that we can not fathom about Jesus, we can be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” Notice we’re not told to expect “a grown-up measure of whatever emotion you think is socially acceptable.”
Expressing joy is not weak. It’s part of the life of faith. In Nehemiah 8:10, we’re reminded that the joy of the Lord is our strength.
The kids at the ballpark weren’t thinking about who might be watching them or judging them. They weren’t caught up in anything but being present in the moment.
I wonder, when was the last time you…
Laughed until you cried?
Let yourself fully feel your emotions without needing to package them neatly up for the sake of others?
Found yourself lost in the moment?
Rejoiced – fully – unabashed and unashamed?
Were enchanted by the goodness of God?
It may be a bit cliche, but life does give us a fair share of curveballs. We don’t always know what’s going to happen – or why. We experience loss. We grieve, and we lament. And that is all a sacred part of a life of faith. But that’s not the only part of the story. As believers, we are also welcomed into joy – and joy abundant.
We can throw off what inhibits us or entangles us, as we see in Hebrews 12. We are free to cry as we laugh, to celebrate fully alongside each other.
When I watched that mix of little leaguers embrace each other – laughing and crying until the eye black melted down their cheeks – I saw the sweetness of the family of God rejoicing, overcome with goodness. Was it heaven? No, but it was a little glimpse of it, right on our little ball field in Iowa.
And now that I think of it, I guess that classic line from the movie The League of Their Own got it wrong.
There is crying in baseball.
And in life.
Thank God for that.