After a routine tackle during Monday night’s Bills-Bengals game, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on his back in cardiac arrest. Medical personnel administered CPR for roughly 10 minutes before an ambulance carted Hamlin off the field and to a Cincinnati hospital.
While it drove off, onlookers reported seeing Bills head coach Sean McDermott gather his players on the field for communal prayer. As both teams and staff knelt around Hamlin during those 10 minutes of CPR, individual players certainly were praying too. One Bengals fan at the game scribbled “Pray for Buffalo #3 Hamlin” on a paper sign. Minutes later, fans of both teams showed up at Hamlin’s hospital to pray. Players from around the league, fans, and others across social media offered prayers. We join them all in their prayers for his body and soul.
To watch the heart of the man beside you on the field stop beating, as Hamlin’s teammates and competitors did, is to be reminded of the Maker-meeting moment every one of us will encounter. Those reminders compel us to pray for mercy. Only the players and God know the content of the prayers offered from the field in Paycor Stadium last night, but I’d guess they prayed for the mercies of healing, comfort, and more time on this Earth, either to serve God or to encounter his grace.
For followers of Christ, prayer is a familiar weapon. It is a means by which we may approach the holy God and make our requests known to him. It is an act of intimacy and communion with our Maker and Judge, and a channel by which we offer humble repentance and receive unmerited grace. When faced with the threat of tragedy — a symptom of living in a world tainted by our own sin — we quickly remember our constant need for mercy, and it compels us to pray.
In moments like last night, however, it seems it’s not only the adopted children of God who cry out to him. Something prompts even those who, in another moment, might doubt the existence of God, to suddenly seek his mercy. Skeptics love to mock the offering of “thoughts and prayers” as useless or silly, but their quickness to turn to prayer in times of need suggests that deep down, they know its power.
Why? Our souls are created for eternity. Whether we admit it or not, moments that force us to wrestle with our own mortality are less about facing death and more about facing the reality that we are part of a judgment and redemption narrative far beyond the scope of our brief earthly pilgrimage, and which extends far beyond that pilgrimage’s end.
To repentantly welcome that redemption, recognizing our utter need for it and Christ’s exclusive worthiness to procure it, inspires worshipful gratitude. To reject it, or to indifferently ignore it, is to choose a life in which the existence of death rightly inspires fear. As we pray for Damar Hamlin’s recovery, we also pray that his brush with eternity would stir onlookers to grasp their own need for the loving mercy of God.
A few weeks ago, Hamlin spoke on “One Bills Live” about a sobering injury his teammate Dane Jackson had received.
“I can’t even describe it, but I cherish it every second that I can. Every second of every day,” Hamlin said. “We just had our prayer, our DB prayer we do every Wednesday. He was next to me and I just grabbed his hand a little bit harder just because you know, you never know when your last day could be that you get to experience something like this.”
That’s a realization that, for untold observers, Hamlin’s own scare just prompted. In addition to recalling our need for salvation, such reminders of eternity should spur us to pray more diligently and to live more gratefully. Alongside our petitions for Hamlin’s comfort and healing, we pray God would use the events of last night to compel more gratitude, prayerful vigilance, humble repentance, and joyful reception of grace, in Hamlin’s heart and in our own.