Living with a Purpose
C.J. Ham is now in his sixth season as a fullback with the Minnesota Vikings. The 28-year-old Duluth, Minnesota, native went undrafted in 2016 out of Division-II Augustana University in South Dakota but became a mainstay on the Vikings offense. In 2019, Ham was selected to his first Pro Bowl. Below, Ham shares about what he learned during a difficult 2020, God’s faithfulness and how he aims to see Christ increase in his life.
The year 2020 was full of a lot of the “unexpected” — COVID-19 testing every day, not knowing when the season would start and every week not knowing if the season would end. Those types of things brought a lot of stress into our lives. And many other people’s lives were drastically changed as well due to COVID protocols. It was nerve-wracking but we got through it.
On a personal side, it was a tough year. I lost my mom, who was battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. That hurt. Not having her during my season was extremely hard; still to this day, I just want to call her and talk to her. But because of her strength in her battle, I was able to push forward. God, and the things that He puts in our lives — like family who have poured into me — have continued to get me through this past year.
It’s easy for anyone who has lost someone close to them to say that life is extremely short. It can be taken away from you at any time. We are called to lean on God’s plan, though we don’t always understand it. I may never understand why my mom had to go through what she went through on this earth, but I will get that understanding when I get to Heaven with her. This year taught me that life is extremely short, so what am I doing with it?
In Revelation 3, the last church God spoke to was Laodicea, whose people’s faith was lukewarm. They were neither hot nor cold; they had no purpose. We need to have a purpose for our lives. We must ask, “Is my faith lukewarm or is it serving a purpose?”
With the loss of my mom, I’ve had a fire put under me. I’m still trying to get there but I have a purpose — that is to have my works show and do things with my faith. My works aren’t my sole purpose, but as a Christian, my works need to show because I am a new creation. I’m going to be purposeful with my life.
When my mom first passed, there were times I didn’t want to talk to anybody, not even God. I was so hurt, angry and confused. But I truly believe that having people around you who share your faith and can be there for you really makes a difference. We had close friends who had also lost their parents, so to have them to talk to me really helped in a significant way. So many times I wanted to go into a room and be silent, but that’s not the way to handle grief. I had to be intentional about surrounding myself with people who care and want to see me heal.
My oldest daughter is the one who remembers Granny the most. She talks about her every night. She doesn’t mention the name “Jesus” without mentioning “Granny.” It’s really cool to see that she knows she has Granny and she has Jesus in her heart. Now it’s on me to continue to pour into my kids and keep my mom alive through my kids so they’ll never forget her.
For many years, before every game, I pray. I also send my family an “I love you” text. In this past year, I would say things like “I love you, Mom” before the game and throughout the game. I know she’s still watching and I want to make her proud.
I wasn’t drafted coming out of college. I did two pro days and talked to a handful of scouts, which gave me confidence to think I did belong in this league. When it came to draft day, however, my agent hadn’t heard anything. There were no teams talking to him about me being drafted. I was hurt. I really thought that was it.
I went all day Saturday, the last day of the draft, without hearing anything and decided the next day to go to church. And wouldn’t you know it, right in the middle of worship I got a call from my agent, saying the Vikings wanted to give me a tryout. That was the only opportunity I had. I was going to be able to put on an NFL helmet for three days only, but I was blessed by the Lord to get an opportunity. And He continues to be faithful in my career.
It was all God’s plan. I could have gone out there and done all I could and have it not work out. It just so happens it ended up being a perfect year to come to the Vikings. They didn’t draft a running back that year, so I was able to step into that role. But while I was practicing running back they were also teaching me the fullback position. I was surprised the Vikings wanted to sign me as a running back right at the start, and they later called and told me they wanted me to learn fullback too for when I would come back for training camp. I was happy to do it.
So in 2016, I came in and made the practice squad, which is a week-to-week gig. You never know how long you’ll be on it. Being very newly married and having our first daughter, I didn’t know what to expect. We found the nicest, cheapest one-bedroom apartment we could find for the three of us so as to be smart with our money. But I loved being on the practice squad, and having the opportunity to live out my dream. Getting to go up against one of the top defenses in the NFL really helped me see the game better and adjust to the speed.
And in January 2020, after the 2019 regular season, I was voted into the Pro Bowl. I grew up watching the NFL and watching guys go out to Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl. I always dreamed of doing that and bringing my mom there. To have her see me go to the 2020 Pro Bowl, and then sign a contract extension in March 2020, was a God thing. It meant a lot for me to do that but it meant a lot for my whole family as well.
“The Lord is showing me to never grow complacent, but to always have that childlike wonder and continue to learn. We never know enough; we are never to feel like the most spiritual person in the room. We need to always dig in and always be willing to learn. Humble yourself to serve those around you. Jesus lived a life of serving, so living a life of servanthood is to live a life of Jesus.” — C.J. Ham
I grew up in a Christian home, as my dad is a licensed minister who did a lot of prison ministry and street ministry. I used to go out with him as a kid. I had faith very early, but I still think there has to be a moment for everyone when it becomes real for them.
When I was a freshman in college, I didn’t have anyone telling me to go to class or church, so I didn’t. It wasn’t until my junior year when I felt the Holy Spirit, who had been living in me, tug on me. I was then able to find a church home. I brought my wife-to-be to church too, and now she’s a devout follower who helps me grow in my own faith. But that was the time when I felt a consistent tug to take my faith seriously and get back into the Word.
Walking with the Lord isn’t an easy thing to do. We live in a world that is totally opposite; everything is pulling us away from the life God envisions for us. It’s an everyday battle, dealing with your sin and the things of the world coming at you. Especially as a professional athlete, there are so many things coming at us and being asked of us. But walking with the Lord is worth it.
My wife is amazing. Her faith has grown so much over the years and it keeps me both fed and hungry to be a spiritual man, to show my family how to love Jesus. We have a great home church and a great team chaplain who is always pouring into our families and finding ways for us to get together. I think God has placed me where I am with the Vikings for these reasons. I think God has placed people in my life who have helped me become the man I am today.
Now, the Lord is showing me to never grow complacent, but to always have that childlike wonder and continue to learn. We never know enough; we are never to feel like the most spiritual person in the room. We need to always dig in and always be willing to learn. Humble yourself to serve those around you. Jesus lived a life of serving, so living a life of servanthood is to live a life of Jesus.
Does my faith have a purpose? It does when I serve those around me. That’s the purpose I’m going toward this year and I’m so excited to see what God does.
— C.J. Ham, Minnesota Vikings fullback