Dear Ray Rice,
As I sit in my living room and cheer on the Ravens I am doing so with a somber heart. As a pastor here in Baltimore, I have many mixed emotions but the greatest emotion I have is that of a shepherd to the broken. In all reality I’ll never have the opportunity to speak with you but if I did, I’d want you to know a few things. I’d want you to know the same things I’ve had to remind myself in my darkest days and the same things I’ve had to share with others who have fallen horribly in their own lives. Of all of the great men of God I know, they too have had to lean on these truths at one time or another. No one is perfect. That’s the core truth a man or woman must confess prior to receiving God’s grace and forgiveness. Seeing as we’re not perfect, how does one respond to God in the aftermath of sin’s consequence?
Understand that people saw more than just you in that video.
As I said, we are all sinners. The country is angry but you need to know that what America sees is so much more than Ray Rice. America sees an archetype. America saw a man who reminds them of other abusers. Unfortunately most of us now know someone who is a victim of domestic violence. I am pastor to a congregation that has a strong ministry presence in East Baltimore. This week when I asked my inner city teenagers if they know someone who has been involved in domestic abuse, every single hand was raised. Ray, as you consider why the country is angry I want you to know that they saw the person who hit their mom, their sister, their friend. Yes they are angry that you did what you did but their anger comes because they know someone who violated their trust and harmed someone they loved.
In light of that, you must know that you aren’t responsible to those emotions. You are responsible to care for the emotions of those closest to you. Respond to the emotions of your wife, your mom and those who most closely know the real you. Make plans to respond to your daughter as she gets to an age where this conversation must take place. Please do not carry the burden for all of America. That is not yours to carry. You were a flashpoint for all of us, including myself. You are not responsible for my emotions or any other person in America outside of your closest loved ones. If you own the emotions of people who have nothing to do with your situation, you will find it impossible to move forward. Own your actions, own your response, own your responsibility as a husband and father. Don’t own the rest. Pray for God to heal others just as you are praying for His healing on your family.
Recognize that this incident does not define you.
Look man, I know that life is far more complicated than the old Western films where you have the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’. I’ve come to realize that all of the ‘good guys’ I know have stains on their proverbial white caps and many of the ‘bad guys’ have some very redeemable aspects to their lives. Life isn’t a bumper sticker. We are all more complex than we’d like to admit.
The truth is, you have done a lot of good for our community. You have been a model citizen for the past six years in our city and with the Ravens organization. For years you have hosted the largest free football camp in our area for underprivileged youth. The students I work with want to defend you because they have seen the side that is not being played on loop: the side of you who loves this city and its kids. Your work on anti-bullying campaigns is well known to the people of this city and you answered the call in response to several high-profile school violence cases in recent years. Your charity work over the last six years ranks among the very finest in our city. Thank you.
Many people will decide that this incident defines you. It doesn’t. Our identity comes from the Lord, not man. I am so thankful that my sin does not define who I am. Ray, please know that God made you, equipped you and designed you to accomplish a great and wonderful work for His glory. You were created with a purpose. Simply put, playing football isn’t God’s main purpose for your life. Only God can define you and if you let Him, He will. He will define you as His child who, like the rest of us, has fallen from His standard of perfection. With Jesus as your Savior, He will define you as redeemed, repaired and restored in Christ. Allow that message to define you. Do not allow yourself to be defined by TMZ or people who enjoy making themselves feel better by finding happiness in another man’s pain.
Know that you are in a perfect position for God to redeem.
I wish I could talk to you personally. I’d speak words of redemption all over your life. You are not evil incarnate. You are a man who made a horrible mistake. You are a man living with a painful present but you do have a blessed future. You are going to have the opportunity to let God change you from the inside out. I pray that you simply ask God to grow you as a child of His and let the rest of life simply catch up. Without having to report for practice on the football field, you can now report to Jesus every morning and get your assignment. Go into spiritual training like you never have before and I promise the Lord will use you in a mighty way. God is not finished with you as a man, a husband, a father and possibly not even as an athlete. God is pretty good at the whole resurrection thing.
Embrace the consequence as a payment for growth.
In my opinion the worst thing that happened here was that there was a delayed consequence. I’m sure you knew that you deserved some type of consequence that fit the nature of your lapse in integrity. The truth is that none of us actually want the full weight of our consequence. The crux of the Christian message itself is that sin has a consequence called death; separation from God forever but Jesus redeems us by giving us his life and taking upon himself our death. The concept of consequence is not new. The concept of someone paying for their sin is not new. That is the essence of the Christian faith.
Over the last seven months, however, you have been told that you won’t have to face the worst possible punishment. Everyone around you worked to help you keep playing football and many wanted to help you quickly move on with life. This was wrong of them and their actions have now backfired.
- If the video immediately came out in February, this would be old news today.
- If the judge would have required you to spend a few months in jail, this would have passed by now.
- If the Ravens or the NFL would have given you a 3-month suspension, this would be finished.
Delayed justice is not denied justice.
What happened is that a lot of well-meaning people tried to shield you from the weight of the consequence of your actions. What’s not fair is that other professional athletes have indeed gotten away with as much or worse. Regardless of others, my prayer is that you see this present consequence as a payment for your own growth as a man.
Unfortunately I have found that I grow the most after I’ve failed the worst. My character can’t grow very well when my sin is not addressed. In the past, everyone was trying to cover up your sin. God has chosen to allow it to become public. My advice is that you seek Him and say “Okay, God. I’m all alone. You have my attention. You have my heart. If this is the fee, let me get the most for my money.”
If you give God the opportunity, you will be a far greater man after this all is in your rearview mirror. No more hiding, no more covering, no more denying. Lots of tears, lots of repentance, lots of growing. God will be the defender of your reputation and He will allow people to see the man you become through this process. Don’t give up. He’s right there.
Know that I’m still cheering for you.
Ray, I want you to know that although your actions in February disappoint me, I am still cheering for you. I am cheering for you to rise up and speak out on behalf of the healing power of Jesus. I pray you will humbly walk through the process of letting God have His way with your heart and then give your bride and your daughter 100% of yourself. Without the distraction of football or fickle fans who want fantasy points, your focus can now simply be on asking God how to be the man you were designed to be. You are not a football player. First and foremost you are a child of the King who happens to be gifted to play the sport of football. You are a husband. You are a father. You are many things that are so much greater than being an athlete. Tonight you should know that I am cheering for you. You may not be on the field at M&T but you are on the field of life and we all could use some encouraging voices on our sideline.