As we head into the final week of the NFL’s regular season, America is heartened by the encouraging news concerning the recovery of the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin. Still listed in critical condition and in the intensive care unit at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, doctors have said the star safety is “neurologically intact” and showing “remarkable improvement.”
Hamlin’s shocking collapse on Monday Night Football, along with an unprecedented outpouring of love, support and even public prayer for the 24-year-old, has riveted the country. After all, when is the last time you saw a sports analyst, along with his colleagues on ESPN, bowing their heads and calling out to the Lord in prayer?
First, let’s be clear. Prayer makes a difference. In Damar Hamlin’s recovery, I believe we’re seeing God answer prayer in real time.
But why did an increasingly secular country, where faith and prayer are routinely derided and mocked, suddenly turn its collective eyes upward to God? What’s going on?
Cynics might chalk this week up to raw emotion, but I think something much deeper and more important is going on. Even though many may not be able to articulate it, there’s a spiritual hunger in America – and it manifests in a variety of ways, but especially in times of crisis.
The shocking sight of Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest and then limp body lying out on a football field this past Monday night is a harsh, but instructive, reminder that life is fragile – and we are frail. If an athlete in the prime of his life can nearly die playing a football game, we’re reminded that all of us are living on borrowed time. Crisis and catastrophe cause us to cut through the fog and the fluff of life. It forces us to focus on what’s most important.
To many of us, Damar Hamlin represents the hopes and dreams we have for the next generation. He’s a young man who sees his life and his work as something of a divine calling. He has a purpose. He has goals. Discussing the platform God gave him to give back to his community through his charitable work, he recently said, “I feel like that’s God talking to me. I really feel like that’s what my purpose is. That’s why He put me here.”
Do you know why God put you here? Not far from Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati where the football star collapsed, there are scores of men and women Hamlin’s age desperate for a sense of purpose, many struggling through lives of addiction, violence, and hopelessness. In fact, a report last fall found that violent crime among teens in Cincinnati is at a twenty-year high.
The vast majority of these individuals in Cincinnati, Buffalo and every other city come from broken homes, and most have no father in their lives. Damar Hamlin defied the odds. His parents, Nina and Mario, had him when they were in their teens. Mario was sent to jail for three years for selling drugs, but the family stuck together.
“We weathered every storm from hell and back together as a family,” Damar wrote his father on Instagram last June. “Not ashamed of our story cause it made us who we are. Happy Father’s Day pops. You taught me a lot in life but something that will always stick with me is making sacrifices for the people you love. Whatever it takes for the family.”
Damar Hamlin nearly lost his life and that platform this past Monday night, and America gasped. We should. There are few things more heartbreaking or tragic than to see so much promise struck down so suddenly. But do we have a similar burden for men and women like Damar who are outside the spotlight, struggling to live, void of hope, bankrupt of dreams and purpose?
Much has been made this past week about the violent aspects of football. League officials are regularly looking for ways to make the sport safer, and that’s a good thing. But the core issue isn’t the violence on the field – it’s the violence off of it, including the dysfunction and cultural challenges caused by the collapse of the family and America’s abandonment of its spiritual core. Historically, faith and family have been foundational to our nation’s stability – and it remains the way forward.
Let’s continue to pray for Damar Hamlin, and may this difficult moment not be squandered, but instead used to turn hearts and minds back to the Great Physician who loves and cares for Damar, you and me.
This article was originally published on Fox News.