Saturday, October 27, 2018

Running Around and Chasing a Ball

I (Nate) tend to enjoy solo sports. It is fun to compete against myself and see how I grow as I train and work hard. But when a guy at our church wanted to start a soccer group, I jumped at the chance to build relationships with some of the younger guys in our church. I also love the chance to stay fit and run around. I have accepted the fact that many of these guys have been playing soccer a lot longer than I have and are way more skilled, but I can run hard and have a good time. This last weekend, we had a practice tournament against a few other teams on Saturday morning. It can be hard for me to make time for an event like this. Saturdays are important family times, as well as the chance to spend time with people we are connected to inside and outside of the church. But I think this time with these guys is also important. So as we stepped out onto the field, I was genuinely curious how the day would go.

Well first things first, we lost... Every. Game. It was hard to be at the bottom of the pile. I played defense most of the game, and man, some of the other offensive players were small and fast and just way beyond my abilities. In no way did my few seasons of grade school and middle school soccer prepare me to face these guys. I honestly didn't expect anything different for myself. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I am not sure I expected it to go this badly. I had heard we hadn't done well in previous games, but I didn't know that we would lose all of our games. And that we would lose them so decisively. Most of the other teams were just better. But here is something I realized: this is practice. Not just actual match practice. Not that we are practicing soccer. We are practicing life. This brings up a basic question: How do I handle failure? What do I do when I screw up? What do I do when it feels like the failure of your team is someone else's fault? How easy is it to undervalue my own failures and overvalue others? Once you start thinking of things this way, it can be hard to stop asking these sorts of questions. Each question has a subtly different answer. Each question peels back the layers, showing us the selfishness and sinfulness in each of our hearts.

The challenge is we often face true failure so seldom in regular life, that it can be hard to apply the personal gains to the next instance. But in this environment, where we get to accelerate the exposure, we can also learn more about it in our own lives. I said this is retrospect to a few people after the games, and the more I process it, the deeper in strikes home for me. The way we win or lose is far more important than the outcome. Displaying godly character is far more important than a number on a page. Scoring goals is fun. Winning is fun as well, but my identity is not defined by the number on the page.

I think the ultimate question I'm sorting through here is: Is there a Christian way to win and lose? Can we glorify God and be a witness in how we treat people when emotions are high on the field? I've seen it before, and I strive to model it as well. I want to be someone that works hard, that pushes and gives it my all, but also someone who doesn't lose a kindness that stems from remembering the image of God in each of my fellow teammates and the people I'm playing against. It is possible to show people Christ as we play together because I've seen it. I've seen players that work hard, but are selfless and charitable. I've seen and made my best effort to grab onto the chances to encourage others and to tell them when they did well. This is a habit that should extend into our daily life. We should be generous with our encouragement.

I found this to a be a pretty valuable experience, even though my 35 year old body is hurting, and we lost every game. Where do you see unexpected discipleship opportunities around you?