Playing while hurt

Published 6:04 pm Friday, May 6, 2022

Last October, an amazing thing happened on national television. In the World Series, Atlanta Braves pitcher Charlie Morton was hurling during the second inning of game one. A line drive off the bat of Astros hitter Yuir Guriel caught Morton directly on the shin.

His limp betrayed the obvious pain he was in. He would retire that inning’s side and remark to his catcher in the dugout, “That one caught me pretty good.” Off into the tunnel he went, trying another couple of pitches just to see how the leg felt during the Braves at-bat. Next inning, sixteen pitches and three outs after having been hit by the batted ball, Morton fell to the ground. His leg had been fractured the whole time.

Perhaps no sport is better known for this sort of thing than football. I was standing on the sideline at a Georgia Tech practice one day. I watched a starting linebacker fly out of bounds and twist awkwardly. Two trainers had to scoop him up and cart him off to the locker room with a painful abdominal injury.

It all happened right at my feet, so I know how much pain the player was in. Because coaches are tight-lipped about that sort of thing, I said nothing on social media about what I had seen. I left just knowing we had lost one of our best players. Yet the next Saturday, there he was somehow playing hurt the majority of the game.

Of course, the market on playing hurt is not cornered by the obvious realms of sports and physical injury. In our larger world, we are surrounded daily by those who are showing up for life while in deep pain. Life can injure us in a variety of ways.

This weekend was a time of joy for us. Elizabeth and I returned from vacation anticipating a gala celebration of our church’s 150th anniversary. As a church, we’ve been hosting a series of special events and emphases for months now. But the big culmination of all this was on Sunday. On the surface, it was joyful.

Trouble is, the night before we had received news of an immediate family member who is hospitalized down in Atlanta. My responsibilities compelled me to be with my church. I was bound to do my job. My joy in the celebration was genuine. But I spent the day saying nothing about the alarming situation within my family. I limped out onto the figurative field and played hurt.

No doubt, you do this too. You carry the load of the medical diagnosis you await. But you still go to work. You are burdened with the family member who worries you. But you still carry out your volunteer commitments. You are stung by the disappointing behavior of the person you have valued so much up until lately. But you go ahead and have fun with your friends and you attend church.

Life and all its obligations march on. There may be moments when we can extend ourselves the grace of choosing a thing or two we could have done that now we will not. By and large, though, much of life calls on us to play while hurt.

Allergic though I am at lifting little quotes of scripture out of context, somehow Galatians 6: 1-7 keeps coming to mind. Phrases like these uphold me. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

In various ways, and by various people, it has been said that we should be kind to others we meet because everyone is fighting a battle of some kind that we know nothing about. I am especially in touch with that on this day. I will take my responsibilities seriously because that’s what I do. But if I drift now and then, my mind may be a few hours away. In a hospital where a family member awaits her verdict.

I’ll bet you have distractions, too. None of us gets a free pass. But here we go. Many of us propping each other up as we play on life’s field while hurt.