I have a friend who recently got an e-mail from his pastor:
"Dear Jon, it's been a long time since I've seen your face during service on Sundays. It would be really nice to see you return to worship with us."
Ugh. The guilt. When I talked to Jon during the week, I asked him where he was watching the game that Sunday. I knew that Jon, a huge Chicago Bears fan, was getting mentally prepped to watch the Bears beat the lowly Detroit Lions.
Jon didn't have an answer.
But Jon's problem that particular week wasn't his love affair with just the Bears; rather, it was his love affair with sports. Of all Sundays for the Lord (or in this case, one of the Lord's messengers) to interrupt, that one was one of the worst. Not only were the Bears playing the Lions, but the second games of the day were huge matchups. The Saints against the Jets was a matchup of two undefeated teams. The Broncos against the Cowboys is a big game on any Sunday. To make matters worse, Game 3 of the WNBA Finals was that day, too. Just to give you an indication of how deep Jon is into women's basketball, he was the one who told me about Ashley and Courtney Paris before they went to Oklahoma.
Then there were the baseball games taking place at the same time as the NFL games. Not just any baseball games -- playoff-deciding games on the last day of the regular season! Twins-Royals and Tigers-White Sox with the AL Central title on the line.
Did I mention that Jon is a season ticket holder for the White Sox? He loves baseball.
Jon was struggling with his decision for three days. The e-mail from his pastor was weighing heavily on him. He knew that ever since football season began, he had been having trouble making it to the noon service. His wife gave him "the look" every Sunday morning when she walked out the door. His kids didn't know any better, saying, "Have fun watching your game, Daddy," as they left for Sunday school.
None of that made Jon budge. But when the pastor personally e-mails you to say that out of a congregation of more than 500, he misses your face, that's hard to ignore. That's guilt.
But my man had a plan -- as any true sports fan would. While he was finally answering my question about where he would watch the game, he spit out the blueprint.
"OK, I'm going to TiVo the Bears-Lions game while I'm at church," he said. "I'll get home by 2 p.m. I won't listen to the radio or talk to anyone so they won't tell me the score, and I can just start watching the game from the beginning when I get home. At the same time, like during the commercials, I can check in on the Saints-Jets game and the Cowboys-Broncos game."
"Bro, you forgot about the WNBA game," I said, reminding him that it would be virtually impossible to watch four games at one time.
"Damn!" he said.
"OK, then I'll just DVR the Mercury-Fever game and watch it after I watch all three of the football games," he rationalized.
Then I threw him two more roadblocks.
"Jon, two things," I said. "One, you are not going to be able to watch the other football games live, because at some point the ticker at the bottom of the screen will tell you the result of the Bears-Lions game. … And did you forget that the Steelers and the Chargers are the Sunday night game?"
The "Damn!" that came out his mouth this time was significantly louder than the first.
He was stuck. Stuck between a rock and a sports Sunday. No man is supposed to choose athletic worship over religious fellowship. Yet every Sunday during the football season, MLB postseason and WNBA Finals, we have to do just that: choose.
Most of us find ways to work it out. Work it out with our families; work it out with God.
But this time, there was a third party. A third party that put a level of guilt into the situation that no man could shake. "… It's been a long time since I've seen your face during service on Sundays. It would be really nice to see you return to worship with us."
Jon wrestled with the decision for days. I never sweated him to find out what he was going to do. I really didn't think he had a choice.
I called him Sunday night, at halftime of the Steelers/Chargers game. "How about them Bears!" he screamed into the phone. "Them Saints, and I think the Broncos are for real! I forgot they had Brian Dawkins. And did you see Jason Kubel? Two three-run blasts. Six RBIs!"
It seemed as if he didn't miss anything. I was wondering how he'd gotten it all in and not missed church. Impossible.
"Yeah, but Fams, you missed one helluva WNBA game," I said, assuming he had to miss something.
"No, I didn't," he shot back. "And even though [Diana] Taurasi was cold from outside all game, they still should have gotten the ball to her to take the final shot. She woulda nailed it."
I sat on the other end of the phone, confused and quiet, trying to figure it all out. He couldn't have … naw, not that. I know he didn't not go to church. Did he?
"I know what you are thinking," he said in the midst of my silence. "And yes, I did go to church. The pastor was checking for me."
As it turned out, he simply watched the Bears-Lions game and followed both baseball games on his BlackBerry during Sunday's service. He said to me: "Hey, God understands. He's a Bears fan, too."
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.