This epiphany came to me last week as I watched my fourth grader’s soccer game. It isn’t unusual that my brain was free to have brilliant epiphanies, as I really don’t understand much about soccer except scoring goals. Soccer wasn’t a “thing” for me back in the olden days, growing up in Alaska. I had dance lessons, band, and competitive reading (wait, no, I was just a nerd), nice warm indoor activities. Soccer, not so much. The first soccer game I ever saw was my oldest son’s first game in kindergarten.
Also, full disclosure up front, I never played any team sports growing up, except for one misguided 4th grade season in youth basketball in which I scored one basket. For the other team. I clearly have much to learn about both soccer and team sports.
So I’m watching this soccer game, and my son, who spends much his time on the field watching. When he decides to get in the game, he plays just fine, but perhaps because he hasn’t played soccer for the last two years, he is fairly hesitant. I watch him watch the other boys play soccer, and think about how at that moment, his soccer coach is also just observing and hoping for the best. I realize that really, God is like my soccer coach, just watching me execute the plays. Or not.
He’s set me up with all of the equipment I need. Just like a good pair of cleats or shin guards, I’ve got access to a protective shield of faith, belt of truth, shoes of peace, the full gear set-up. (And yes, I know, we’re walking a fine line here between an insightful epiphany and a really cheesy Vacation Bible School curriculum.) Not to mention the written Word, game plays and instruction. Whether I actually use any of that gear? Totally up to me to strap it on or suffer the consequences.
He schedules in lots of practice time. I know He looks down the road to future challenges, and then allows practice “opportunities” in my life so I’ll be ready for the big plays. I’ve got constant drills and exercises in humility, discipline, dependence, walking in faith, and even teamwork. I just have to show up for every practice and work the drills, knowing I’ll be more skillful and the right moves will be more automatic the next time.
He’s rooting for me, no matter how I play. This was where it really came home to me, watching the boys run, or not run, confidently attempt goals, clumsily miss kicks and passes, and try to practice skills that seem straightforward until they actually have to use them in a game against opponents that may be bigger, faster and more experienced. In those moments, the coach puts the game in the hands (or feet) of the players, and it’s up to them. All he does is watch, advise, cringe when things go badly, and celebrate when they go well.
The dark side to my analogy was painfully clear, because the opposing team had a loud, mean, aggressive coach who easily pigeonholed himself into my diverting little mental construct: if God is my soccer coach, then that guy was the coach for the Other Team. (Boo, hiss.) He sure fit the part beautifully. As our coach quietly instructed the boys, giving them each opportunity to play and encouraging them from sidelines, this guy screamed at his small players, calling them out by name and urging them in specific directions. Of course, by the time their 9-year-old brains could comprehend his distracting commands while also directing their bodies in the game, it was too late to follow the commands, at which point he would vent his frustration loudly. Not only that, but he spent a lot of time screaming mysterious and confusing things at them, like “remember the triangle! remember the triangle!”
Seemed like a weird time to be reviewing geometric shapes with the boys. Anyhoo, his angry screams succeeded in distracting not only his own team, but also our boys. Worse, when he got frustrated with his players, he would physically take hold of them and move them to where he wanted them, humiliating and anti-coaching them all at the same time. Lots of us go through life that way, at times following a coach who is angry, confusing, and definitely not into player development.
I don’t want to imply too much with my analogy, because in reality that guy is human and flawed, just like me. And maybe he just was having a bad day, or someone ate his favorite breakfast cereal that morning and left him with plain corn flakes, I don’t know.
What I do know is that after watching a few particularly tough misses, when a boy just totally screwed up, and knowing how our coach must be feeling, I really had to feel for my Coach.
How many times in a day does He watch me look the other way to avoid an easy pass? Or cringe when I get impatient and cranky with my family, hurting everyone’s game? Or make a bold, confident move in the absolute wrong direction? I am not an easy player to coach by any stretch of the imagination, frequently convinced I already have the skills and the moves down, and then surprised when my arrogance causes me to mess up a goal kick. Or I stride out on the field to battle my opponent without having made appropriate preparations, and I get knocked on my butt. Poor Coach. Good thing he’ll never cut me from the team, no matter how awfully I play.
Now I’m off to write perky and uplifting lyrics for my new VBS curriculum, “Get in the Game”. Theme verse Ephesians 6:9-19, crafts include bejeweling your own inflatable soccer ball, macraméing a cross-shaped zipper pull for your soccer bag, and tracing, painting and glittering life-size cutouts of yourself playing soccer while wearing the breastplate of righteousness and wielding the sword of truth.
I’m sure I’ve missed all kinds of awesome soccer game/life analogies. What have you got?