There are few harder things to deal with in sport than injury. Yes, we can get annoyed at a bad call from an umpire or referee. Yes, we can bemoan not getting selected when we feel we have more than earned our place in the team. But not being able to play or compete - that can leave us with a whole bag of negative emotions alongside any physical pain.
Not being able to do one of the things we enjoy most because of injury is hard to take.
The problem is that - to put it simply – injury is part and parcel of sport. It is becoming more and more of an issue in heavy contact sports like professional rugby, but whatever level and sport you compete at, you’re unlikely to avoid it. Some of us suffer more than others, but the impact of injury can leave us struggling physically and mentally. Maybe you felt in the shape of your life, but never got the chance to show it in competition? Maybe you have carried a niggle for months or even years that just won’t go away? Injury can be a real nightmare. It really feels like the enemy of our sport.
So how can we approach this perennial enemy as Christians in sport? What does the Bible say about injury?
We probably need to start by saying that injury is a reflection of our imperfect, fallen world. Our bodies break down and don’t always perform as we like because the whole of creation is tainted by our sin, our rebellion against God. We see that in Romans 8 for example.
On a small level, injury reflects the huge problem of suffering that our world faces in so many ways. We so often find it hard to cope with suffering and it’s one of the most common reasons people give for not believing in God. So injury sucks, and it’s part and parcel of living in a fallen world, but how then should Christian sportspeople respond when it inevitably happens?
A helpful Bible passage is 2 Corinthians 4 v 7-18. Here Paul talks of Christians having the treasure of the gospel:
“in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”.
A clay jar was just about the most common household item Paul’s reader would have known – and it was fragile and brittle. If you dropped one, even from a low height, it would smash into small pieces. Indeed, Corinth in those days was known for having very thin clay, which cracked when fired in the kiln. This clay was used to make lamp holders and the more cracks in the clay the brighter the light shined.
This clay is the metaphor Paul uses to describe our human bodies. He is not saying they are insignificant or incapable of doing great things – after all, Genesis 1 teaches us that we’re made in God’s image. We are created to be creative beings and make the most of the gifts He gives us. What Paul is saying is that our physical weakness can enable God’s glory to shine all the brighter. It is not about us, but about the amazing gospel message of forgiveness in Jesus that we have to proclaim. Often, the weaker we are the more God’s glory shines.
When we’re in peak form and sporting success comes our way, our friends may find it more difficult to see God at work because victories tend to be attributed to our strengths and gifts. But when injury strikes and we’re struggling to even play our sport and God sustains us, it is often then that our friends see the difference He makes and He is more able to shine through us. This doesn’t lessen the physical and psychological impact injury can have on us, but offers hope and reminds us where our true treasure lies.
We might question why injuries happen, aside from the purely physical causes, but we can’t always find a clear answer, other than the fact that our bodies are not perfect and super strong. What we can be sure of, and what the 2 Corinthians 4 passage explains, is that God’s ambition is for His glory, not in a self-seeking way, but because it is the right response for us to give to our Creator.
This blog is too short to fully address the issue of how we cope with injury, but being reminded of the great hope we have for the future can really help us. As Paul puts it in verses 16-18, we don't lose heart because these are by comparison light and momentary afflictions. Injury can really hurt, physically and psychologically, and that is something I’m dealing with as I recover from a blood clot myself.
We don’t want to overlook that, but instead we can look forward to eternal glory with our Heavenly Father that is beyond comparison. Our enjoyment of eternity will be all the greater because of any pain and difficulty we face right now. These are verses I need to preach to myself as it is easy to just focus on my current situation and not being able to do the sport I enjoy to the level I’m used to. That certain hope of eternal glory puts everything into perspective.
Don't get me wrong, injury is one of the toughest opponents we face in sport. If it's a battle you're going through right now, make sure you seek out support and fellowship from your Christian brothers and sisters. But remember too, it is God's plan that His power should be shown in us. We have this treasure, the amazing gospel message, in jars of clay, so that ultimately we might shine for Jesus.
Ed Mezzetti, City of York Athletic Club
Ed runs for City of York Athletic Club and is a member of Trinity Church, York.
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