Praying for the Villain

Let me state upfront that I don’t like Duke Basketball whatsoever. My first memory as a Kentucky fan consists of Christian Laettner stomping a Kentucky player in one of the most epic NCAA tournament games ever. In that game in 1992, Laettner would go on to hit the game winner, finishing with a perfect stat line of 10 for 10 from the field and 10 for 10 from the free throw line. My fan vitriol for Duke had begun. My wife, Diana, and I have enjoyed a common disdain for Duke. She’s a UNC Tarheel through and through. Duke memorabilia that found its way to her home as a child ceremoniously burned in the backyard.

Anyway, Laettner was the first in my memory of a long line of Duke “villains” who seem to embrace being hated for wearing the Duke jersey. Coach K himself. Bobby Hurley. Steve Wojciechowski. J.J. Reddick. And now, Grayson Allen.

Allen is the latest to take up the mantle of current most hated Duke player, tripping players from the opposing teams three times in the last two seasons. He recently served a one game suspension for said incidents. For many of Duke’s rivals, rival fan bases especially, and many sports talking heads, that one game wasn’t enough. For me personally, let’s just say I agree with the majority.

So it would be hard to exaggerate the gut punch in my stomach the other day when my seven year old son, Joseph, said while watching highlights of Duke, “I know who I am going to have as my prayer request this week: Grayson Allen.” I immediately cringed.

For much of the last year, our family has each picked a different specific prayer request, usually a person, that we all three pray for all week. We pick new requests on Sunday. So when he announced his new prayer request, I hate to admit it, but I recoiled inside. Yet just as quickly as I shuddered at his statement, I sensed God’s conviction. I don’t know Grayson Allen, but because he’s a Duke “villain,” I must confess, I haven’t found myself thinking toward his spiritual well-being. The second my cringe became conviction, I realized my son saw him more clearly than I did. My vision of him was tainted by my Kentucky blue shaded glasses smudged with more than twenty years of fan distaste for Duke. Joseph just saw someone who needs God. I don’t know where Grayson Allen stands with God, but regardless of where that is, he (just like me, by the way) needs God’s mercy, patience, forgiveness, and grace.

The more I thought about my son’s prayer request, the more I have considered other “villains” we perhaps tend to depersonalize or dismiss. It’s not always even the villains we don’t see through God’s eyes. It may just be those that are religiously or ideologically different or far removed from us. Sometimes, I think the shaded glasses we wear keep us from just seeing that all of us – everyone on the planet – desperately need God. Whether those glasses are shaded by our political identity, denominational allegiance, or national patriotism, at least with me, my glasses have far too often blinded me from seeing them through the only eyes that matter – God’s. To be honest, Kim Jong-un hasn’t made my prayer list by name. Neither did Castro. Rarely did the radical Jihadist like Bin Laden. I didn’t often pray specifically for those of a different party affiliation. I can’t ever remember praying for Benny Hinn, Paula White, or even the Pope.

I needed to be reminded, according to God, it’s not Grayson Allen whose the villain. Neither is it the name-it-claim-it prosperity preacher, the communist, the leftist, or the Muslim. We all were His enemies, the villains, if you will, when He died on the cross (Romans 5:6-10). In these five verses, we humans are identified as “weak,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” and “enemies,” compared to God. And we all equally need Him to reach across the gap we’ve created by our sinfulness and treat us differently than we deserve.

This week, thanks to my son, I will pray for Grayson Allen. And next week, I may just add some other villains, including myself, to the list.

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