Every college soccer season culminates with the NCAA Final Four. The 300+ division one teams are narrowed down to the four best in the country. To play in the National Championship is the ultimate goal of any college soccer player.
This season, I was following a team that happened to make it to the Final Four. They had an incredible season, the best in the program’s history. I went to watch them play in the semifinal game.
They lost. I watched them kneel down in tears as the clock wound down. Ninety minutes from their ultimate goal. These kids have been playing this game since they were 4 years old and it all came down to ninety minutes. They had sacrificed academically, physically, mentally, and socially for the last eleven months. And it all came down to ninety minutes. They put in hundreds of thousands of hours on the field, in the weight room, watching film, etc. And it all came down to ninety minutes.
Every athlete knows this feeling. I remember the feeling vividly, even as I sit here now. I wasn’t competing for a national championship, but it was a similarly crushing experience.
There was a HUGE chance for glory and success. Yet there was an equally HUGE chance for crushing heartache and loss. Along the way, you experience both.
Strangely parallel to our lives…
So this got me thinking about the people in our lives. Is it worth pouring everything we have into our friendships/relationships, with the risk of knowing that we may (and probably will) be let down, betrayed, and hurt? Is it worth letting people know us for who we really are, and getting to know others for who they really are?
I think one of the deepest longings of all human beings is to be known. The good and the bad…not to be known merely for what we do, but known for who we truly are, and to be loved anyway.
Unfortunately, most of us are hardened at a young age by the reality of life. The reality that it’s hard to trust people. People hurt you, and you hurt them. The easy thing to do is to put up walls and shut out all the hurt. The problem is that when we shut out all the hurt, we also shut out all the possibility for love. The walls we put up are not selectively permeable. If we shut out the “bad” we shut out the “good.” If we let in the “good” we let in the “bad.”
There is a HUGE risk in letting people know us as we get to know them. The possibility to be hurt is almost inevitable. But there is an equally HUGE possibility to be known and loved. The beauty and experience of being known and loved for who you truly are- I think- far outweighs the possibility of being hurt.
The gospel tells us that we “all fall short” (Romans 3:23). This doesn’t just mean in some areas. It means in every area. Just as others will disappoint us, we too will let down and disappoint and betray others. Our “failures,” however, do not lead us to despair; they lead us to an experience of grace. To know that we fall short cuts at our pride…but to know that we may “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16) is the most beautiful truth. Why? Because it allows us to not only see ourselves for who we really are, but it also allows us to see others as they truly are. First Corinthians 8:3 says, “But the man who loves God is known by God.” Wow…the greatest Love of all means to be known by the only One who sees everything about us. Though human love is conditional and falls short of this, it is the same in the sense that we long to be known like this. Something that can only be fully satisfied in God, but we can experience a taste of it through other people.
When we can see ourselves and others as we/they truly are, it frees us to LOVE. It frees us to trust others, knowing that I will let them down and they will let me down, but there is forgiveness and grace. This doesn’t weaken our friendships/relationships…it strengthens them. Grace is powerful. When you feel it from other people and when you give it to other people, it changes your life. To know that you can fail and still be loved- to me- that is freedom. As Janis Joplin sings, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” When our trust is in the One who can’t and won’t let us down, we have nothing to lose. We can pour our lives into those around us without fear.
So, this college soccer team…what if they hadn’t risked and sacrificed all this stuff? They wouldn’t have felt the heartbreak, right? Well, they also wouldn’t have experienced the journey it took to get to the Final Four, nor would they have experienced what it’s like to play in front of the biggest crowd they had ever seen in the biggest game of their lives. The 25 people on that team have formed a bond with one another that no one else in the world can ever understand. They have experienced pain and laughter and failure and success. The laughter didn’t come without pain, and the success didn’t come without failure.
Ninety minutes from their ultimate goal. But it’s time to get back out onto that field, because they are that much closer.
To go through life without knowing and without being known is emptiness. This emptiness is filled with other things that will never suffice. In soccer and in life it is a scary thing, but without the risk, the possibility of joy and fullness of life will never be experienced.
We must not live our lives in the confines of fear. There is life to be had…