Magazine Article

Pain and Pleasure

What’s in a game?

Theron Ithiel
Pain and Pleasure
Cricket bat and ball on green grass of cricket pitch

The story that follows draws on my father’s faith in a particular biblical proverb. My father’s love for me was neither weaker nor stronger than his faith in that portion of the Holy Scriptures. He was a wonderful man, beloved by all in his world; or by most, then, for the sake of your incredulity. I hope you share faith in God’s Word as deeply as he taught me to, and love for him as much as we who knew him did. 

An Intro of Sorts

I was the first boy and second child of a loving family that enjoyed playing with our father when he was available. Our father was good at several things, and I probably inherited some of his abilities, athletics included. Approaching my twelfth birthday, I won my first race against my older sister. We hardly competed after I started to win, but I venture that given a chance, she would have been a national sprint champion. 

In cricket—the game, not the insect—I found myself a permanent member of my school’s team quite early in elementary school, even before I won that race against my sister. I may not have been good at anything , but results need explanations: “Time and chance happen” (Eccl. 9:11), but someone gets the credit for giftedness. Often enough I did. 

Six decades later there is much that I’ve forgotten. But there is enough that I have never forgotten. Even at that early age, I was an all-rounder, filling in wherever needed. Repeatedly, my contribution was crucial, even if only to prevent defeat. Excellent reflexes enabled me as a wicketkeeper, or as a fielder at any position—quick over the ground, accurate in my throws, producing many dismissals of batsmen otherwise difficult to dislodge. My name would be called repeatedly when weekend games were reported at school assembly on Monday. 

Cricket games—there were no T20s then—can last much longer than America’s better known basketball, soccer, baseball, and football. But my cricket matches had to end Friday afternoon, in fading light sometimes. Teams would use delaying tactics to have a game declared a draw in situations where only poor visibility could save them from defeat. 

The Friday afternoon sun-setting situation was my big problem. My father was a Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventist who, like Abraham, commanded his household after him. In his house everyone had to be ready for welcoming the Sabbath at sundown Friday. He usually took his seat and started singing before sunset. Extended delay in joining him had its consequences, namely, sincere paternal efforts to convince any recalcitrant child that delinquency in Sabbath eve worship attendance would not be tolerated. His regard for Scripture embraced faithfulness to duties he found there defined, including that proverb I alluded to: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (Prov. 13:24, NIV). My house was not close enough to the cricket ground. I could never see the game through to a finish and still arrive on time for welcoming the Sabbath. It was an awful delinquency, too grave to be ignored, explained away, or quietly forgiven. It may well have been forgiven, but not quietly. And the attention it received was more than an admonitory finger or earnest plea to do better next time. 

I have good reason to believe that my confident recollections of his discipline are out of balance, for my father’s job caused him to be away from home for extended periods. Though I was occasionally punished for instances reported to him after he came home, I’m willing to believe that overall I may have been punished a lot fewer times than I recall. No, I’m not confused. And no, I do not distrust my memory. 

I’m simply open to clarification from my recording angel, should he see fit. 

The (Protracted) Middle

Needless to say, I vowed, often enough, never to be late again for Friday evening Sabbath welcome worship. However, my vows were like “ropes of sand.”* Being a regular member of the school team sometimes entailed my presence at the game until its conclusion. There were occasions I could have left, as my participation was no longer actively required. But I was a child acting without considering consequences, or rather, one for whom those consequences were not especially determinative. The outcome of the game was determinative: it would definitively affect the way my contribution would be viewed, and influence my future participation. 

Despite my success on the field of sport, and despite the acclaim it brought me, I was always burdened going home from the game on Friday, and home from church at the end of the Sabbath. As children we walked everywhere we needed to go—school, church, shop, etc.; we could not afford car fares, and in those days a two-mile walk was not regarded as prohibitive. I usually took the final steps of the walk in quiet reflection on my yesterday and what it would mean for me soon: I knew I’d earned myself the Proverbs 13 “application.” 

For whatever reason, my father never punished me during the Sabbath for disobedience to him and God in breaking the Sabbath. Also, his discipline consistently involved a combination of spanking and Bible texts, my repetition of Bible texts he thought were important to my situation and attitude. And though I’ve admitted my openness to clarification about being spanked, I need no clarification on my Scripture memorization: I can still repeat many of those verses. To be fair to the texts now in my head, and to my patient, loving, and reasonable father as the person who got them there, I should clarify the question written in the furrows of your brow: is that how your father wants you to think of the Bible—as an aid to, or an instrument of, punishment? My answer is a vigorous apology for any misleading that got you to such a question. 

Bible texts were not exclusively connected to punishment. They were simply everywhere in the home in which I was raised. As a child, I had many joyful opportunities for memorizing Bible texts. 

The (Blessed) End

I feel constrained to offer a confession about my obedience or lack of it, and my punishment in relation to it: I remember myself as a tween, consciously deciding that Dad’s spanking qualified as a “necessary evil” to be endured in order to experience the pleasure and glorification my weekly exploits engendered. I quite understand that this pathetic confession must lead you, my reader, to lament the fact that I’m so different from you and Moses. After all, he preferred to experience affliction with God’s people rather than “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:25, KJV). I, on the other hand, anticipated glorifications at school on Monday that made me more than ready to downplay Bible proverbs and their “application” that someone thought necessary. My earnest father’s efforts always faded into insignificance compared to the adulation and satisfaction I experienced at school. 

Thankfully, Sabbath breaking for the pleasure of it is not the last word in my story. Instead, I have two simple reflections. First, on my father: I was his first, not his only, gifted cricketing son. After a while, it seems he rethought the “application” of his Bible verse. He did live to see one of his offspring sacrifice a promising international cricket career to become a mentor and a source of inspiration as a successful educational and institutional administrator. 

Second, a reflection on long-range outcomes of our Father’s grace: He forgives my sincerely “disgraceful comparison” in noting that in some situations, anticipated pleasure does have a nullifying effect on the pain of the moment. The Godhead, seeing of their soul travail, including me—and you—through eternity, will be completely satisfied: Their pain was worth it.

* Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 47. 

Theron Ithiel

Theron Ithiel is a retiree and active member of the Amazing Grace Seventh-day Adventist Church in Brooklyn, New York.