Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lessons from the dirt

Yesterday a tiny girl pushed me into the dirt. I was playing soccer at Austin Stone's Total City Sports Camp at Raegan High School. We'd been working on somewhat-boring drills with a handful of girls who are interested in learning to play soccer and (hopefully) willing to let us get to know them in the process. Finally, in the last 25 minutes of Monday evening's session, it was time to scrimmage.

I've played a good bit of soccer lately because I've been volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club, but we've been playing indoors, in a gym, because of the heat. But the Total City Sports Camp is in the evening, and we're all willing to brave the heat just for the thrill of lacing up our soccer cleats and pounding the grass (or dirt, as that is mostly what Raegan's practice field is made of).

I was so ready to get out there and play. Not only just to get to play outdoors, but also to work with some high school girls. I've been coaching middle school boys at Boys and Girls Club- and we, literally and figuratively, don't speak the same language. But soccer girls are my FAVORITE. I love me a tough, hard-working high school kid, especially girls who really want to learn to play. It's like food for my soul to kick a ball around with kids like that. I don't really even know why.

Anyway, yesterday was in no way a disappointment. We had a great group of Austin Stone coaches and a handful of high school girls willing to work decently hard. The head coach, Rubey, ran a really solid practice, and taught the girls some good footwork. No offense to her that the drills were boring- drills are always boring compared to playing. She did a really good job, and I was just thankful to be there to help out.

We started to scrimmage, and I scored a goal for my team a little too quickly, maybe, and I felt a little bad for putting one into the back of the net. I decided to take the rest of the scrimmage to just play 50% defense so the players could gain confidence, and distribute the ball to my team-mates every time I had possession. Despite my resolve to cool-it, my early goal had already put a target on my back as a threat to the other team. So when one of the girls saw me get possession of the ball, she responded aggressively- by plowing me down from behind.

I was a little shocked at how such a tiny girl (she could not have been much more than 4 feet tall) had managed so lay me out flat into the dirt. I picked myself up and dusted off the dirt. We weren't really calling fouls, and, except for a scrape on my knee and burning palms, I was alright, so I didn't say anything. It would have been a waste of time to have stopped the game, and it might have broken the girl's confidence to have scrutinized what was an attempt to play good defense. So, I got up, dusted off, and kept on playing.

I've been thinking about that interaction today... about how it was wrong for that girl to knock me into the dirt and for nothing at all to happen afterwards. It was a foul. It broke the rules. But it never occurred to me to hold her accountable to the rules, because they've probably never been explained to her. So I let it go. But if she had been my age, my size, and had my level of game-knowledge, I would have handled the whole thing differently.

Life is a lot like this for me. People push me down from time to time. Or I see them push each other down. But they're a lot like that girl that laid me out- they may not have ever heard what the Bible has to say about playing life by God's rules. So, in those cases, I usually get up and go on. But when someone who professes to know the rules, God's rules, pushes me down, I get up and let them know that I know that they've committed a foul.

I've done that here lately. And the person that put me in my face on the dirt, has just walked away. Now, I suppose it's a good thing that life is not really a soccer game because if it was, then I'd likely tackle her in the next play and she might not be able to walk without a limp for a couple of days- if you have ever seen me play soccer, you know this is not an exaggeration. But, it's not that simple, is it? Jesus said to offer your other cheek when someone slaps one side of your face. So, after dusting myself off, I suppose that all I can do is just go back to playing.

But one thing I've learned from my plow-down at Raegan. The whole reason that I got knocked down in the first place was because I posed a legitimate threat to the other team. It wouldn't have occurred to me to have gotten up and thought, "Gosh, I got pushed over. I must not be any good at soccer." I just got back up and played. But, in life, when I get pushed over, I do that. I think, "I must not be very good at relating to others. I must not be worth loving or putting time into." Why is that? When I got up and kept playing, I was the same player I was before I fell down. So it is with life. Only, perhaps, after a fall, we can actually come out playing a bit better for having remembered that it's only by God's grace that we can get up and stand at all.

I think that God wants that kind of player on His team. I don't think He is saying, "turn the other cheek" because He wants us to be wimpy. I think He wants us to know that the person that slapped us has absolutely no authority over who we are and how we respond to Him.

So, I'm going to go ahead and write this out, because I need to hear it, maybe someone else does too. I am good at soccer. I played well, and someone pushed me down. I got back up. And I was still good at soccer.

I hate that sounds sort of arrogant, and I don't mean it to be. God gave me the ability to play soccer because He wanted to use it, and He has and is. So, no matter how hard I fall, I am no less of a player because I got pushed down. So what it is about you, then, that someone is pushing at? If you fall, get back up, and go on... because, even after the fall, you still might out-play everyone else on the field.

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