Admittedly, the “red zone” is a football thing, and therefore a kind of guy thing, so, first, I apologize to any readers who have little interest or knowledge in American football—who have been blessed with the grace to focus on things of heaven and not things of this world. (And I confess, I did spent a few hours watching the recent four divisional playoff games, and they were all quite amazing!!)
But then again, I’m an old guy, and have just found that the idea of “red zone thinking” is a helpful metaphor—not only for how I need to be thinking during these “last twenty-yards” of my own life, but how we need to be thinking about the present state of our country, culture, world, and even Church. Actually, this is how Christ called all of His followers to always be thinking, wherever they’re at along the “playing field of life.”
A football field is one hundred yards long. Between the goal lines, two opposing teams have a row, as the Brits might put it. They battle it out, the offense of one trying to score points while the defense of the other trying to stop ‘em. Both the offensive and the defensive squads of both teams have long and varying play lists and strategies, for whatever situation might arise between the goal lines.
But once an offense moves into the Red Zone—the last twenty yards before the opponent’s goal line—an entirely different mindset arises. The players become a bit more serious, they breath harder and sweat more profusely, smoke rises from their nostrils. Now the offense has only twenty yards and the short end-zone to work with, while, on the other side of the line-of-scrimmage, the defense has only this reduced field to guard. So the playlists and strategies for both squads get much smaller and more specific.
The game of football lends itself to many analogies of life, and maybe in this blog my guests and I will explore some of these. But my main reason for this blog has little to do with football. Rather, I want us to consider taking a bit more seriously—a bit more urgently—where we are in relation to God our Creator through Jesus Christ, His Son.
Generally, I would assume that most of us (though we might assume we are always close to Jesus, especially through the sacraments) generally live our lives as if our actual final, critical meeting with our Lord is many years in the future—actually, many of us seem to live as if this future encounter is never going to happen. Most of us seem to live our lives as if we’re back on our own 20-yard-line of life, with the goal line somewhere way off over the horizon.
Red Zone Thinking means reconsidering all aspects of our Christian Faith with a more urgent seriousness—if we were to find ourselves standing face-to-face with Jesus tonight, would we be ready to “give a reason for the hope that is in us.”
There are many quotes I could share as an example of Red Zone Thinking, but here’s one I came across recently, from Evagrios the Solitary (345-399 AD), a disciple of the Cappadocian and Desert Fathers. In his writings on watchfulness, he wrote:
“A monk should always act as if he was going to die tomorrow; yet he should treat his body as if it was going to live for many years. The first cuts off the inclination to listlessness, and makes the monk more diligent; the second keeps his body sound and his self-control well balanced” (from the Philokalia, Vol.1, p. 53 (Faber and Faber, London: 1979)).
One could argue, “But that’s for monks! What’s that got to do with me!”
Well, as I wrote the first draft of this post, I was interrupted by an email informing me of the funeral of a friend, who was my own age and had died unexpectedly from complications with Covid. I think Red Zone Thinking means putting aside all the excuses we’ve been using all these years—that have stood in the way of us growing in grace—and maybe wondering, with the realization that any one of us might also die tomorrow, “What did those monks and other respected spiritual writers know that I don’t?”
Maybe it’s time for me to take these last 20-yards seriously
“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:17-18)