The World Cup and Me

I was once again captivated by the World Cup this year, which concluded on Sunday with Germany taking home planet Earth’s biggest sporting trophy. I was captivated for all the typical reasons: The mesmerizing pace and beauty of soccer, the thrilling global stage, the national solidarity that comes uniquely through sports, etc. There is one reason, however, this World Cup has been uniquely meaningful for me. The 2014 World Cup is the first time I’ve watched the quadrennial competition while clearly remembering where I was, who I was with and what I was doing during the last Cup. In this way the World Cup functioned as a sort of shorthand for contemplation about my life’s journey.

In summer of 2010 I was a sophomore at Bible college and working at a fast food restaurant. When that Cup started I was in Florida in a vacation condo, watching Robert Green of England gift the US a draw.  I remember packing a soccer shirt one Saturday to work so I could change afterwards and meet family at Applebees to watch the US play Algeria. And I recall watching Spain’s victory over the Netherlands at a church friend’s house because he had the biggest TV.

Four years later, things have changed. We’ve likely spent our last day in that beautiful vacation home. I no longer work for the restaurant, and I and my family have fallen out of contact with the friends with whom we watched the final. There’s no sad story, no tragic falling out to explain how these things have changed. It’s nothing more or less than the slow erosion of time.

I’ve changed too. Four years ago I was a smooth talking Bible college student who studied the New Testament by day and led a double life (mostly via computer) by night. Later that summer my life would be rocked in a gloriously redemptive way and a sustained facade covering many years would be exposed to many who knew and loved me (and some who just knew me). It was that summer when I, wrecked with shame and humiliation, understood the Gospel for the first time. In my room, even as I watched bridges burn and so much of my life turn to shrapnel, I could hear my own heart saying “I deserve to die.” Just then I heard, as audible and real as the exuberant World Cup announcers, a voice answer back in the dark: “I died that death so you wouldn’t have to.” At that point I realized that Jesus was the death I had to die and the life I had to have.

I’m by nature an introspective, contemplative person. That’s a habit that comes with many pitfalls, but one of the benefits is that I gain a sense of peace from comprehending how the individual pieces of my life fit together. Spain’s 2010 World Cup title did not feel that long ago until I thought about everything in my life that has assumed a new orbit since then. I was struck by how the objective proximity of four years contrasted with the canyon-wide difference in my life since then. “Four years” is just a number, a meaningless calculation of planetary rotation and calendar reckoning. I say “four years” but really there’s no word I’m aware of for describing the infinite space between reality then and now.

I think it’s good for us, as people and especially as Christians, to meditate on the idea of change. Many of us fear change. Change is, after all, a type of death, representing the loss of something alive and real and often beloved. But for Christians, death gives way to resurrection. I search for the way to explain how things have changed since that last World Cup, but really the only thing I can say is, “Resurrection.”

Resurrection. Have you thought it about it lately? Have you thought about the second, the nanosecond, that infinite series of “nows” during which the corpse of the Son of God rose back to life? Have you meditated on how three days of the blackest darkness this universe has ever seen were shattered into pieces by one incalculably instant breath? I think it’s interesting that the Bible records nothing of the Apostles in the three days that the Lord was in the tomb. Imagine the despair, the hopelessness and the futility of those three days…and how they were utterly forgotten in the span of one happy Easter morning.

My life has changed in the last four years. The memories of hurt and despair and grace came back to me as I thought back to the last World Cup. Forgive me if I am unabashedly sentimental about this tournament. Think of it like the song that was playing on the radio the summer you first fell in love. The jagged pieces of our human experience do not individually contain all that we are, yet sometimes the picture of our life is incomplete without even the smallest detail.

The World Cup makes me of think of change, and resurrection, and new life. Even as I write, I think about the 2018 competition and what my life will look like then. It’s likely I won’t see 2018 coming. That’s how we live, though. We are creatures who do not know what the next hour will bring, much less the next four years. We must live in the morning and evening in which we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” And we live in the anticipation that the One who rose our Lord from the dead will certainly give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11). I hope and pray I will live the next four years in nothing else but the great expectation that the One who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for me, even as I was far from him, will also graciously give me all things.

Oh, I cannot wait.

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