A major sport event occurred the past weeks: the European Football cup! Held every four years, I was really looking forward to see the best European teams competing with each other. But since it began I have undergone a series of great disappointments. At first I chose to cheer for my team, France. We played against Romania, arguably not a dangerous team, and the result was a draw, 0-0. After this first “debacle” I decided to cheer for the Netherlands after their incredible debut against Italy, 3-0 (please remember that Italy is the 2006 soccer World Champion!). Of course came the day of the game France-Netherlands and I became a traitor, cheering for the Netherlands. The result was surreal: 4-1! Even if I was cheering for the victorious team, I was disappointed. That France would loose 1-0 or even 2-1, well, I could bear. But 4-1, that was annihilation, especially in soccer! In quarterfinals, Croatia played against Turkey, a nouveau venu in the top of European soccer, and lost 2-1. That was not dramatic but I felt at odd with the rest of the soccer world. Then it was the turn of Portugal to be beaten 3-2 by Germany, and even if this defeat was expected, I was still stunned by my lack of “sporting vision.” I started to believe that deciding who to cheer for was more akin to predicting Judgment Day than evaluating the strength of two teams. But my long downfall was not over.
The day is Saturday, June 21, first day of summer. It is a beautiful day, sunny, not too warm, and I have already done enough studying to have earned a “small” break (of three hours!). I have a great place to watch the quarterfinal opposing Russia to Netherlands (remember, I am cheering for Netherlands), and friends to watch it with: so far all is perfect. Nothing could be better, and since Netherlands is in such a frenzy, there is no fear to have. As the first half-time game unfolds, I discover that “my” team has aged ten years in two days. They do well enough, but that was nothing comparing to the blue-and-white raz-de-maree that assailed the Dutch goalie. The second half time was no better. The Russian Pavlyuchenko scored at the 56th minute. Serious, but not dramatic, and at the 86th minute, the Dutch finally scored! End of regular time, and the two teams have to go on for two successive 15 minutes half-time. At the 110th minute, ten minutes before the end of this overtime, the situation was still the same. Two minutes later, Russia scored, leaving the Dutch with only eight minutes to make a come back. At this point I am thinking, “What on earth are the gods of sport doing?” I could almost picture Atlas laughing and juggling with the earth, while Nike was trying to stay on balance, uneasy with “triumph” in her hand. Four minutes later, Russia did it again. Final result 3-1 for Russia. (sigh … heavy silence)
I was speechless. The favorite team, who had scored 9 goals in 3 games was out, beaten, outclassed by what I thought was a second rank team. After the initial shock the unrealistic nature of the defeat struck me and I started rambling and complaining, as if the end of the world had come upon me. What hope was left in sport I wondered? (easy: none, and my English friend know that too well, since they did not even qualify for the European cup). After few minutes, which probably seemed an eternity to my friends, I realized that something was wrong in this picture. I mean something was wrong, beyond this mere defeat, with me! How can I be an example of self-control (Galatians 5) when the losses of my favorite teams make me feel like the gods wants me to feel miserable! Few minutes were necessary, and only after a while, in the evening, did God came to enlighten my broken morale.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4). Or as a soccer fan would say: “Cheer for the Lord always, I say again Cheer [I add: for whatever happens]!” This is technically simple enough, isn’t it? I then realized (since I’m a slow learner) that enjoying soccer was like enjoying life: I have to cheer for whatever happens, for whatever happens, it is all in the hands of the Perfect Coach, who planned a perfect game, before soccer was even invented! Talking about coaches, guess what nationality the Russian coach is. A Dutch! (I am not making that up!). This coach is a genius in his category: he can pull up a team like nobody else could. Six years ago he pulled the South Korean team up to the semi-finals of the World Cup, a miracle! And this year he did it again with Russia. Some people are gifted with making the best out of nothing. No offense intended to my Russian and South Korean friends but when he took their teams in charge, they were no pretenders to the semi-finals. This made me think about what God does with us. He proclaim his glory with “nothing,” that is, with us, who are sinners. If a human coach can do seemingly miracles in soccer, how more miraculous can the Three in One do with his sinning children? But he asks one thing, among others: that we trust him for whatever will happen. It does not mean we cannot have our favorite teams, or our favorite “plans,” but whenever our plans break down in pieces, we remain the same. We rejoice, we cheer for whatever happens. This is not capitulation in face of what is coming. It is rejoicing hope, because we are not playing the game alone. More than that, the game bas already been won. We can enjoy the game, any game, because at the end, every game will be a “win.” We really can rejoice, always. We really can cheer for whatever happens!
Yes, I have to cheer for whatever happens, and it is not easy. As I was writing those words yesterday I realized that it meant I might have to cheer for Italy (if they beat Spain). Given the long history between the French and the Italian teams, that would certainly be a trial. But because sanctification is made of small steps (and I’m still a sinner), God allowed Italy to loose, leaving me more time to learn to cheer for them! But, if we have to Rejoice, always, I think now I could even cheer for England!