In Good Faith: Life is not a highlight reel
There’s one thing that always makes me stop and stare at the TV. It has nothing to do with breaking news about the Mueller investigation or the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.” Whether I’m on the treadmill at the gym or walking past the television at home, I can’t avert my eyes when ESPN broadcasts their Top 10 Plays of the Week.
The thrills and spills of eye-popping athletic achievement never cease to amaze. From one-handed grabs in the end zone to fence-leaping catches in center field to high-flying acrobatics above the rim, there’s a superhuman quality to these plays. They’re attention-grabbing, exciting, and I can’t stop looking until they’ve counted all the way down to the number one top play of the day, week or year.
We’ve always been drawn to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Highlight reels get to the heart of this infatuation, without having to wade through the chaff of the rest of the game. These highly curated plays offer viewers a unique view of sports, and they’re fun to watch. But highlights also have a dark side - they distort reality.
One of the great frustrations during my many seasons of coaching little league baseball was the lack of big picture strategic awareness. This was perhaps more than could be expected from a bunch of 9-year-olds. But even the kids who were huge baseball fans were less interested in hitting the cutoff man than making the diving, highlight reel catch - even on a routine pop up in the infield.
I blame ESPN for this - and our ever-shortening attention spans. Many kids don’t watch entire baseball games, they wait for the highlights. Why? Because that’s where the action is. Relief pitchers don’t warm up on highlight reels; the managerial strategy behind the hit-and-run is never showcased on the Top 10 Plays. So the whole “game behind the game,” which brings such joy to the viewing experience, is being lost to a whole generation of fans, regardless of sport.
But this is all just a reflection of our growing penchant for excitement. We get bored easily - with relationships, with jobs, with religion. So we switch these up with reckless abandon, expecting the next great thing will offer hope and fulfillment, which it rarely, if ever, does.
The thing is, life is not a highlight reel. The hard work of authentic and fulfilling relationships - with friends, family, and God - takes hard work. There are many moments of the mundane, and life itself is full of ordinary time. Sitting with a grieving friend; sipping coffee alone while reflecting upon the great mysteries of life; taking a walk through town with a spouse and dreaming about the future or problem-solving how to help a child who’s struggling in school.
Of course our lives have peaks and valleys, highs and lows. But most of life is lived in the unremarkable in-between spaces that we likely won’t remember next week or next year. This doesn’t mean they are unimportant; indeed these times are the bedrock upon which most of our lives are built. Highlights are important and should rightly be celebrated. But perhaps we should place equal value on the times when life isn’t as exciting as a reverse slam dunk to win the game in overtime.
Enjoy those highlight reels. Be dazzled by them. Yell “wow!” at the top of your lungs, unless you have a sleeping baby at home or you’re in your office cubicle. But remember that there is more to life than highlights. And that’s okay.
The Rev. Tim Schenck serves as Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, MA. Visit his blog “Clergy Confidential” at clergyconfidential.com or follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.