Soccer is one of my lifelong loves. I think I started playing in kindergarten, when sitting on the field was still acceptable. I loved it. The first couple of years I was on a city team with a few of my friends from school. Every Sunday we would hit the field and chase the ball around, unable to resist it’s gravitational pull. Back then some kids would play in sweat pants and jeans. Some would even play in their pajamas. I always thought that was funny.
As I grew up I started playing for my school. It wasn’t a big school, 300 tops from kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade. The lack of kids took much of the competiveness out of joinging the team. I liked that. Every year we came back to the same barren field to practice our headers and hide from the coach in the woods. Gosh, it was a blast.
I played for my school from 5th grade all the way up to my Senior year of high school. Naturally, playing for that long invests part of yourself into the game. As I got older I thought that maybe I had a chance to go farther in my soccer career. I remember one night I watched a couple Nike training videos. They showed a bunch of kids my age practicing with actual clubs in England. I wanted to be one of those kids so I went to Walmart and bought a ball (which was too small) to practice my foot work. I think I practiced a couple hours that night and didn’t touch the ball again for months.
That being said, I still loved the game. It was exhilirating taking the field with my best friends. It was a blast to know that next fall we would start all over again. It was good, healthy fun. But in the end soccer was just another activity. Sure, I enjoyed it. Maybe it grew my character. It got me in shape for a couple months. But then it ended and we all moved on to the next activity.
Now I’m guessing many of us have heard this shpeal before, “God’s not a vending machine! God isn’t a toy you pick up, get bored of, and set down!” and now you’re waiting for me to yell into your bleeding ears, “God’s not some activity you do and move on from!” These are all true and I heard them as a kid countless times but I’m trying to remember when the switch actually happened, when my heart realized that God is a community to connect with and not just an activity to self-medicate on. Cause it’s easy to tell people what God is not or how they are treating him so terribly but I think it’s harder to reveal to the heart who he truly is. I mean God himself had to hang lifeless on a cross to get the point across. So what was it about this beautiful sacrifice that made it possible for our hearts to get it?
The thing that seems to make soccer (and most activities for that matter) worth our time is the community that weaves itself in and out of them. I came alive when I was defending the goal with two of my best friends, not when I was working my way to stardom alone in the back yard. Other activities work the same way. A violinist practices so she can be part of an orchestra. Book clubs are formed because it’s nice to know you’re not the only Potter fanatic. It’s kind of depressing being the only person in the coffee shop sitting alone. We are naturally drawn to community, to a group of people expereincing the same thing. It bonds. It heals. It connects. It shows us that we aren’t alone.
And I think that is why the centurion’s heart melted when he realized who was hanging from the cross. He saw that God Almighty decicded to weave himself in and out of our meaningless activities, to be part of our little community and experience what we go through every day. God-with-us saw our yearning hearts being dissapointed over and over and over by our countless activities and decided to pour grace upon grace over us. His death brings meaning to our otherwise meaningless lives. The blood and nails and gasps for breath whisper deep the worth of our souls. Each moment of agonizing pain emits a chillingly beautiful message: I will see you in Paradise.
I think that is what got my heart’s attention, realizing that my yearning for togetherness – to feel loved and accepted and valuable – wasn’t hopeless. Far from it actually.
But it takes a broken heart to get there, only through our own agonizing pain can we begin to understand His hushed message. Thankfully our hearts are easily broken. Over and over they are shattered and day by day they are dissapointed. Yet this wrecking gives us a divine opportunity: will we self-medicate or give our pieces to the One who can make something wonderful? Both take the pain away for a little while but only one makes the pain meaningful. Only one offers perfect community in any and every circumstance.
So sure, kicking soccer balls and playing instruments and reading books are good and fun. But God is so much more than good and fun. He is so much more then 30 minutes in the morning and a few forced words at dinner. He is so much more than our lackluster attempts to memorize his words and love his people. He is everything. Yet He asks for one thing from us. Our hearts. Yeah. Our broken, shattered, and messy hearts.
If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.
– God (Jeremiah 29:13)
Moment by moment we begin to trust him with those pieces, giving him our dreams and relationships and careers and feelings. Piece by piece he takes what we give him and replaces it with a little bit of himself. Day by day we become a little more content simply enjoying the community of God. And I think that’s when the switch happens. The veil is torn and we finally see that God-with-us is so much better than me-and-my-activites.
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
– Paul (2 Corinthians 3:18)