In All Things Physical, Stewart Johnson explores the world of sports, exercise, and active leisure.

Friendly competition can make the mundane tasks of life  less mundane. We learn this growing up as we attempt to be the first done with class work, finish with our chores the fastest, or even take your dad’s shoe off faster than your brother (I’m still trying to process how our father brainwashed my brother and me to do that one). Competition is found in the work place, job market, political realm, media and hosts of other facets of our lives. But what about leisure? Is it okay for us to continue expressing competitive desires through adulthood, or at some point do we just need to grow up and put away these childish things?

Just over a week ago I was invited to play an intense game called “Pelota.” The game takes place in a pool with 2 teams of 4. The point is to get a hand-sized rock to the opposite side of the pool, the trick being the rock can only be advanced if the person holding it is completely under water. This results in bodies being ripped from the water, guys fiercely grappling and the more than occasional blows to the face. A sort of primal manliness overcame me at the thought of going to battle against other guys, but soon the voice of my loving wife reminded me of the back surgery I’d had less than 3 years prior. Questions entered my mind about playing that particular game. Should I participate? Am I too old for this stuff? Are there better ways I could spend my time?

Some say games like Pelota and other sporting leagues are filled with people trying to relive the “glory days” of their washed up athletic careers, and that they just need to quit playing and just grow up. While this certainly takes place in such leagues, the problem is not the sporting activity or the leagues we participate in–the problem is our sinful hearts. When Christ is not our treasure then any good thing can become a golden calf.

I love competition and playing Pelota, for me, was a chance to express a healthy form of competition while gaining a great experience with a bunch of guys I wouldn’t otherwise know. The flag football league I played in last fall served as a chance to fill this longing to compete, but greater than that was the opportunity to invest time in building a friendship with the neighbor who invited me to play. Competing in sports and playing games can be a healthy thing for us, in so much as we exercise wisdom in discerning the true desires of our hearts.