Pray for the Cougars

xc1Pray for the Cougars. Or the Tigers. Take your pick. Either one is fine as far as I’m concerned. Or if you’re not into college football, pray for something else. That’s the approach I’ll take, since I barely notice the existence of football.

But I’m convinced you should pray for something, whatever it is.

* * *

In high school, I was a fairly decent distance runner. I started running track and cross country as a freshman, and some time that year I decided to start putting in the work to get good at it. There were a couple more people on the team who felt like I did, which was good. There were also a few more who both worked hard and were incredibly fast, which was even better. I won a few frosh/soph races as a sophomore, but after that I was more of a backup singer than a prima donna.

When cross country season started each fall, I was in shape and ready to run, although my best races usually came in the middle of the season rather than at the end, when I wanted them the most. I used to think that I had never run up to my potential, but looking back on it now, I think I did run as fast as hard work, modest talent, and the prevailing training regimen of the 1980s was going to take me.

I cared about running quite a bit, and I thought a lot about upcoming races. I prayed intensely about them, as much or more for my teammates’ sake as for my own. There were some good days when we won, but there were more days when things didn’t work out. My top ten list of worst days of my life still includes a couple marked by the bitter disappointment of defeat despite all I could do. Sometimes the other team outraced us. Sometimes teammates outraced me.

As I approached my senior year, the one thing my teammates and I wanted was to finally win a league championship. We trained hard all summer, as the competition in our 4A league in Southern California was fierce. In the days leading up to the dual meet with our main rivals, I worked out the math: we could win, but it would take a perfect race. I visualized myself running the whole course. I prayed.

I ended up running a perfect race (16:31 for three miles with each mile split right at 5:30 isn’t too shabby, if I say so myself), but my team still lost by two points (see “worst days of my life” above). Although my team was composed of great runners of fine character who were literally academic all-stars on top of it, the championship we had worked so hard for went to a team of cads, ruffians, dullards—

—and one Mormon. I had met him a year earlier when the youth of my ward drove down to a dance in his stake. We talked occasionally, and we ended up as freshmen at BYU at the same time. I’m sure he trained hard (but I was still faster than he was, darn it). I’m sure he prayed for his team as intensely as I prayed for mine (and they were just slightly faster than us on the day that it counted).

* * *

Two LDS young men, both training for the big race and praying for their own teams, can’t both be happy at the end of the day. I can’t say that God was on one side or the other, although I’d like to think that he was pleased by both our efforts, even in an endeavor as limited as high school sports. Would it have been better if neither of us had been praying for our teams? I don’t think so. I would submit that not praying about something is, for Mormons, synonymous with not caring about it. The logic of “Give us this day our daily bread,” “Cry over the flocks of your fields,” and “be anxiously engaged in a good cause” suggests that caring about the things we’re involved in, and praying about the things we care about, is our proper state, rather than disinterest or equanimity in the face of anything that happens.

So pray for someone.

18 comments for “Pray for the Cougars

  1. I’ll pray for something else. I like BYU Education Week, the various conferences and symposia, the bookstore, the bakery (can’t think of the name…the filled jelly donuts with the white icing and coconut on top), and the Bean Museum with grandkids, etc. But as for the bowl game (being completely unaware of the date and time) I just pray there is something else good on TV. On the other hand, to show my complete inconsistency on the matter, I’ll keep my eye out to learn the final score.

  2. “I would submit that not praying about something is, for Mormons, synonymous with not caring about it”

    Not necessarily, but I suppose it depends on what you mean by praying. I’ve spent years trying to figure out what I really believe, both about prayer and about a host of other topics. It’s pretty rare for me to pray these days, if by praying you mean getting down on my knees and saying, or thinking, the words we Mormons say when we pray. On the other hand, I often — many times each day – turn my thoughts to God and wonder whether S/He exists, what S/He would consider the proper or moral course of conduct in a particular situation, etc. I care at least as much as I used to about important things – the safety of my wife and children, for example – but it’s just become impossible for me to pray believing that my prayers will influence any particular outcome.

    Re the game – I have a hard time thinking that God would really who wins. More importantly, I have a really, really hard time thinking that anyone’s prayers could impact the outcome. If I were to pray, I’d pray that nobody were to suffer a severe injury and that the game would be decided fairly, by the players – in other words, that the refs wouldn’t blow a call that would affect the outcome of the game – but again, I think I’ve lost the ability to believe that praying over those kinds of things has any impact.

  3. I’ll pray that both teams will play to the best of their abilities, that the coaches will coach to the best of their abilities, that the referees will see clearly and make fair calls, and that no one will be seriously injured. If that prayer is answered, the best team will win. But, as I also concede, in sports it’s better to be lucky than good.

  4. I like your larger point. I wish I could figure out the inscrutable Mind of God with respect to certain aspects of my life. I’ve vacillated between unemployment, underemployment, and misemployment for the better part of the last eighteen years; never found my niche. (Will I, ever? Who knows? I hope God does, but that only makes One of us.) A graduate education hasn’t helped; in some respects, it’s only made things worse, making me overqualified for all of the jobs I might … and I do emphasize might … have gotten without it. I’ve tried to seek, to discern, and to follow His will with respect to these questions. It doesn’t seem like I should be in the position I’m in if I had done that successfully.

    Still, things could definitely be worse: one Web site puts the debt at repayment for the institution where I got the (useless?) graduate degree at nearly three times the debt figure I ended up with, and I was accepted by two schools in California which the Web site’s debt at repayment figures peg at more than four times the debt figure I ended up with. I would settle for a job doing manual labor, or one that requires me to be on my feet all day, but there’s a catch: I have a disability, which is part of the reason why I sought the graduate degree, which I hoped would put me in a better position to use my abilities without potential employers worrying so much about any liabilities I might have, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

    It truly is a dog-eat-dog world. (I’ve often wondered if, in certain respects, Korihor wasn’t right, that we truly do “fare according to the management of the creature.”) I’ll admit I have marginal credentials as compared with the vast majority of the rest of the aspirants to this particular position. I’m not nearly the best qualified of the people who can’t get a job in this particular profession, and who, as a result, are working at Target, Wal-Mart, or Home Depot. There is a certain school of thought that says that if one is unable to pay educational debt, since student loan debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy, the solution is simply to default. (Yeah, it’ll destroy your credit, perhaps permanently, but …) I have lived at poverty level, during my graduate education and beyond. While that meant that, yes, I was eligible for certain government benefits during my education that gave me a temporary “leg up” on my student colleagues who were living entirely off of student loans, while there are many with whom I WOULDN’T trade their current places for mine, there are more than a few with whom I would.

    As for prohibitive student loans and the prospect of defaulting, while I admit that this would be impossible without a good deal of family support, poverty-level income notwithstanding, I have paid every single cent due on my student loans in the last ten years.

  5. In response to kenngo1969 – you are not alone. I have had the same struggle for 17 years. I have no words of wisdom. Just that I understand and have experienced what you describe and continue to be affected professionally, emotionally, physically, and financially by the same circumstances you describe. A part of me is resentful because I did everything “right,” just like others who have prospered. But I cannot see how I would have done it differently. I don’t feel stronger or wiser, mostly tired and angry. Let’s keep trying, though. For no other reason than self-respect, since I have absolutely no guarantee that my efforts will lead to success.

  6. One last thought – I’m assuming you did not choose the education field? At least you did that right!! :-)

  7. One of the impressive things about BYU football is how the team willingly share their time with the locals through firesides before and after (even though the locals are mostly fans of the opposing team). When we went to a game a few years ago, we had the privilege of attending a Friday-night fireside that overflowed the stake center. We arrived 20 minutes early and were lucky to snag some of the last seats. The spirit was incredible.

    This year, the bowl game is on a Monday and I have been invited to various team events the night before. Are they going to split up into platoons to each attend one of these events, or are they all traveling to all of them spending four hours singing and bearing testimony and shaking hands with young people of all ethnic backgrounds?

    Probably the only team of any bowl game who prepares for a game that way.

  8. Angie (#7): One last thought – I’m assuming you did not choose the education field? At least you did that right!! :-)

    Nope! The field I chose is even worse! ;-D

  9. While the occasions have been few and far between, there’s no question that I have had prayers answered in my life. I should clarify: I’m talking about having prayers answered in a way that was clear to me. I’m sure there have been many other occasions, but the circumstances were less clear.

    I also don’t doubt there are some who haven’t received clear answers to prayer, and I feel bad about that. There are also others I know who seem to be blessed with frequent “clear” answers. From my observation, God deals with us uniquely, for reasons known only to him.

  10. Cry over your fields (and efforts) so that ye may prosper… (so that in the oft overlooked v.28) ye may visit the sick, help the needy, clothe the naked.

    That’s a far cry from pray about things that are “important” to you because God wants you to be happy in your self-centered endeavors.

  11. Please bless BYU fans to be less delusional
    Please bless BYU fans to be less childish
    Please bless BYU players to be better examples
    Please bless better social media stories to bury this one…

  12. Ho Hum. My response to people is always the same:

    I didn’t choose to go to BYU for the sports teams. I chose BYU for the accounting program.

    I’ve prayed that BYU cancel the football team…does that count?

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