First Things First

by Joanie Butman

It’s Super Bowl Sunday and the sports analogies will be flying from every pulpit today – especially the 5:00 PM mass where people are anxious to move things along so they can get home for the game. Last year when the pastor came out after mass to give announcements there was a collective audible moan, and I thought, “You’re definitely going to lose some sheep tonight if you don’t keep it brief!”

I think the hype surrounding the Super Bowl is over the top, especially this year because of its proximity to the Big Apple. New York is in a frenzy. Super Bowl Sunday has always been my favorite day to go to the theater because tickets are usually easy to come by and heavily discounted, there’s no traffic and no problem getting reservations for lunch. Plus, I’m always home for the start of the game. I don’t need an entire day to prepare. To my dismay, theaters went dark this year because of all the hoopla and the massive toboggan run the city erected in Times Square turning a 13-block stretch of Broadway into Super Bowl Boulevard. Not to be deterred, I found a theater on the Upper East Side that realizes not everyone succumbs to football hysteria.

Amidst the ubiquitous news coverage this week, I read an interesting story about Kurt Warner’s circuitous route to the 2000 Super Bowl. This wasn’t a ‘golden boy’ story, but a tale of someone who saw sports as his salvation and never gave up on his dream. I won’t relay all the details but suffice it to say his victory in the 2000 Super Bowl and the rest of his career did not come easily or without disappointments, sacrifices, and lots of hard work and determination. The same can be said of his spiritual journey. Warner's magical 1999 season was the turning point in his career, but he maintains the turning point in his life was when he realized that it wasn’t sports that was going to save him but Christ.

We all have a Super Bowl in our life – maybe more than one. It probably won’t be in the limelight like Kurt Warner’s, but I can’t think of a more public arena than life. In much the same way as Kurt Warner’s training helped him achieve his dream, whatever experiences we’ve had are training for our own Super Bowl moment when everything we know comes into play. It could be a dream job or a cancer diagnosis. For a few, it might be grandiose, but for most of us it is in the quietness of an ordinary life where we will face our biggest challenges and have the most impact.

Let's face it, we can't all be MVPs, but we do have moments when Christ's light shines brightly through us for all to see. You don't need to be particularly talented or gifted. When you choose to be available, "there are no limits on how He chooses to use you."  God only asks that we do the best we can with what He’s given us. He gave Kurt Warner athletic ability. Your particular set of gifts and talents might be as a teacher, a janitor, a parent, a pastor, a nurse – it doesn’t matter. There are no unimportant roles in God’s world. The danger lies in comparing yourself to others and thinking they are more important. I have to admit when I was reading about Warner and his gorgeous wife, their perfect family, and their many philanthropic endeavors, I was tempted to feel 'less than.'  A familiar refrain began in my head, "I should be doing more, I should have been a better example to my kids, yada, yada, yada." I'm sure many of you have your own version of that tape. The next morning I received a timely Godwink as I read Rick Warren's reminder, “When you get to Heaven, God isn’t going to say, ‘Why weren’t you more like so and so?’ He’s going to say, ‘Why weren’t you who I made you to be?’” 

There is nothing easy about figuring out God’s playbook for your life. It’s an arduous journey with lots of twists, turns and all kinds of detours and setbacks. I think Kurt Warner could tell you from experience that God’s way is rarely the easy way. Warner may have made it look easy because of his confidence and natural ability, but when he was stacking groceries to make ends meet, I’m sure it didn’t seem easy to him.

It may take years or maybe even a lifetime for you to feel that moment when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are exactly where you are meant to be, doing exactly what He created you for. He’s got a game plan for all of us. We can all choose to use whatever gifts and abilities we’ve been given to glorify God – just like Kurt Warner. When you accomplish that, you won’t need a trophy as acknowledgment. The peace of being in tune with God’s will is reward enough.

The pinnacle of Kurt Warner’s football career might be a Super Bowl win, but his formula for success is his true treasure: faith and family. He continues to use his abilities to glorify God through his First Things First foundation. He and his wife, Brenda, started the foundation to share “their blessings and beliefs with others who have lost hope in themselves, their talents, and life. It is dedicated to impacting lives by promoting Christian values, sharing experiences and providing opportunities to encourage everyone that all things are possible when people seek to put 'first things first.'” That's a noble effort we call all choose to embrace wherever we find ourselves.

What's your formula for success? Who or what do you choose to put first?