I grew up in a sports-mad household. My Dad took me to watch Barnsley F.C. from a young age and I accompanied him to watch Yorkshire County Cricket Club in the summer. Saturday afternoons, when not watching sport in person, were spent watching sport on TV: horse racing, rugby, athletics all framing my time; Sunday afternoons introduced me to F1 racing and skiing. Over time I learned about ice-skating, gymnastics, tennis, snooker and darts. There wasn’t a sport my Dad wouldn’t watch, and so I learned from him.
Through sport I learned geography (following England tours abroad with an atlas at my side, learning places in the UK through ‘away’ matches and associating these places with the names of football stadia or cricket grounds.) From sport, I learned the concept of ‘fair play‘, the dangers of being a ‘sore loser’ and graciousness (which was why I preferred the even-tempered Bjorn Borg to the volatile and rude John McEnroe.) I absorbed the truths of self-discipline, perseverance and teamwork all from watching sport. Many of my childhood memories are indelibly linked to sporting events: the promotion of Barnsley F.C. in 1979 and 1981, Virginia Wade’s Wimbledon victory in 1977, the 1980 Wimbledon final between Borg and McEnroe, the 1981 Headingley Test match.
Yet ironically, it’s an idiom from rugby, uttered by my non-sports-mad Mum which reverberates most often within me today. My Mum was a volatile, hot-tempered, fiery woman who had suffered a nervous breakdown in her early twenties. She rarely talked about this experience in later years, but would perhaps refer to it obliquely by saying, ‘You need to kick moods into touch.’ This reference to putting the ball out of play in rugby resonated with me, and as a typically moody teenager, I learned that ‘moods’ – how I was feeling at any particular time – were not the most reliable of friends and made poor arbiters of everyday life.
A good mood can be induced by a sunny day, pleasant company, a trip somewhere interesting, by a whole host of positive circumstances. Conversely, a bad mood can be induced by drizzle and overcast skies, having a long list of boring jobs to complete, being with cantankerous people, having to do things I don’t enjoy such as cleaning or ironing. Moods are notoriously fickle.
As I grew up, I learned that contentment, serenity and stability were available to me only if I refused to let moods define how I felt or dictate to me how I should behave. I learned that the best way to kick moods into touch was to praise God.
Praising God is a choice we make, irrespective of moods and how we feel. Eugene Peterson makes the wry observation that lifting our hands – as we are commanded to do in Psalm 134 – has nothing to do with feelings and everything to do with a simple motor action, determined by will.
So often, we defer praise and worship of God to the days when we are in a good mood (‘when the sun’s shining down on me and the world’s all as it should be’, as Matt Redman puts it in the song ‘Blessed Be Your Name.‘) But I think the acid test comes when we don’t ‘feel’ like it and still bless God (‘on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering.’) When we refuse to let moods define us and dictate our actions, then we move towards true joy.
Over the years I have discovered songs that express these truths more eloquently and poetically than I can. Rend Collective’s ‘Truth North’ is one such song:
‘I will not let the darkness steal the joy within my soul
I will not let my circumstance become my compass, no
I will not let the fears of life and sorrows of this world
Dictate to me how I should feel
For You are my true north.
I will not let my failures turn into the curse of shame
I will not walk beneath the clouds that taunt me and condemn
For I will stand on solid ground the shadow of Your love
Forgiven, changed, a heart renamed
For You are my true north.’ (‘True North’, Rend Collective)
Moodiness – that temporary state of mind or feelilng usually associated with being irritable, sullen, sulky and angry – has no place in our lives. Moods do need kicking into touch as we determine to live not by what we feel but by the truth God’s word reveals. (‘East To West’, Casting Crowns)