I have an unpleasant health condition that occurs whenever I’m under high amounts of stress. It happened during my first year of teaching high school English, but it was absent through three years of seminary, being a youth pastor, and even my first year of being an associate pastor in an über-busy suburban church. Well, the condition came back last Tuesday in the buildup to my first afternoon coaching my son’s soccer team. I’ve been mostly half-joking when I’ve made a big deal about my terror at being a soccer coach, but I guess I was a little more panicked than I realized. It’s mostly the other parents that I’m afraid of, because I’m such a woefully disorganized person and I imagine that as consumers in the second wealthiest county in the nation, they’re used to excellent customer service. I was so worried that they were going to call up the soccer league hotline on their cell-phones halfway through practice and say, “I paid for this?”
It went okay. There weren’t any stiletto heeled power yuppies among my team parents. They honestly seemed as nervous and eager to be agreeable as I was. The kids were really good. Nobody beat anybody else up. Nobody fled in tears. We ran, we stretched, we did jumping jacks (sort of). We played duck-duck-goose. We spent about 20 minutes matching up into partners to kick the ball back and forth and then about 5 minutes actually kicking the ball back and forth. We did this kind of dodgeball game where another dad and I kicked balls at the kids who were in the middle, which ended up feeling creepier than I thought it would (I’m not sure how I would feel if another dad were trying to wail on my five-year-old son with a soccer ball while I watched). Then they dribbled the balls around the cones, but of course we had run out of time and they only got to do the only semi-relevant drill once. I wasn’t really good at delegating tasks because I was making things up on the fly as I went along. Several parents have offered to be assistant coaches. We have a snack coordinator (I think). My wife Cheryl took over after the practice when we had to do the debriefing where we talk about forms and schedules and all that crap.
Well thank God we’ve got a rain-out tomorrow so I’ve got some more time to regroup and watch soccer drill videos on youtube. Another big thing that will be happening tomorrow of course is my son Matthew’s first day at kindergarten. His teacher is a member of my church which is both comforting and a little nerve-wracking as well. What if he repeats one of the words that I’ve occasionally used when I get mad at my laptop and forget who I am and who I’m supposed to represent?
In any case, I’m entering the vortex of full-blown Fairfax County parenthood tomorrow when Matthew starts kindergarten. I’m joining the culture of nervous, pressured people whose collective nervousness is itself the hell that we live through together. Is it just going to be a frantic roller-coaster ride for the next 12 years? How are we going to keep God at the center of it or will God become just another pin that we’re juggling, another person to be kept happy along with the guidance counselors and the team parents and everybody else who requires forms and checks and the appearance of effortless perfection?
I’m already tired and the ride hasn’t even started. I really want to know if there’s a way to avoid becoming a slave to my sons’ schedules. If I didn’t have a paid gig as a pastor, would I actually join a church small group under my present conditions? I remember when Matthew was a baby when I was complete laity, we would get to church about five minutes before the sermon started (i.e. 25 minutes late) and rush out immediately after the closing hymn. We didn’t do much beyond the worship service. I was the exact kind of not-even-one-hour-a-week church member that drives me crazy today. I’m not sure what the pastor would have had to say to convince me to structure my life differently at that time. There was a young adult small group for a little while but we only felt comfortable going because they promised there wouldn’t be any reading during the week; we would just look at lectionary passages and react to them the evening that our group met.
I don’t know how to make a case for being a disciple of Jesus Christ in an environment where people don’t have time for anything or at least have been socialized to think that they don’t. How do we change the culture of this place? What would it take for people to be excited enough about our church that they would pick church over travel soccer? What would it take for people to want to be a part of a small group even to the point that they’re willing to put their kids to bed an hour later than usual on that particular night of the week? I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. Somebody’s doing something right because all around us up here, non-denominational megachurches are thriving and tearing down their smaller barns to build newer, bigger ones. It’s amazing how big their buildings are. I saw some new ones today driving up from Charlottesville to here by a different route. Do the people who go to the megachurches play in the same soccer leagues that we do? What is it that they hear from the pulpit that causes their churches to grow so explosively?
I don’t understand these things. I just want to be a Christian disciple and a good dad and a good husband. Show me how to balance these things, God. Show me so I can share what I learn with others.