Like many of you, I’ve been somewhat glued to the story of Damar Hamlin since Monday evening, when the defensive player for the Buffalo Bills collapsed on the field after making a tackle.
In the moments that unfolded, it became clear this was no ordinary football injury, but a serious cardiac event in which the player’s heart stopped beating altogether.
Images from the game were surreal as players from both teams embraced, cried, and simply stared into space, hoping for the best but perhaps bracing for the worst.
Hamlin remains in critical condition, sedated, and so we can, like innumerable others, continue to pray for his full recovery.
The response of the public and media to the situation has been profound. What became clear almost immediately after Hamlin collapsed was that this was far bigger than simply a story of an athlete. It was a human story about life and death and just how suddenly the ordinary can become extraordinary, as a young man just 24 years old stopped breathing while competing in a professional sporting event. It was, and is, hard to comprehend.
G.K. Chesterton described life as being “almost reasonable.” In other words, life seems to be moving along in it’s normal way, when all of a sudden, crisis hits, defying all logic and propelling us into a tailspin of existential angst…all of a sudden the veil of the ordinary is pierced and we realize life will never be the same again.
The comments shared in the aftermath of Hamlin’s event said as much: “I’ve never seen anything like this” and “This is completely different from anything we’ve seen in the NFL.” Even more striking was how almost everyone felt immediately called to pray for this fallen teammate.
Images have surfaced of the Bills’ coach, Sean McDermott, leading his players in prayer…and surprisingly enough, ESPN, a network not known for espousing anything faith-based, didn’t turn the camera away.
But that wasn’t all. Dan Orlovsky, himself a former NFL quarterback, LED A PRAYER FOR HAMLIN on national television.
How was this possible? In America at least, there has always been this strange dichotomy between what is covered in the media, in television, and movies, and the life experience of many in this country.
But Monday evening pierced that veil. Hamlin’s team, the Buffalo Bills said in their official communications about the event, “We believe in prayer.”
All of a sudden, commentators such as Dan Orlovsky were praying for healing, calling upon God to heal this young man who himself is a follower of Jesus…I even saw an image in the news of Hamlin carrying a sign (presumably in high school) that read, “Recruited by Jesus.”
Now, there are easy ways to criticize these sentiments. Is this opportunism for people to share their faith in this crisis situation? Is this an example of a lifeless civil religion that actually hurts the witness of the church rather than helping it? If Hamlin doesn’t recover, will people lose faith? I can understand these arguments to a degree.
I believe, however, we should be paying attention to the primal desire to pray that emerged after the catastrophic event on Monday night. When life feels particularly precarious, God is actually drawing us closer to Him and His love. God has implanted a desire deep within his beloved creatures to talk with God in these moments of crisis. God listens when we pray.
For leaders, might God be prompting you to draw attention to what’s good and right here? You could say to a congregant or in a sermon, “Hey, that impulse within you to want to pray for Damar Hamlin while he sat motionless on the football field? That is God at work within you.”
Perhaps this can be a good time to share God’s love with folks who are asking questions about faith, about God, and whether God cares for us and our neighbors and hears us when we pray.
They say in preaching, it’s better to show, not tell, but I left this last image for the end. As you look at the photograph below, published by the Buffalo Bills organization, you can get a sense for just how significant this event has been around the country and world (click here to see the image up close)
Stuart Strachan Jr. is an ordained Presbyterian Pastor as well as the founder and lead curator of the Pastor’s Workshop. His primary passion is equipping the saints for the ministry of the church (Ephesians 4). He loves preaching, teaching, and helping churches cast vision for what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st Century. He has served churches in a variety of capacities in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Stu has an B.A. from Pepperdine University and a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Stu is married to Colleen, who currently serves as a spiritual formation lead at Compassion International in Colorado Springs. Stu and Colleen have two children (Jack and Emma) whom they love deeply.
In his free time, Stu enjoys gardening, golf, reading a good book, and watching baseball.
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