I went to a soccer game Tuesday night. I wasn’t very happy about going to the game, and not because I didn’t want to see my son play. I love to watch him play. He’s getting better all the time, and I think he has a lot more potential than I did. He already has a lot more lung and leg power than I did when I was his age.
The reason I wasn’t excited about going is because I knew the kind of team we were going to play. They are a tough team. They have some decent skill. There are some fast guys that are strong, and they have some really big guys too, but that was not the reason I didn’t want to see our team play these guys. The real reason is that these guys just flat play dirty.
Let me be clear. I like a good, physical game of soccer. People should get pushed, and people will fall down. There will be twisted ankles and bonked heads. This is part of good, hard game play, and I not only expect it, I love it! It is an all out competition, and that is one of the best things about the sport. What I have a problem with is this team’s “Win at all costs” attitude. Slide tackles from behind, elbows to kidneys and lower back, kicking at the knees, and full contact body checks from behind. That is not soccer. Heck, it’s not even hockey! At least they wear pads!
I got a little vocal at the game. I yelled at the refs and told them to start showing a yellow card at this one guy in particular. I probably embarrassed my wife. I know that there were a couple other dads there that felt the same way, but they were happy to let me wear the “obnoxious sideline parent” shirt for the night, and since it fit so well, I kept it on. The calls were terrible and the risk for injury was high, and I felt quite justified in my behavior. At one point I even said that I wished I was able to suit up and take one kid out “Kobra Kai” style – “Sweep the leg!”
What was it that had me so fired up? I know that during the game I was concerned about the kids. I’m a Dad now, and my son was out there with this guy, and he was pretty big. I was afraid that Zach was going to get frustrated and put himself in a position where this kid was going to hurt him. Zach was playing hard, and he was not backing down from anyone. Some might say I am crazy, but after I had that thought, their big guy did hurt one of our guys with a cheap kick to the back of the ankle.
I wasn’t mad about the bad calls. I expected them. I knew that the refs were going to be people in the employ of the other team. We actually heard one of the parents remind the ref to call their way because the ref “need(s) to remember who his boss is.”
After we got home and the night went on, I started thinking more about where this anger was coming from, and I started to really think about my years playing the game. I loved it! I played hard, and I played hurt. It was my favorite thing on earth to do. Nothing was better than walking out onto the field and getting ready for battle, and we looked at it as battle. That was our way. The older players taught it to the younger, and the coach reinforced it in all of us. We were there to win. That ball was ours, and we must win. We usually did. The longer I thought about it, and I had to come to grips with something…
I played a lot like that guy did.
I didn’t sweep people from behind or do all of the illegal stuff, but I played as closely to it as I could without getting tossed from a game. I hurt people. Almost every game. I did it in different ways, but always with the same goal. They were my opponent, and in my thinking, if there were fewer of them we would win. If I saw someone pull a dirty move on one of my teammates I would target that guy and try to take him out. There were ways to do it “legally”, and I knew them. I used them. I hurt people.
Today as I have been thinking about this, I wondered what has changed that I would look at this guy who was playing a lot like I did in such a different way. I’m seeing now that the “competitive fire” that I have in common with that kid on the field is not based on a good thing. It is an ugly thing. He and I allowed it to fuel our game play, but it is still an ugly thing. Also, as I thought about my desire to get in there and take that kid out, I had to come to grips with something else…
That anger that fueled me then still resides in me.
It doesn’t show its head as much as it used to. As my sister-in-law and I joke, for the most part “I’m a really nice guy!” The anger that comes up in me now is generally an anger born out of a need to see things set right. I know the world is not fair, and I’m not trying for that, but as close to justice as possible would be great. When I can’t get that, I get angry, and when I get angry, I get ugly…
It’s never that bad on the outside, but on the inside… I’m ashamed to say how often this happens. So the key is to figure out the why.
Things in the past are a part of who we are – good or bad.
In the last year or so, I was exposed to a phrase I had never heard before, “Spiritual Abuse.” To make for a very short and user friendly definition, that is any time that someone uses the Bible in a way to push their own agenda rather than God’s agenda even to the point of twisting God’s Word. This often results in a person who will walk away from God and His people and leave them angry for all the hurt and pain that religion brought to them. Just like anyone who has been abused, they are very sensitive to it, and see it very plainly where those who are in the middle of it might not.
There was a lot of that in my childhood. We were made to feel that our performance was the key to favor in God’s eyes, and we needed to show that top performance in every aspect of our lives. It was drilled into us that those of us in our school were superior to those in the public school. We were only allowed to associate with schools that also felt they were superior to anyone in their community school district. When we got on the soccer field, we had to be superior to everyone.
That was wrong. So very wrong. The only difference between us and most of the high school kids is that most of us knew we were Christians – even when we weren’t acting very Christ-like. That was it. If anything, most of the public school kids probably were better sportsmen than we were! There was nothing in me that was better, but I acted like it. I see that now. I see that I was wrong back then. So what about now?
I don’t have to be that guy anymore.
That angry dude in me is going to raise his head from time to time. He is a part of me, and he had control for a very long time, but that has changed. As I spend more time in God’s Word and prayer, as I read books to help me see the errors in my old ways of thought, as I spend more time with people who live out God’s grace for His glory, I see that angry guy losing control. He is decreasing. It’s not so I can increase though. Christ is gaining control over both of us! It’s not easy. We kick and scream and rationalize our thoughts, but at the end of the day when we look in the mirror we see that Jesus is right! He shows us the areas that need to change. Then we just need to let Him do it.
I also need to model that attitude of a life in process with my son. We have talked about the game the other night and how I reacted to it. It was a good discussion where I was able to show him my failure along with my heart to do better. I was able to talk to him about the importance of giving your all rather than trying to be better than someone else. That is the distinction. Give everything in everything for God’s glory. I hope he sees that rather than remembering how I acted the other night.
Tonight there is another game. Tonight I get a chance to keep the angry guy in check. Tonight I get a chance to let Christ rule my heart rather than allow the anger to take control inside. My purpose here is to bring glory to God. I want to be intentional about that by committing myself to the process of growth in Him. It’s a tough walk sometimes, but well worth the journey.
In HIS Grip,