” I am special because … I am really good at playing soccer.”
Saw this today. A mother’s shout-out from her teacher-parent conference, complete with an image of her young child, kindergarten age, with a quotation bubble completing this phrase. His smiling face hovered atop a cutout body, colored with red and green crayolas.
It is no surprise that this child has skills advanced for his age. His parents are dynamite soccer players. From the cradle, he has been immersed in this game. It’s a great game. Wonderful to teach children how to use their bodies well, and when they’re older, how to work with teammates, how to take direction from coaches, how to focus on what’s important and not on all that chatter from the sidelines.
But little one, though today you may excel at playing soccer compared to your teammates or classmates or age mates, there will come a day when, by comparison, you may fall short. And on that day I hope you will remember what was true long before this day. I hope you hear it from your teacher, your coaches, your parents — even and especially if they’re also you’re coaches: you are special before you ever take the field.
I know they feel this way, but perhaps in the muddle of midget soccer things have gotten confused or at least confounded. You have connected yourself with capability and so you wear your confidence proudly. You’re rewarded for your accomplishment and it becomes hard to distinguish yourself from it. It’s who you are; it’s what you do; it’s what you love to do, what you’re meant to do, where you’re meant to be, who you’re meant to be; it’s what you’re made for.
How I would love this for you, if only….
If only, instead of “I am special because I can…,” you could begin with “I am special because I am …..” Unique in all the world. The only me that will ever be. Nothing compares with that.
Be bold, little one, but first, be you.
The orange team scores and the crowd explodes. The blue team answers back with a 3-point bucket and their fans jump to their feet. There is stomping and shouting, hugging and clapping. Frenzy in the fieldhouse! It’s madness; march madness. This is single elimination folks. Win, you move on. Lose, you go home. The NCAA championship trophy is on the line.
Next year, let’s change it up, why don’t we? Let’s just play a round robin? Go ahead and wear your uniforms so we know who’s who, but we’ll have the guy running the clock signal when it’s time for the next group to take the court, so everyone is sure to get equal playing time. At the buzzer we’ll shake hands and board the bus for another game in another city. Doesn’t matter who or where. At the end, let’s all just get together at the banquet and hand out the participation trophies. We’re all champions, after all.
Which one sounds like more fun to you?
I am ever amazed at the ability of sports to show us to ourselves. When nothing is on the line, it doesn’t matter. When something is on the line we discover the very best in ourselves. The key isn’t the winning; it’s the discovering. Which requires that there be only one prize. If we give one to everyone, it not only encourages some to coast without contributing, it devalues the prize.
The Christian life is exactly this: to play in such a way that you might win the prize. If we live as if everyone upon exit from this life is gonna be handed the Jesus trophy just for participating, we miss the point. We’re meant to live as if we mean it, as if everything is on the line.
Participation trophies are our response when ‘what if we don’t win?’ rings in our ears. But that’s fear speaking; not faith. Faith says, there is one prize and room enough for everyone to hold it high.
“Teamwork makes the dream work” … they say.
Are we looking for God in all the wrong places?
I mean, so many are not finding Him these days. And the scripture tells us “Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” If we’re seeking why are we not finding?
We capable and successful people know how to address this. We’ll increase our chances by looking for God in places where we know He already is. Like church on a Sunday, right?
Gratefully, that is one place I do regularly find Him. Although, He doesn’t just engulf me when I walk in the door. There’s a transition period. The guy handing out bulletins is the same guy (coincidentally) that I saw on a soccer field in Frederick yesterday haranguing me about the league administration and interactions he had with the opposing club. Of course, he and 16 kids had just made an hour and a quarter drive to a field that double-booked the game. But still.
Still, in a Sunday worship service, I do find when I seek. That’s a game I always win. Really no doubt as to the outcome, so what’s the challenge?
The challenge comes in the “everywhere else.” Because God’s supposed to be there, too. And let it be said that I love a challenge. So, what if I seek in a more even-odds environment? Say, on a Sunday soccer field. Are ya there, God? If you are who you say you are, then show yourself!
Yesterday I was a bit hard-pressed to win the seek and find game. Even coming straight from church where I was reminded of what God looks like and sounds like and feels like, when I step onto the turf, He seems so far away. People argue. The referee warns. Coaches challenge. Parents taunt. This is soccer on Sundays.
I believe I’m meant to be here almost as deeply as I believe in God. But where is He? I have the sneaking suspicion that I was supposed to bring Him with me. So others might find Him. What if ‘seek and ye shall find’ depends on me?
Oh, I can refrain from arguing and coaching from the sidelines. I can resist the urge to correct the parent who has just disrespected the ref. I can choose to encourage the players and “be a good sport.” But the world can do this – though often it doesn’t. What is different about me? Since I have sought God and found Him, how am I changed?
I guess it starts with my refusal to give up this ground. I come and I watch and I cheer, even when there’s a cold rain and my team is several goals down. I stand in the middle of conflict and honor the game. Somehow my being there is meant to make a difference.
Even if it’s just that later that evening my kid thanks me for coming. And we can talk about the game, our favorite plays, and the tiny bit of over-aggressiveness she noted in behalf of the other teams’ players. All okay with her, she tells me. It just makes her more determined not to let the other team have the ball.
Well, if that’s what she’s learning, then I’ll keep coming. Backing down, doesn’t win games. And the world is much more like the soccer field than the church service.
The sermon message for me yesterday was, “If you’re looking for God, go where you know you’ll find Him. And you’ll always find Him with the needy: the poor, the oppressed and the downcast. I am not sure if they were at church, but I am certain they were present at the soccer field.
Found Him! Now comes the hard part…shedding that Light.