A story of sportsmanship and grace demonstrated by a women’s softball team has brightened the sports news recently. USA Today writer Andy Gardiner reported the story. Here is the essence of the event.
In the second game of a doubleheader, Western Oregon University's Sara Tucholsky slammed what appeared to be a three-run homer over the centerfield fence, the senior's first in either high school or college. But Tucholsky wrenched her knee at first base and collapsed.
Umpires ruled that a pinch-runner could replace Tucholsky, but she would be credited with a single and only two runs would count. After being assured there was no rule against it, Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace carried Tucholsky around the bases, helping her to gently touch each base, completing her homer and adding a run to a 4-2 loss that eliminated the Wildcats from postseason.
(Western Oregon's Sara Tucholsky is helped around the bases by members of the Central Washington softball team after injuring her knee when doubling back to tag first base) By Blake Wolfe, AP
As word of the game spread, Tucholsky and Holtman have been featured on national television and radio, and written about in newspapers across the country. I love this story. It is a wonderful metaphor for how the church should function. The Central Washington team could have stood by and done nothing. The players could have offered sympathy. They could have sadly noted how tough life can be. But they chose action. Compassion. And they chose sportsmanship that is extraordinary.
There is a good lesson for followers of Jesus. Caring is often appreciated but action is never forgotten. Too often we substitute a half sincere word of sympathy or we seek the emergency exit I have too often used. “I will pray for you.” (sound of door slamming as I exit stage right)
If you mean that statement about prayer that is the best thing you can do. But how often have I walked away and never followed up on that implied promise? And I wonder how often the quiet voice of the Spirit might have been telling me to do something as well?
James wrote these annoying words.
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4, NASB).
But I found the most interesting spiritual analogy to this story came from some feedback after the story broke. Gardiner picks up the story.
Not all the responses have been pleasant. One person labeled Holtman a selfish player who did not consider her teammates. Another e-mail criticized the women's lack of competitive spirit. "That really bothered me," said Tucholsky, who fears she has a torn ligament that will end her career. "We are very definitely competitive, but this was a situation were sportsmanship overrode our competitiveness."
There was nothing selfish nor soft about this act. Sara Tucholsky earned the home run. She hit the ball over the fence. She was not given a home run. She was offered help to finish what she had already earned.
If someone can find fault with a player helping their opponent complete what they have already earned it is no wonder that our self-reliant culture struggles with the concept of the grace of God. The players carrying Tucholsky is a compelling but not complete picture of grace. Sara is being carried home when she could not do it herself. The difference between this act of grace and the grace of God toward me and you is enormous.
Sara Tucholsky hit the home run and then got help to finish. She had done something to earn the gracious help she received. When we come face to face with our sin in the matchup with God’s holiness we have no chance. Yet Jesus picks us up and carries us gently home. That is grace beyond comprehension. I look at this story from these special women and I am touched. But I think of the grace of Jesus carrying me when I had done nothing to deserve it and I am amazed, grateful and blessed.
Western Oregon coach Pam Knox offered these thoughts. "Some people are trying to say this is something men would never have done. I think that's an unfair statement. You would hope guys would have the character to do the right thing at the right time."
You would hope. But what I can control is how I respond. Will I have the character to do the right thing at the right time? Understanding the grace of God will allow me to extend some of that grace to my fellow sojourners.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.