Why Red Zone Thinking?

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)

5 thoughts on “Why Red Zone Thinking?

  1. We had a nice prayer in the Anglican funeral service that had a line…”And teach us to use aright the time that is left to us here on earth.”

    AMEN!

    My Mom (aged 93) died on Advent Sunday the afternoon after I had preached on the topic of “a Happy Death”

    She fell ill the day before T’giving and died 5 days later with her children around her asking for me to read John 14:1-6.

    Beautiful.

    1. Fr. Dwight, first thanks for perusing my blog! Honored! And thank you for your thoughts! Our prayers are with you and your mother and family! Guess it just reminds us that for any one of us, it might be 4th and goal, at the one yard line, with just a few seconds to go–guess we never know. 😉

  2. My husband died November 2. Through our 23 years of marriage and a blended family we talked and prayed. He attended mass with me for most of those years, but he was never willing to embrace the Catholic faith. There were times he was very critical of the church, but mostly he was respectful of my faith. After his death, and during the last couple of months his children became very divisive between him and me. I had always loved them just as my own. This was a shock and a heart breaking experience for me. I pray for him and I’m praying for the family. His children are grown and are grandparents. Jack was 85. I am beginning to pray with a return to love for them. I have a very supportive church family and I am so thankful for them! The mass and the rosary and EWTN are a lifesaver for me. I’ve always loved your Journey Home program and watched it many times with Jack. Please pray for his soul. He loved Jesus, but he was so stubborn against the faith. He attended RCIA a couple of times, but would only go for a while and then quit. We attended our diocesans charismatic prayer group for years and would participate there. He just always thought he was the one who knew everything about God.

    1. Dear Sandy, certainly, our prayers are with you and your husband, and your extended family. Thinking of how you describe your husband’s faith in Jesus, yet resistance to the Catholic Church, reminds me what I read this morning in Psalm 119: “Thou are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in thy Word. … Deal with thy servant according to thy steadfast love … Great is thy mercy, O Lord; give me life according to thy justice.” (114, 124, 156). May our Lord shower you with His merciful love!

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