An open letter to those not selected for the FIFA World Cup
An open letter to those not selected for the FIFA World Cup

An Open Letter to any Christians not selected in FIFA World Cup squads, and for anyone who has experienced serious disappointment in their sporting lives.

Dear Player,

I can’t imagine how you feel right now. Working so hard for so long to then have your dream, your goal, smashed to pieces.

Years of training all boiled down to one phone call of rejection.

Hopes dashed in just a few seconds.

Painful injury leading to ever more painful isolation.

It has been said that competing in elite sport is like experiencing ten funerals for every one wedding. This pain you feel now, feels a bit like death.

Maybe, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re tempted now to ask questions like:

  • Why have you allowed this to happen to me, God?
  • Is it because of some moral failing in my life?
  • Do you just love other people more than me?

Friend, don’t let your faith become another reason to feel low. Instead, as you grieve, try to find Jesus in the midst of the pain.

Jesus will give you the comfort you long for. He will remind you that his love for you is stronger and will last much longer than your present pain. He will assure you that he still has good things for you. Ask his help to hold on to this truth.

Because when you are hurting, it is so easy to listen to lies.

You see, there’s a real danger we view God as the ultimate manager.

This lie says that if you make good spiritual choices then you will be selected for God’s winning team and blessed with success. However, when sporting disappointment hits, the lie says it’s because you made bad choices, you let down God. And so you can’t be on God’s team until you prove yourself spiritually good enough again.

In all your sporting career you’ve probably been taught to only feel good about yourself when you’re winning and on the team, that if you lose, you’re nothing.

Friend, you need to separate your sense of worth, your identity, from your performance and from your selection in a World Cup squad. Equating significance and achievement will always leave your self-esteem at the mercy of the natural ups and downs of being a top-level sportsperson.

Only love has the power to make humans feel significant, performance never will. The good news of the gospel is that in God, you have unconditional love, not based on your performance.

Your worth and value is seen most fully in the love God proved he had for you when he died for you on the cross.

Romans 5:8 tells us:

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Now, as people who have been reconciled to God there is no condemnation, nothing can separate us from God’s love and we are adopted as God’s children - this is who you are. This is where your identity alone can be found.

And yes it is not deserved, it is given. It smacks against everything you’ve been trained to believe, but wonderfully it is true!

Now, whilst at the moment you grieve, in time you’ll be able to ask some questions. One such question is:

“How has this time of real trial drawn me closer to God?”

Sport is a wonderful gift from God and he uses it to draw us deeper into relationship with him. By being a sportsperson you have a never-ending list of opportunities to grow in your faith as you experience great joy and also great sadness. God will keep using your sport to make you more like him, including allowing you to experience great trial.

As you compete, and in this case, don’t, you have a chance to:

  • Remember your identity is based on being in Christ and not your success and failures
  • Remember the power you have to play does not come from your own strength but from Christ who is at work in you
  • Remember your standing before God does not change whether you can play or not, whether you win or lose
  • Remember that right now God is there with you and will use your pain, but that the pain will not have the last word in your life - God will work all things for good

Olympic Chaplain Ashley Null has helpfully said:

“In the Christian life, God’s love takes all his children on journeys they do not wish to go. He makes them travel by roads they do not wish to use. All so that he can bring them to places they never wish to leave. With Jesus, pain, no matter how great…never has the last word!”

Friend, come to Jesus now in your grief. He longs for you to come to him.

Solo Deo Gloria.

Inspired by “Pastoral Care in the Olympic Village” by Rev. Dr. Ashley Null in Sports Chaplaincy: Trends, Issues and Debates.

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