Praying Like Tom Bean

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

During my junior year in high school, we played in a basketball tournament a couple of days after Christmas. We had time for one practice and then we got on the bus for Leonard, Texas. Who names a town Leonard? Yet, I love small town Texas names: Turkey, Happy, Earth; and, of course, Luckenbach, Texas, with Waylon and Willie and the boys.

Brent asked, “Coach, where’s Leonard?” “I don’t know. As long as the bus driver knows, we’ll get there.” Tommy asked, “Coach, who are we playing?” This was the year we were waiting for. We had dreams of playing in the state tournament at the University of Texas at Austin. We hadn’t lost a game yet. We didn’t care who we played; we were confident.

“Who do we play, Coach?” Our young coach, who just graduated from college, turned around from the front seat of the bus and tried not to smile. “Tom Bean,” he said.

“Tom Bean!” we roared and laughed. “Tom Bean must be pretty good to take on a whole team!” “How is Tom Bean going to guard all of us at once Coach?” “What’ll happen if Tom Bean fouls out?” “If Tom Bean throws the ball in, who is he going to throw it to?”

We laughed and laughed. Coach said, “You all settle down and get your minds on the game. I heard Tom Bean is pretty good.” And we laughed even more.

We got to Leonard, put on our game uniforms, and started warming up in the gym. Tom Bean was nowhere to be found. The jokes continued. “Tom Bean must be lost.” The referee told us that Tom Bean High School had bus troubles, but they would be on time for the game.

In our small locker room, which smelled like dirty laundry, we heard loud, raucous talking on the other side of the thin sheet rock wall which separated the two locker rooms. Tom Bean had arrived; and they were talking like drunken sailors.

Coach said, “O.K., Tom Bean has colorful language. Let’s gather around for a prayer. Who wants to pray?” All of us took a knee, looked down, and joined hands to pray. “I’ll pray,” said Willie, who was the President of our Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Chapter.

“God,” Willie said and a miracle happened. (Tom Bean could hear us, and they got absolutely quiet.) Willie prayed on, “Heavenly Father, we thank you for the opportunity to play basketball. May we and Tom Bean (we tried to muffle our laughter) play fair and to the best of our abilities. May You protect both teams from any injuries tonight, and may we give you all the Glory. Amen” “Amen,” we echoed, and we heard scattered “Amens” from Tom Bean on the other side of wall.

“Wow,” we thought. “Who are these guys from Tom Bean High School?”

Not to be out done, the Tom Bean coach, who did not say anything about his players needing to watch their language, said, “Would someone like to lead us in prayer?”

The deepest voice I’d ever heard up to that point in my life said, “I will Coach.” They listened to our prayer, so we had to listen to their prayer.

That deep voice from beneath the sea said, “Lord…” There was a long, uncomfortable silence. “Lord…” another long silence. I was wondering if Tom Bean knew how to pray. Then that rich bass voice said, “Lord, if it is your will, help us kick Wylie’s (bleep).” A roar went up from the Tom Bean players!

“Oh my gosh! Did he just say that!” “Can you pray that way?” Half of me was laughing and the other half was scared to death! Tom Bean wants to destroy us!

I learned a lot about prayer that night. Father Ron Rolheiser writes, “One classical definition of prayer defines it this way: Prayer is lifting mind and heart to God.” Rolheiser says that quite often we tell God what we think God wants to hear rather than what’s really on our minds and hearts. We feel like we are praying only when we have kind, hopeful, altruistic thoughts; so, we rarely lift our minds and hearts to God in prayer. If anything, Tom Bean was just being honest. We wanted the same thing.

“We all have moments and even seasons of doubt, anger, alienation, pettiness, and tiredness. It’s at times like this we need prayer and what we need to take to prayer is precisely those bitter thoughts and feelings,” writes Rolheiser. In prayer, we give everything to God, sit with it, and seek guidance or wisdom from the Holy Spirit. This is how we can “pray always.”

I don’t know for sure when God seems to answer prayers, and when God seems not to, but I do firmly believe that prayer leads us to the foundation of love, joy, peace, and abundant life.  I do know that winter night in Leonard, Texas, that Wylie and Tom Bean High Schools played hard and to the best of their abilities. Nobody got injured except for our egos because Tom Bean did beat the tar out of us. It was bad, and Tom Bean praised God for the big victory after the game. Who knows?

May we lift our minds and hearts to God in prayer. May we seek discernment and healing from the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Blessings and peace,