With the Olympics done and the NHL set to return to the hockey spotlight, I will try to tie to two together with this story of Peter Budaj and his eye-catching mask. It started off innocently enough. He was new to the NHL. He was a back-up goalie for the Colorado Avalanche and was making the important decision of what artwork he would put on his mask. An equipment manager for the Avalanche, who may not have had the best understanding of what true faith in God looks like, went to the best reference that he could think of. He suggested Ned Flanders – the do-good, devout Christian neighbor of the Simpsons on the popular tv cartoon. While Flanders may be a caricature of how the world views Christians, the point is not to be missed. Even early in his career, Budaj had made his faith known enough that teammates and those associated with the team knew that it was an important part of who he is.
And though Budaj is not a fan of the Simpsons – according to this article from Living Light News, he has only seen about 15 minutes total of the show in his life.
Budaj, a three time Olympian for Slovakia – and the first Slovak goalie to reach 100 career wins was raised in a Christian home. His dad told Peter just before he left to play hockey in Ontario, Canada at the age of 16 the decision was his – would he like to have a relationship with God or not. Peter chose to hold tight to his faith and it has helped guide his life and career to this point. He knows he has not lived a perfect life. Like all of us, he slips up, but he also sees many opportunities to represent God and to help others know Him, too. And how does he want to represent Christ? He hopes that people will stop seeing God as a big bad God looking to strike people down, but instead to focus on God’s love and forgiveness, available to all.
Here are my takeaways from Budaj’s story.
1- Live out Loud – Steven Curtis Chapman sings a song by that name, and the point of it is that people should know us by our actions, by the love we have for each other. Budaj’s actions spoke loud enough that those around him identified him as a Christian and even in an endearing way. We read in the article that he desires to represent God in a realistic and true way. God is not the mean evil God looking to punish us the moment we stray. He is a loving God who wants to know us and show his love for us. How obvious is our faith to those around us? Are we living out loud for God? Do we represent God in such a way that those who do not know Him would be drawn to Him?
2- Our Own Choice – In the article, we read that Budaj’s dad challenged him to make his choice to follow God or not. He was about to enter a world where depending heavily on faith in God would be important to avoid the trappings that come from success, celebrity, money and the world in general. So when we read later that Budaj is careful in how he is raising his own son, striving to be a Christlike example so Peter Jr. will also be drawn to follow Christ.
We would love to be able to make the choice for our kids or others in this life that we love. We can’t. But the way we are living can help others discover who the true God really is. That is a challenge worth taking on.