Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Gooooooooooaaaaaaal!!!!! of a Soccer Dad

 “If you are first you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.”
― Pele

I was no athlete.   My wife is an excellent dancer but didn't learn to ride a bike until a fifth grade outing made it necessary.   That said we've approached our 4-year-old daughter's first soccer season with all the excitement of a cat thrown into water.

It started off, as one might expect with theatrical parents and a slightly (if not overly) neurotic daughter, with an emphasis on the costume.  One trip to Academy and $40 later we had new soccer cleats, shin pads and a neon green uniform (the green only slightly greener than me as a soccer dad).

Practices were chaos and Coach Curtis gave it his best but, as this is affectionately termed "herd ball", it primarily involves corralling the girls and continual reminders "don't touch the ball with your hands!".


Just before game #1 I made a crucial mistake.   I sought to motivate Maggie by telling her that if she scored a goal I would take her on her favorite outing.

"Honey, if you score a goal I will take you to The Dollar Store to get some lip gloss."

"Woo hoo!", she shouted from the back seat barreling out of the car and onto the field.

Her initial exuberance matched mine and Megan's; we shouted encouragement and hoped for the best.  Maggie's team is named The Tyler Riot - this looked more like a peaceful sit-in.   Maggie's timidity and general lack of tenacity resulted in her barely touching the ball.

By half-time, transfigured by the weight of the reality that she was under-performing, the pep in her step had become a sluggish, dirt-kicking lag.    Maggie's heart was set on lip gloss not soccer.    When soccer became an impediment to her acquiring yet another lip gloss (that I will find stuck in the crevice of the couch next week), she began to hate soccer.

Maggie barely touched the ball that game, shoulders slouching and frowns abounding we left game one in tears acknowledging the sting of defeat and the loss of hoped-for lip gloss.

False Hope

Game #2 was much, much worse.    She was excited to suit up (of course) but minutes into the game it was the "same song, second verse".   Megan and I nervously watched as Maggie became more downcast every time the ball was kicked away from her.

As she looked over at us, we shouted, "great job baby! Keep it up.  We're so proud of you!!!"
Megan served a big, toothy smile and raised two thumbs up; Maggie returned a stern, look of disdain and two emphatic thumbs down. By the end of the third quarter Maggie was begging to go home while the other children laughed and played.   What had we done wrong?

Later that night Maggie told us, "you were telling me I was doing a good job when I wasn't.   I was not playing good and you were making fun of me.  I don't want you to lie to me".

Wow!   The reality that my 4-year-old daughter conceived that we were patronizing her soccer performance astounded me.    She wanted the truth.   Good or Bad.   She wanted the truth!   She was suffering under the weight of her poor performance and didn't want someone blithely glossing over her pain or worse yet, laughing at her through what she perceived as sarcastic comments.
Maggie wanted someone to share her burden... and who among us doesn't need that?


This past week something different happened.   I identified with her anxiety, guilt and fears. 

The night before game #3 I told Maggie, "honey, I don't care how you play the game.   It doesn't matter to Mommy and Daddy if you win or if you lose.   We just want you to enjoy yourself.   When you're playing you might start to think that you're not doing well.    When you hear that thought, don't pay attention to it.   All that matters is that you try hard and have fun.   We're doing all of this (buying the uniform, taking the post-game snacks and practicing in the backyard) to make you smile and to show you that we love you.  NOTHING else matters!  So have fun and play the game!"

Her performance was only marginally better than the first two games, but the weight of reward/punishment and humiliation had been totally lifted.   She laughed and smiled and ran and played and even kicked the ball a couple of times (stopping only once to pick it up).

Parenting is a continual lesson in the power of grace to transform situations, hearts and minds.   Maggie was freed by the knowledge that her performance DID NOT MATTER AT ALL.   Consequently, her performance improved a little, but the point was not her performance improving.   Our desire was that her heart would be freed to be the child that she is.     That this time of play would be just that....play; a time to battle the encroaching tide of adulthood that children seem to gravitate towards.

But there is a bliss in childhood and it's not the ignorant kind.  It's the kind of childhood that comes from being identified as a child of God who completely receives you and loves you without condition.   Who asks nothing in return but who through His Holy Spirit does all kinds of things through he/she who enters His kingdom not through strength (for that is impossible) but by weakness, through simple dependence upon God's Son's finished work on the cross (justification) and his continual work on the human heart (sanctification).

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child 
will never enter it." - Mark 10:15

Stop and consider how easily external pressures separate Christians from the peace that we have in a God who has loved us regardless of our inability to "measure up".   And think of the ways that internal voices, whether they be verdicts passed on us by others or judgements we've made about ourselves, hold us in bondage hampering our God-given, Jesus-purchased ability to simply live life in freedom with joy.

The Beach Boys' song I Can Hear Music comes to mind:

Loving you, it keeps me satisfied
And I can't explain, oh, no
The way I'm feeling inside

Oh, and I can hear music
Sweet, sweet music
Whenever you touch me baby
Whenever you're near 

- Berry, Greenwich, Spector

Grace lifts the "death pillow" of expectation off your face; suddenly there's no more suffocation.   The muffling effect of judgement that deadens our senses to the needs of others by beckoning us to pay attention only to ourselves (our performance, possessions, looks etc.) is removed and at last we "hear music, sweet, sweet music"! 

The love of God makes possible this kind of freedom whether it be for a 4-year-old soccer girl, a guilt-ridden mother or a business man at the end of his rope .    The child of God can return from burden to His blessed playground in an instant if he will but knock at the "door of hope", or rather listen to the one knocking at his heart.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. - Rev. 3:20

Game On!

This Week
* Wednesday - Men's AM Book Study -  7am - Centrepoint Ministries Building - 418 S. Broadway, 2nd Floor.  (Chapter 9,  Chaos and Grace)

* Friday - Men's Lunch - Weekly Devotional - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm  - (Chapter 8, Chaos and Grace)

* Friday  - 6-9 pm - KE  Cellars - Tyler, TX.   The Magills - come join us!

* Sunday - The Magills w/ The Downtowners at Bethel Bible North Campus - The Liberty Theater - 10am service.

Please pray as we continue to meet with couples who by The Spirit seek to display Christ's covenant-keeping love to the world around them.


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