Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
I watched them make their way across the street, one trailed a few feet behind. Caleb dragged his bat across the concrete and lazily swung it around to clip any branch that hung into the road. His friend Andy flipped his glove high into the sky, waiting patiently as if under a fly ball. If only he had a glove to catch it. I sensed my invitation had interrupted a more adventurous activity like Mario Kart on the Wii. Nonetheless, they arrived on the doorstep and responded enthusiastically to my greeting. I grabbed the bucket off baseballs determined that we would not waste a sixty degree day, especially after Tennessee had defied global warming during the winter months.
My front yard offers a fine enough batting area with exception to the sewage line that occasionally bubbles over and the irritating mole excavations. Andy jammed Caleb’s glove on his right hand, though he throws with that same hand, and ran out to cover the yard. He wore a purple Minnesota Vikings jersey that will fit him for a few more years. “So you like the Vikings, Andy?” I asked.
“Yeah, but they’re not my favorite team.”
“Oh really, you like the Titans better?”
“No way, the Chargers are my favorite. But I also have a Packers jersey, a Broncos one, a Patriots, a Colts…” He used his fingers as a calculator while he peered into the heavens as if his memory floated above the clouds. Caleb jumped in, “My favorite team is the Chargers.”
“Oh, I remember. Was Andy the one that got you liking the Chargers?”
“No,” said Caleb defiantly. “It was Reese, of course, my very best friend in the whole world.”
The competition of self worth had begun. Over the next ten minutes, I quickly gathered that Andy played football and soccer, but not baseball. Caleb just finished his first baseball season in the fall. Due to Andy’s inexperience, it quickly became an unspoken agreement that Caleb should excel more at hitting. I lined Caleb up with a tree directly behind him (and a towel to cover the sewage drainage just ten feet away) and threw the first pitch. A swing and miss. Then another swing and miss. Then ten more of the same.
“Caleb,” Andy shouted from the centerfield mailbox. “I thought you played baseball.” He inquired with innocent curiosity.
Caleb gripped the bat tighter and rattled off his excuses. His face reddened, and his effort increased but to no avail. Soon enough, I brought Andy in to hit. As he missed the first couple, Caleb’s voice echoed behind me, “One. Two. Three. Uh, that was a foul, so that counts as a miss.”
Of the fourteen balls I threw, Andy made contact with four of them. But to Caleb that was ten strikeouts. As they switched places again, I eagerly watched to see how Andy would respond. “One miss! Two misses!”
The strikeouts served as kindling for the shame game’s fire. The ludicrousness of the situation astounded me. Here two young hearts fought without remorse to assure themselves of earning some worldly eminence in my empty yard. What started out as a fun day during winter’s intermission evolved into a comparison of the seen. I say “seen” because Andy and Caleb reduced the field of competitors to only each other because no other boys played with us. I began to think about the reality of how many seven year olds live in Middle Tennessee. For Caleb and Andy to really seek out the self-worth they craved, to assess themselves accurately, wouldn’t it be right to enlarge the competition? We could bring in a thousand boys to size up how many “swing and misses” each could avoid.
But I knew something bigger and deeper played out before me. Caleb and Andy’s striving for personal glory had become a demand for validation and recognition. The hunger growled deep enough for both to live in such small stories that it really didn’t matter that some seven year olds across America could hit fourteen baseballs out of my yard, not to mention those in Central America. All that mattered was the comparison of the seen, only what lay before them.
I left that day convicted. I am no different. Currently as I write I ponder how certain image bearers would do this better. I could list their names. I don’t care about the Shakespeares and Thoreaus; I base my worth before God against the writers that live before me. The battle of “I am therefore I do” so often fatally falls in the duel with the “I do therefore I am”. As the smoke clears, I grieve the small stories I create to guarantee and secure my glory. And in that I mourn the delight from the Father I miss while I struggle toward magnificence.