There is no feeling like the sweet sting of catching a well thrown baseball in the pocket of the glove. It is accompanied by a distinct ‘pop’ and usually a knowing nod of the head from the receiver to the thrower.
Baseball is a game I loved as a younger child. I loved playing it, watching it, and learning about its history. I loved the stats. More than all of that, though, what I loved most about baseball was having a catch with my dad. I remember standing outside our house, being at the park, or at the beach on summer vacation, burning hours throwing a ball back and forth. Maybe we talked during that time, but even if there were long periods without words, there was always a conversation.
The head nods, the point of the glove after a good throw – they meant something to a young boy. A father’s approval and encouragement are fuel for the burning heart of a boy who wants to know he has what it takes.
My son started playing baseball this year. It did not take long for him to start asking me to go outside for a catch on a regular basis. I had forgotten how much enjoyment could come from the simple act of throwing a ball back and forth. Only now it is my turn to give those nods of approval and encouragement when he stings my palm with one of his throws.
When I reflect on our time together, I cannot help but think that there is something deeper going on. As a father and his child spend time playing catch, what is God up to in these moments? It is easy to dismiss the question – why would God care about two people playing catch?
Jesus tells us that God knows the exact number of hairs on our heads, that nothing escapes His notice (Lk 12:7). God can use a simple act to build His Kingdom. The bond between my dad and me and between me and my son has strengthened through a simple act – having a catch.
Diamond in the Cornfield
One of the more famous instances of a father and son playing catch can be found in the final scene of Field of Dreams. It is a movie about a corn farmer in Iowa who decides to plough his corn field (his livelihood) to build a baseball field. But only after being directed to do so by a mysterious voice: “If you build it, he will come”.
The farmer, Ray, takes a leap of faith and builds the field. Ray embarks on a journey, listening to the voice as it directs him further. He encounters other men along the way connected to his quest. All the while, Ray believes he is doing this for a reason: so that a historic (and long deceased) baseball player, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson, will come back and get to play baseball again. Jackson, and several of his former teammates do eventually emerge from the cornfields to play baseball.
Ray’s journey in the film ends with the realization that all the risk taken and work done was not for Shoeless Joe. It was for his own father, John. John also comes (appearing as a younger man) to play baseball with the other players from the past. Ray was estranged from his father when he passed away. The restlessness that comes from this wound is present throughout the movie. As Ray recognizes his dad as a younger man in the film’s final scene, he asks him ‘for a catch’, to which his dad replies simply, “I’d like that”. They throw the ball back and forth under the floodlights as the camera zooms out and the movie ends.
It is a simple end to an adventurous journey. A journey that ends in reconciliation between a father and son.
As I was reflecting on the movie recently, it occurred to me that the whole adventure seems unnecessary. The voice, presumably God, gives a vague direction. An instruction to someone clearly looking for something. Ray chooses to take a bold leap of faith, risking it all, and is ultimately led to a moment of restoration the end of the film.
As with many films, there is truth and beauty present in Field of Dreams. God could have just had Ray’s dad show up in the corn field one day and given them the chance to patch things up. Like any good father, however, our Father wants to see His children grow. He wants us to participate in the restoration process. He invites Ray on a quest; a quest in which Ray learns to trust and be committed in the pursuit of his calling. Then when he is ready, He leads Ray to reconciliation with his dad and a healing of his broken heart.
In my own life, I often lament the problems I face and question why God does not snap His fingers and fix them. But when I look backwards, I realize that facing problems is part of the initiation process. It is necessary on the journey of becoming a wholehearted man. By enduring challenges, I grow into something more. A step closer to the type of man that the Father had in mind when He thought of me.
As the story of my life unfolds, I recognize that many of the events of my life are interconnected. Even though they may not seem that way as I experience them. When I reflect on the threads of my life so far and see the tapestry that they are forming, it helps me to trust in the plan that the Father has for me. To actively seek it out in hope that it will lead me to more life.
The future is uncertain, but I take confidence from knowing that I operate under the guidance of the Father. He who wants good for my life and makes provision for me on this journey.
There are times that life can feel heavy and burdensome. In those moments I need to rely on His strength to carry me through.
There are other moments, in which I feel peace and gratitude. Feeling the warmth of the afternoon sun and hearing the laughter of my kids as they play, I cannot help but feel grateful for the blessings in my life. These moments are simple gestures from a loving Father, like the nod from my dad after catching one of my throws.
Moments like these are not possible without the journey. They are gifts of affirmation and restoration that encourage me on the way. Yet they are easy to miss unless I am aware of the bigger story and trust in my place in it.
The subtle moments my son and I experience playing catch would not happen without the bond between us, forged through time and experience. The nod of the head means more than ‘nice throw’. It is another way I can say to him, “you have what it takes”.
Fathers have this opportunity with their children every day. It is easy to miss if you are not looking for it. It does not have to be baseball or any sport for that matter. It is about finding relationship with our kids in the simplicity of the day to day. Recognizing those moments as opportunities to grow closer and to enjoy being in each other’s company. And it is through relationship that we can build God’s Kingdom in our families.
Life is full of big things – big challenges and decisions. Things that will consume us if we do not stop and remember to enjoy the simple things that are available all around us.
It can be a struggle, but I am trying to remember this. Whether it is watching my daughter on the monkey bars or saying yes to playing catch with my son, there is more depth and more joy to be found. And as I become more present as a father, His presence becomes more evident, lighting the way.
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