OK, I am going to blunder in here where Angels fear to tread. And by Angels, I don’t mean the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who fairly waltzed into the lives of the Pujols family and formed a lifelong partnership based upon either 1) one phone call; 2) $250-$280 million; or, 3) both.
I don’t intend to go into a baseball analysis of Albert Pujols’ decision to sign with the Angels for a more lucrative contract than the one offered by the Cardinals. I don’t mind a professional deciding to take a new job for more money. In real life, this motivation is considered sufficient, and perhaps even laudable. Only in sports, and in a particular way in baseball, are athletes expected to evince other motivations.
However, I can’t understand why players, including Pujols, have to bend over backwards to say that money “has nothing to do with” these decisions. Is this a mere platitude designed to preserve or foster the love of people they don’t know? Is it a tacit admission that it shouldn’t be about money? Is it guilt, misplaced or otherwise?
What I wanted to talk about today, and throw open for discussion, is the recent interview by Deidre Pujols, Albert’s wife, wherein she talks about what she perceives are the actions of God and the Devil and Christians on earth in the contract negotiations and fallout. We see many athletes– and I don’t doubt their good intentions or sincerity one bit– who in addition to thanking God for their talents or success or whatever, act as though He has money on the game, or is the player’s Agent in the sky.
And here is where I think the attitude of Mrs. Pujols is typical of a God-and-me-alone spirituality. The idea that one should have a personal relationship with Jesus is sound, properly understood. But so many seem to have a notion that the existence of the relationship means that good things will always and everywhere happen to us. Specifically absent is the notion that suffering is salvific, that suffering, though evil, can bring about good. That suffering is something that is a necessary component of the Christian life.
Some quotes from Mrs. Pujols illustrate the syndrome:
“the Holy Spirit prompted me to tell people not to be deceived by what they were reading and listening to [about an impending deal.] Don’t read the newspapers.”
“When it all came down, I was mad. I was mad at God…We had no reason to want to leave,” Pujols continued, adding later:
The reason I say I was angry with the Lord is because I felt like when we were at our weakest – both the Cardinals and our family – making this decision, and it just couldn’t get finished and done, I was like, ‘this is when God is going to step in.’ And it didn’t happen. And then when the news broke on Thursday morning after we had made our decision, I don’t think we anticipated the tsunami that came our way.
After Diedre and Albert wrote an open letter to Cardinals fans in the Post-Dispatch, she “broke my own rule” and began reading the online comments attached to the letter on the newspaper’s website.
“I hated them when I was done,” Pujols said in the JOY-FM interview. “I [didn’t] want to be like John going to Jesus and ‘should we call fire down on these people because they rejected you?'” Albert had to calm her down, she said.
Again, I don’t want anyone to think that I believe her to be insincere, or that there isn’t truth to the presence of God’s Providence in individual lives, whether athletes, doctors, or ditch-diggers. But this attitude of the me-and-Jesus crowd never encompasses that He may not want a person to achieve worldly success, or that He may not want them to win this game, or that He may be calling them to be unfairly criticized, or to suffer neglect. It wasn’t enough that she wanted to let people know that her husband had been slandered– it was the Holy Spirit who told her to do it. She said she was mad at God because He didn’t come in to solve all of the contractual issues. She became angry that fans were unfair to her husband and she referred to the apostles asking Jesus to call fire from the sky.
In the end, the Apostles didn’t see the Tsunami that awaited the Lord when they came down from Mount Tabor either.
So, I don’t know that I have some great insight on how to square the circle of athletes, God and sports. I just found the attitude of Mrs. Pujols worthy of note. God loves her husband, He loves her, He loves us. He calls upon us all to accept our crosses and be grateful for our blessings. It is just rare to see an acknowledgement that suffering is part of the deal.