Opening up– David, Jonathan & the England Cricket Team by Pastor- Graham Cooke
Summer ends now. As the sun sinks on another cricket season, so it sets also on the career of Alistair Cook, who retired from international cricket after the Fifth Test against India at the Oval, earlier this month. What a glorious sunset it was, as Cook scored 71 in the first innings and 147 in his final test innings of all. As broadcasters, journalists and ex-players lined up to pay their tributes to England’s greatest ever test run-scorer, surely the most moving words came from team-mate Jimmy Anderson, who had himself passed a memorable milestone in the same Test, having now taken more test wickets than any other pace bowler. After the match finished he said this about Cook: “He’s my best mate. He’s been brilliant just to be there for me all the time…” At which point he started choking up and as the tears started to flow, he covered his embarrassment with a few giggles and a smile as he turned away from the camera.
In a world where male friendship so often consists of banter, scorn and bravado, how refreshing to hear a top sportsman open up with honesty and emotion as he talks about friendship- friendship forged in the pressure of performance, amid huge, unrealistic public expectation, friendship that even survived numerous dropped catches in the slips.
Assistant pastor, Jon, and I have been making our way through the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, the remarkable story of Saul and David. In Chapter 23, we find that while David was following the Lord’s leading and fighting the Philistines, King Saul is fighting the wrong enemy altogether, pursuing David out of envy and fear, wanting to have him killed. You may remember that David did have one friend in Saul’s court- Saul’s own son, Jonathan, who, as we’re told, loved David as himself. (18:1). We can imagine the tension Jonathan felt between remaining a loyal son and being a good friend. Somehow Jonathan managed to sneak away from his father, to find David at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, where, we read, he
‘helped him to find strength in God’. (23:16)
What a resonant phrase that is. We don’t know exactly what took place during the visit. There were certainly uplifting, encouraging words from Jonathan. I imagine they called out to God together in prayer. There may well have been banter and japes, as well. Think what this meant for Jonathan as Saul’s heir. He saw Saul, out of envy and fear, trying to get rid of David, but Jonathan saw David as he truly was- the Lord’s Anointed. To identify with David was to acknowledge that he himself would never be king. But he recognised what God was doing through his friend, and he didn’t let his pride or ego get in the way of him supporting that. Jonathan helped David find strength in God. That’s what believing friends are for.
So here’s a challenge for us men in an era when male friendship can largely seem to consist of joshing and drinking stories. Let us value our male friendships- there is nothing like them. Let’s invest such friendships with quality time. And when our mates are struggling, let’s go and be with them, stand with them, and help them find strength in the Lord. Of course that requires opening up, making ourselves vulnerable, but even if we only get halfway through a sentence before tearing up, getting embarrassed and giggling like a schoolboy, actually, finding the right words is much less important than simply turning up and being there. We don’t have to give any answers; simply praying with them will help them find strength in the Lord.
In that conversation Jonathan also looked forward to a time in the future when David and he would be first and second respectively in the land. Sadly, Jonathan’s death at the side of his father, prevented that. But imagine – David and Jonathan at the top of the batting order- what an opening partnership that would have been! Following Cookie’s retirement, what a shame they’re not available to the selectors right now.