I was in the 4th grade and we had moved again to a new school in Indiana. It was a rainy, winter day and we did PE indoors. The gym teacher said we were to pick teams and play kickball. Now. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the “pick teams” scenario, but it is the worst nightmare for the new kid, especially the undersized, scrawny, totally unathletic new kid. The two best athletes in the 4th grade said, “We’ll pick,” and then they start down the line of kids according to ability, popularity, and just general coolness. It is particularly painful when there is an odd number. The conversation is, “You can have the new kid.” “No. we don’t want him.” “We had him last time. You take him.” “Alright. New kid, you’re with us.”
I was assigned to far, right field, which is the place statistically least likely to see the ball. The game proceeded and sure enough, each kid seemed to perform to a level commiserate with their draft pick. Near the end of the PE class, we were all tied up in an epic battle for the kickball championship of the civilized world. I had neither seen the ball on defense, nor had a turn to kick on offense. The game was going just as cool kids had planned. Somehow, we get ahead by 1 run. There are 2 outs. Gym teacher blows the whistle and says, “This is the last inning.”
I am 9 years old, a shy, low-self-esteem, no friends, new kid. And I prayed. I prayed, “God help me make a good play so that the kids would like me.” As I recall, which by the way, may have grown less accurate over the years, the moment I breathed that prayer, Billy the Bully kicked the ball sky-high, through the rafters of the old grade school gymnasium, right at me. The ball came out of the stratosphere, the kids held their breath, time stood still for a moment, until, the ball fell right in my arms. I cradled it like a mother holding her new born. Billy is OUT. My team wins. The crowd goes wild. And they carried me around the gym on their shoulders. (Okay, that last part probably didn’t happen, but I feel pretty good about the rest of it.)
I do know that 55 years later I still remember the feeling of catching that ball. I also know that almost every time I have prayed and asked God to come through for me, I think back to that rainy day in the 4th grade when He answered prayer big time. When the kids were sick and I would pray for them, I would remember God answering prayer in gym class. When there were more bills than money and it seemed impossible to get through the month, I thought about Billy Bully and the day God helped me catch the ball. That little event has become a symbol in my life for the trustworthiness of God. I choose to believe that God gave that sign to me to boost my confidence in Him and His willingness to meet my every need.
God gave the Children of Israel a kickball experience. Moses was going up against Pharaoh Bully, trying to get the Israelites out of captivity. God does a number of things but finally, He tells Moses to have the Hebrews kill a lamb, sprinkle the blood over the door frame of their houses. “I will send an angel to take all of the first born from every house in Egypt,” God said, (something my sister prayed for often, by the way), “but when I see the blood on the door I will “pass over” that house.” The Passover became this great sign and symbol that God had worked on their behalf in the past and He could be counted on in the future. So, Moses tells them in Deuteronomy 16, “Celebrate this thing every year. Remember what God did.”
I have found it pretty, important down through the years to have some symbols in place to remind me about who God is and what He has done. Whenever I fly, I pray during the take-off and landing for my family. It is just a habit, a symbol I have put in place to remind me that God is in control. I decided many years ago, when the boys were little, that I would pray for them every time I passed a school bus. One day I was driving along I-70 from Dayton, Ohio and passed through Richmond, IN which is the home of the Bluebird Bus Company. There must have been a thousand school busses in the lot. I prayed all day for the boys. I have since changed that symbol to pray for my grandsons. Symbols, those things that remind us that God DOES care, that He DOES listen, that He DOES answer our prayers.
Moses lists some other feast days. We should have a plethora of events, activities, reminders, that refocuses our attention often from the other stuff that clamors for us, and back to the God that interrupts His busy schedule to watch a kickball game. We should make sure that signs and symbols are a part of our very being. And we should talk to our kids and grandkids about them. Do you remember earlier in Deuteronomy 6. God has just given them the Shema, the Hebrew word for hear, or listen, the symbol that they are to carry with them forever. He says, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-10)
The Jews began to build into their door frames the mezuzah, a small cylinder that contained the words of the Shema. Every time they left the house they would press a kiss from their fingers to the mezuzah and say, “The Lord be with my going out.” When they would return, same thing, only they pray, “The Lord be with my coming in.” Symbols. Signs. Reminders that God is involved and invested in our daily living.
Here’s the question for you today. What symbols to you have that regularly remind you of the goodness of God? What signs has God given you that you regularly rehearse with your kids and grandkids? Build some into your life today. Teach them to your children and your children’s children. Find ways to daily be reminded that God “loves you with an everlasting God.” It will strengthen your faith. It will boost your spiritual confidence. And if you’re ever in a 4th grade kickball game, it will make you a hero.