The difference between “fun” and joy
Saturday begins a new baseball season for me. For about the 15th season, I will lead a group of young boys, this season aged 7-8, into the glorious national pastime as a coach in the Northwest Christian Sports League. Every season a group of parents put their young man in my charge for a few hours every week. It is a honor I do not take lightly, being a parent of six myself, I know how easy it is to have your child overlooked, and how an experience that was supposed to be fun for the child can instead become a real drag.
I always joke that I am best suited to coach young boys in baseball, because I have intimate knowledge of what it is like to be the worst player on the team. Partly it was because I was low on the age and experience scale, as most players were into their second season in our division. And partly it is because I am, well, a pretty bad ballplayer. So I have special insight on what it is like to underachieve on the play fields of America. I was so bad in Little League(TM), I quit in mid-season. I didn’t mind so much being bad, I just didn’t understand the purpose of having me on the team. One day walking to school, a group of my former teammates came up to me, angry, and ready to rough me up.
“Why did you quit the team?” they growled.
“Because I was no good,” I replied in fear.
“They kind of looked at each other, realized my quitting had nothing to do with disloyalty. In fact, it may have actually been a true act of loyalty. But the kicker was, it made sense. They could not disagree with the logic.”
“Okay,” the biggest kid said, and the young mob went on their way. On that day, I learned the value of a rock solid, well reasoned argument.
I’ve had my share of successes since then on the playgrounds of America as a molder of young ballplayers. So, here I offer you, dear reader, the secret to my success. I have a speech I now give the boys every season. It’s my General Patton, Why We Fight speech. It’s Coach Rick’s Why We Play speech. And this season, it goes like this:
Our season starts Saturday. And we may win all our games, we may win half our games, we may win no games at all. I have no idea which will happen. But it doesn’t matter. Winning is more fun than losing, but can anyone tell me what is the reason why we play our games?
‘To have fun’ at least one kid will respond.
“Yes,” I will quickly respond, before another boy with a raised hand begins an endless story about a pet fish and an annoying sister. “To have fun. Fun is important. You play baseball because it’s fun. If playing baseball is not fun, well, that’s not fun.
Fun is important. But joy is more important.
“This season our team name is the Cubs. Now, the Cubs are currently the World Champions of baseball. And we want to be champions as well. But before last season, did you know that the Cubs were considered for hundreds of years (exaggerate for effect) the worst team in baseball. They were terrible. They couldn’t win a championship at all. They were so bad that if a championship was handed to them, they would find a way to drop it and get picked up by someone else. You think I am kidding?
The Summer of ’69
At one time, a new team came along that was even worse than the Cubs. It was the New York Mets. As bad as the Cubs were, the Mets were even worse. And then one season, in the Summer of 1969, the Cubs and the Mets were suddenly good. But the Cubs, it seemed anyway, were better. The Cubs had an 11 game lead on the Mets late in the season, and with only a couple weeks left to play and a championship in sight, the Cubs promptly lost just about every game in September. And the Mets, the only team worse than the Cubs, won first place and the Championship. The Cubs were so bad even the Mets could take a championship away from them. The Cubs were that bad.
(Pause for reflection and mental imprint)
Wrigley Field: worst team, happiest place on earth
BUT…the Cubs were also the team that had the most fun. Their ballpark was called Wrigley Field. Wrigley field was a magical place. It was named after the most delicious gum in the world. All their games were played in the daytime, when it was warm and sunny. Well, it was also cold and windy because Chicago was known as the Windy city. But mostly it was warm and sunny in the middle of a pleasant summer day.
Wrigley field was in the middle of a neighborhood. People could sit on their roofs and watch the games. When you walked to the ballpark, kids sold lemonade to you from their front yards. I know this, I did this once. If a kid could sell enough lemonade before the game started, he could take his money to the park and buy a ticket. People walked to the games, or took the train, which stopped right behind right field. If you were a kid and didn’t have money to buy a ticket, you could, with your parent’s permission, walk to the street behind the bleacher seats. There on the street behind left field you could listen to the crowd cheers, and another kid’s radio that was broadcasting the game going on behind the stands, and you would know the score. And if the announcer, who was the best announcer in the world, yelled that a long fly ball was hit toward left field, you looked up and got ready, because almost all home runs hit to left field went past the bleacher seats in the tiny ballpark and landed on the street you stood on. So, as a kid who had no money, you might not even be able to watch the game, but still go home with a home run ball as a souvenir. Wrigley field was the closest place to heaven on earth for a baseball fan, even a baseball fan who had no money.
Wrigley field was fun everywhere, but the most fun place to be was the bleachers, the cheap and worst seats far back in the outfield. The fans there joked, laughed, tossed beach balls, they loved it when the Cubs won, and they were mad when the Cubs lost. But they never stayed mad for long.
The fans in the bleacher seats never stayed mad at the Cubs because they loved the Cubs. The were called the “bleacher bums” of Wrigley field and they were the most loyal fans in the world. They never stayed angry at their team. They loved their Cubs so much, and enjoyed rooting for them so intensely that before long the outfield bleachers went from the cheapest seats in Wrigley Field to the most expensive seats in Wrigley because everyone wanted to watch the game there. The bleacher bums were loyal to their Cubs, and they were loyal to each other. Next week I am going to Wrigley field with my wife, and we will sit in the bleachers for the first time in our lives. If you get tickets before the season starts, you don’t have to pay as much. The bleacher seats sell out the fastest, and if you don’t have a ticket, you have to pay someone who does a lot more money to get one (uh, nevermind I said that, kids).
Now, we Cubs on this team play baseball for fun, but we also play baseball to learn lessons for life. In our after practice devotional time, we’ve talked about obedience, about loyalty, about generosity, about caring about each other, and about respect. We’ve talked about how we are a team that is loyal to one another. We talked about how we respect our coach, our teammates, the boys and coaches on the other team, our parents, and God. The reason we play baseball is to have fun. That is the most important thing about baseball. But the other things: respect, obedience, loyalty, gratitude, caring about our teammates, encouraging our teammates, are important too. And this is why:
Fun is important. But joy is more important.
Fun is transitory, Joy is eternal
When you have fun, it’s fun until you have to stop. And then you get mad until you get a chance to have fun again. And after a while, you find you are only happy when you are having fun. And the rest of the time you are kinda mad. And your mom and dad are kinda mad as well. When your mom or dad tell you to put down the video game, you fun disappear immediately, and you get mad and say it’s unfair, until you have fun again. Maybe you get mad at your parents, for taking away your fun, or at your brother or sister or friend, for getting in the way of your fun, or getting into your stuff while you were playing your video game.
After a while, fun isn’t really fun anymore, because you find yourself mad if you can’t have fun. When your parents stop your fun, by telling you to do your homework, or come to dinner, or brush your teeth, or go to bed, you may turn into a grouch, until you can have fun again.
That is where qualities like obedience, respect, gratitude and loyalty come in. When your mom tells you to turn off the screen, and you do so out of respect and obedience, you are sad, but you say, “yes, mom.” then turn off the screen and then say, “thank you, mom for letting me play,” or “thank you, Dad, for buying me that game,” you will find you will begin to replace the fun with something more precious than fun: joy.
You made your mom happy. You made your dad happy. And that made you happy. And as you are happy, you go to your sister and brother, because you aren’t playing on the screen anymore, and you are nicer to them. They like that, and they are nicer to you. And they begin to treat you with more respect. And you find you are having a bit more fun, even after you stopped doing the thing you were doing to have fun.
What you have done is replace your “fun” with “happiness”. With joy.
Fun is transitory. It is here for a moment, but it disappears quickly. A baseball game may be fun when you are winning. But if things go bad at the end, and you lose, the fun is over.
But joy lasts much longer. You can always have joy, win or lose. Joy makes fun more fun, and it makes no fun kinda fun too. Because people with joy make more friends, make people around them happy, and they become happier too.
Fun is good. Happiness and joy is better. Fun comes and goes. Joy lasts forever. When joy lasts forever, fun lasts longer too.
So, we learn these lessons as we play our games. And when we do, we make good friends, we make happier moms and dads and brothers and sisters. And we fill our coaches (me, and Coach Seth) with joy.
Last fall, the Cubs won the World Series. The Cubs and their loyal fans had more fun than any other group of players and fans ever did. And it wasn’t because they finally got to have “fun.” It was because they always had joy, and the joy made the fun even more fun.
So, if we lose every game this year, but learn how to be full of joy by applying the lessons we learned about respect, obedience, and being thankful, we could actually have more fun than the team that wins every game.
And if we win every game, and learn how to be full of joy, we will have even more fun. And as we respect the teams we play, and are loyal to each other, and stay grateful for the fun we have, everyone will have more fun.
So go out there this season, have fun, and be filled with joy. Thank you for being on my team. It is my joy to be your manager, and to have you as my team.”