If you are a Major League pitcher, you dream about pitching in the World Series, winning the Cy Young, or pitching a perfect game. That’s the pinnacle of your career. That’s your ticket to the history books; perhaps even to the Hall of Fame.
If you follow baseball at all, or if you witnessed Detroit radio host Paul Edwards’ (@GodandCulture) near heart-attack on Twitter on Wednesday night, you now know the names Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga. Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, threw a perfect game this week in front of a home crowd. The only problem was that Joyce, a 22-year veteran umpire, blew a ninth inning, 2-out call at first base, robbing Galarraga of his place in the history books.
Galarraga reached his pinnacle and had the ground drop out beneath him. How did he respond? By shouting (a baseball pastime)? By pouting (a pro athlete pastime)? No, he simply smiled. A smile that said: “You sure about that? OK, that’s OK.”
We all have these pinnacles. Writers may long to be on the New York Times Bestseller’s List. Pastors may long to build a megachurch or make the national conference circuit. Businessmen or businesswomen may long for the C-level position. Bloggers may long for that one web-changing, viral post. We ply our trades, hoping for the big break that may or may not come, believing that our lives will count for something more if our break does happen.
These pinnacles aren’t good or evil in and of themselves. But the longing is what proves dangerous. The longing is the pathway to many snares that keep us from keeping God at the center of our lives.
Through this weekend, you’ll hear media members use words like “grace” to describe Galarraga’s response to a bum deal. And he was gracious in his reaction; he went back to the mound and got the next batter out, headed to the locker room without a complaint, and acknowledged to reporters that people make mistakes sometimes.
We could argue whether or not this is actually grace. But grace isn’t what struck me in this instance. The picture I’ll remember from that night in Detroit is a look on a man’s face that said the pinnacle was a mirage.
I don’t know Galarraga or his motivations, so I won’t put words in his mouth or ideas in his head. But I will take the steadfastness of his countenance and hold it up as an emblem of contentment in the midst of great disappointment, and say this is an image we should cultivate in our spirits. This kind of contentment believes that life is a vapor, that we are to be anxious about nothing because our Father owns everything, and that our God is sovereign over the levity of abundance and the thickness of grief in our lives.
What happens when the transmission falls out of our car on the highway and our checking account is floating just north of zero? What happens when we don’t get the promotion we thought we needed or the job we thought we deserved? What happens when our dreams for our lives don’t actually come true?
Do we shout at God in prayer? Do we spiritually pout in our own subtle ways? Do we ponder what could have been, or what may be, rather than living out of the reality of the gospel in the midst of our daily lives?
May we all lose our perfect games and find that they were a mirage in the first place. May we look at the greatest success we can imagine on earth and count it loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. And may we lay our greatest hopes and dreams at the feet of the cross, gazing upon the steadfast countenance of our risen Savior, and join the psalmist in saying, “Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). It is then we lose our perfect game and gain our greatest treasure.