Sweaty and exhausted after hockey practice, I dropped onto a bench in the locker room. As I yanked off my skates, I listened to a teammate spread the latest gossip.
“Can you believe she hooked up with him? What does he see in her, anyway?”
“Who knows?” I replied. I felt a familiar twinge of guilt and ignored it.
Another teammate interrupted our conversation. “Laura, you’re gonna play in Sunday’s game, right?”
“For sure!” I answered. I didn’t feel as sure as I sounded. My stomach had flip-flopped when Coach announced the schedule. I’d have to miss church … again.
It was my sophomore year, and I’d played for the Komets seven months of every year since fifth grade. I’d made the hockey-over-church choice a thousand times. But it never got any easier.
My youth pastor often encouraged me to come to church and youth group more often. He said God should always come before sports. He just doesn’t understand what it’s like to be on a team, I thought to myself. But I knew he was at least partly right. I played volleyball for my high school, but that never conflicted with church the way hockey did. Because I was on a club hockey team, we often had Sunday games—which meant I missed a lot of Sunday school and church. Practice on Wednesday nights meant I rarely went to Bible study.
It went beyond just missing church activities, though. My relationship with Christ was starting to slip. It’s not like I was totally walking away from God. My teammates did a lot of stuff I never got into, like swearing and drinking.
They also gossiped a lot, which I did get into. Our conversations revolved around hook-ups and break-ups, who got pregnant and what our ex-teammates were up to. Gossiping made me feel uncomfortable, but I knew it was just part of locker room talk. More than that, I stuck out enough by not drinking and partying. Joining in the gossip helped me to feel like I fit in.
During the summer after my sophomore year, I worked at my church camp as an assistant cabin leader for younger girls. Being tucked away in the woods for a week made it easier to think and pray over what had been going on in my life. I started feeling pretty guilty about all the gossiping I’d done. I also felt bad that I’d been giving so much time to the team and so little time to God and my faith. I wondered: Had fitting in with my hockey friends become more important than God?
As I walked through the woods on quiet afternoons, I realized I had a choice to make: I could devote myself to hockey, or I could devote myself to God. I’d tried juggling both, and it just wasn’t working. As much as I loved the game, I knew the hockey environment was really hurting my walk with Christ. I made a decision right then and there. I’d choose God.
Quitting hockey was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I know I made the right choice. Being involved at church and hanging out more with my Christian friends has really helped strengthen my relationship with Christ. It’s such a relief to have friends who encourage me and build me up instead of tempting me to fall into bad habits.
I’d be the first to admit that living my faith isn’t always easy, and I’m still tempted to gossip. But I have true friends who support me and hold me accountable. And I have Christ walking beside me, guiding my thoughts and how I talk. I guess what I gave up is no big deal compared to what I gained.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Campus Life magazine.
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