Written by Dani Pearce. Media by Ethan Maurer.
I have been playing soccer since I was three years old when my shorts overlapped my socks and my bright orange short-sleeved t-shirt looked more like a long sleeve since it went past my tiny elbows and almost to my wrists. With every challenge I have faced in the soccer world, my passion for the game has only grown. It began with wanting to get on the “A-team” during my middle school club season, and my coach telling me if I really focused and worked extra hard I would get to where I wanted to be. When I was rewarded for my efforts, my ambition in my soccer career only grew with each phase of life.
When I hit high school I wanted to be on Varsity when I got on Varsity I wanted to be a starter. When I got to be a starter I wanted to play the whole game, and when I consistently played the whole game, I wanted to be the best on the field. Eventually, my focus became getting a soccer scholarship and then the process started all over again when I got to college.
During these years, I attended church and youth group, but my life did not really reflect Christ’s and my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian and the significance of that lacked greatly. For a long time, I believed everything that I had accomplished, I did completely by my own will. I did not start following Christ until the summer after my freshman year of college. That whole summer, as I began to devote my life to Him, I questioned the game of soccer in my life. It was undeniable that it had been an idol, but moving forward, was it something I needed to give up for the Lord? Or, was it something that I needed to give to the Lord so that He could transform the experience for His glory?
I have come to believe that soccer is my niche to making discipline—at least at this stage of my life. Since my sophomore year, I have been constantly discovering what it means to “play for God.” There are a few focus verses that come to mind: 1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 12:2, Galatians 5:16, and 1 Timothy 4:8, amongst many others. I have learned that when seeking God, I need to seek transformation in my mind—that I would care for God’s approval and not my coaches, not my teammates, not my parents, etc. I have to believe and remind myself, with His truth, that God’s love does not waver on my soccer ability/disability, and that has to be most important to me. The relationships with the girls on my team, and how I treat them both on and off the field, is my witness to the Gospel. My goal is not to just be a soccer player to them, but a friend—someone to confide in and someone that speaks truth in their lives when they ask for it.
It can definitely be a struggle figuring out when my competitiveness is glorifying to God or if it is pride and self-ambition clouding my judgment. It is difficult in the middle of games to treat the other team with grace while competing whole-heartily, but I believe that is part of sharing the character of God. It is even difficult to be patient with teammates at times, but we are urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” as stated in Ephesians 4. I do not love and lead perfectly, but the “why” behind soccer that is so important to me has definitely changed as my relationship with Christ continues to deepen.