Formation in the on-deck circle


Recently I have been spending a lot of time thinking about spiritual formation, how spiritual formation happens, and what are the things I need to identify, focus on, and implement in my own life as well as provide opportunities for in the lives of people I minister to. Because of this journey into spiritual formation I have been spending considerable time reading different authors like Gary Thomas and Henri Nouwen who write in the realm of spiritual formation. Previously I would have avoided these books like the Plague, they scare me, and the idea of being a contemplative, walk through the woods, be quiet and think, type guy freaked me out. However, in recent months God has been gripping my own heart in this regard, forcing me to think critically about the nature of my heart, the sin present, and teaching me to actually talk with Him.

As I have been going through this journey of analyzing my own heart I have been thinking about how this relates to the game, or what the game can teach us in this arena. As I was thinking about it, I consistently came back to the idea that learning, or improving as a player or as a coach comes through practice, at bats, innings, or basically time playing the game. However, while at-bats, innings, pitches, swings, are important, it is often our time in the on-deck circle, watching film, thinking about the game that makes us better players. Often our swings or pitches only give us the opportunity to do the wrong thing over-and-over and enforce that bad muscle memory. The same way in our spiritual life, without the time in the quiet, away from people, without words and action, we enforce our same bad theology and practice, never address matters of the heart, and continue down our "Christian" life without Christ.

As we look at Scripture we could find a plethora of examples of people escaping the world around them to seek the Lord in the quiet. The best example of this mentality can be found in Christ. Luke 5:15-16 says, "But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray." In the midst of the battle, of ministry going crazy around Him, of people flocking to Him, He withdrew, was quiet, and focused on matters of the heart, spoke openly with the Father, and rested in Him.

For athletes this reality is hard. As baseball players we crave time in the box, we crave the ball on the mound, yet we learn in the on-deck circle, we learn in the pen. We learn when the game isn't swirling around us and everything is slow and relaxed.

I love this picture of Griffey. When I look at this I put myself in his situation, I think about the crowd noise, the pressure, how fast the game was happening, yet in this snapshot it looks like he doesn't have a care in the world. He is resting his body as he prepares to go into the whirlwind in the box. How are we resting our souls as we prepare for the whirlwind of life? Are we addressing our hearts before we go out and allow them to be attacked by everything around us in the world? Can we strive to be men that look like Christ, analyze our own hearts, and allow the life we lift to come as the overflow of the Spirit who lives in us? This is what the Christian life looks like. Let us run hard after Christ and rest deeply in Him!

I want you to think deeply about this quote from Henri Nouwen, "Solitude is thus the place of purification and transformation, the place of the great struggle and the great encounter. Solitude is not simply a means to an end. Solitude is its own end. It is the place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world. Solitude is the place of our salvation. Hence, it is the place where we want to lead all who are seeking the light in this dark world." (The Way of the Heart, 31-32)