Managing the Clock: What Sports Can Teach Us About Life

With Super Bowl Sunday this weekend, I have the opportunity to talk about two of my favorite things and tie them together: sports and prayer. Having once wanted to be a sports broadcaster and news anchor, as well as a radio disc jockey, my family, especially my kids, have come to expect my running commentary on any game we are watching, providing education, analysis and play by play for those sitting around me.

One of the things that always intrigues my kids is how I talk about the time remaining in a game, except for baseball and tennis which operate without a clock. Ten seconds left in a basketball game is an eternity, even 5 seconds or less if you are only down by one. Two minutes left in a football game, if the score is close, is an eternity.

Time takes on a whole different meaning when it comes to sports, and other areas of life too, but particularly in sports.

Whereas in the normal course of living, two minutes and surely ten seconds is anything but an eternity, our approach to time is radically altered when it comes to specific moments. Think about it in your life, and not just in sports: when you are waiting for something important, hours or even days can seem like years; or the opposite, for when you are having a great time, hours or days can seem like minutes, hence the phrase, 'time flies when you are having fun.'

I am thinking these days about time, how we frame our lives, how we use our time, and how prayer, more than anything else, for me, is about taking the time to be grateful, to go inside and mine the jewels within myself, the gifts that are there in each moment, and make sure my priorities in life are aligned with my time management. I like to think of prayer time as another method of time management for ourselves. Like in sports, where a great quarterback or point-guard knows how to manage the clock, the great human beings that we admire and seek to emulate often know how to manage their clocks, manage the time in life.

One ancient teaching says that "time is the shechina, the divine presence on Earth." Taking notice of moments in our lives is what brings God into focus, for like the passing of each breath, like the ticking of the clock, like the sunrise and the sunset, time is always moving, there is no stopping the clock in the game of life, and that is Divine. Time is divine, holy, precious, unseen by the physical eye but a property that is at the heart of all life.

When we are on vacation, the closest thing we come to as a 'time-out' in life, we know we have really settled into the mode when we don't know what day or time it is, and we don't care. Moments are filled not by the clock but by experiences with our families or friends; we often describe an amazing vacation or a special day in our lives as a moment in time. It is Sabbath on Wednesday, vacation is, which is why Abraham Joshua Heschel famously described the Sabbath as a 'palace in time.'

Like prayer, I am lately talking about the Sabbath more and more as a day when, regardless of how we choose to personally observe, we take time, 25 hours, to do things, be with with people, read, sing, pray, love and share in ways that remind us what life is about, why we are here, and take note of how fast time goes by, how quickly the days pass, how quickly the days here on Earth can sometimes end.

On a recent meditation retreat I attended, one of the texts that we studied and discussed was the famous Kohellet, Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, "there is a time for everything under heaven..." which goes on to describe the many moments of life that we are blessed to share, as well as their supposed opposites, which challenge us and bring life truly into focus. "There is a time to laugh and a time to cry; a time to love and a time to hate; a time to dance and a time to weep; a time to be born and a time to die." And many others.

It is one of the most well-known pieces of the Bible, and here in America, it is one of the pieces that we often read at a funeral. For in death, we confront, in the most concrete way, how important each moment of life truly is, how precious, how divine time is in our lives. Yet, one of the things that came to me on the retreat, and something I am committed to, is to not wait for a funeral to teach these words, but rather to share them with our b'nai mitzvah students during their special Shabbat service.

We need to commit ourselves to becoming aware of the preciousness of life not at the saddest moments in our life, namely a funeral of a loved one, but at the happiest moments in our lives, at moments of growing up, forming and shaping who we are as people, which is exactly what a bar or bat mitzvah has the opportunity to offer. From a young age, how incredible would our lives be if we are taught to see time as sacred, a divine, as precious? It was an insight that profoundly changed how I am thinking and what I will say to young 13 year-olds who are in a moment of transition to Jewish young adulthood. Life will present many different kinds of moments: happy and sad, inspiring and disappointing, fruitful and lacking, loving and painful; this is what it means to live, what our tradition comes to offer us: namely, ways to manage the time in our lives, bringing meaning each precious moment.

To bring it back home to this weekend, it not always the best team that wins a big game. Rather, it is often the team that keeps its cool under pressure, is able to execute under pressure, able to make the most of the time given. If we see our lives in this way, prayer, the Sabbath and all of the amazing religious rituals that we clergy are always hocking you to try out and embrace, become tools to be the best human being we can be, the best person as possible in all moments, a true champion of the most important game around: life!