The US women’s soccer team will play France in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup in Germany today for one reason—an Abby Wambach goal Sunday against Brazil “at the death.” That British expression, used so craftily by ESPN soccer announcer Ian Darke, truly expressed the reality of the moment. It was a game rife with poor officiating, bad sportsmanship, and a red card that seemed to be unfairly given to US defender Rachel Buehler. Somehow, however, the US squad—while playing almost an hour with a one-man disadvantage because of that red card—dug deep and played with unbelievable heart, holding the Brazilian team in check through the rest of the match with the regular time ending with a 1-1 score. In the following 30 minutes of extra time, the US yielded a goal to Brazil but never yielded their courage—then Wambach’s glorious header off a brilliant cross by attacking midfielder Megan Rapinoe found the net in the final seconds of added time after the 30 minutes of extra time. “At the death” certainly was the reality of the scene—but the American team made the most of it, winning the match 5-3 on penalty kicks. At the death… or back from the dead. Either way, it was a reminder that, in sports, it is always too soon to quit.
But life is not a game, and the deep struggles of life can’t be defeated with a canny header to the goal. The realities of life can be so filled with pain, heartache and loss that it can feel like a slow death. By the grace of God, however, even life’s darkest moments are not the whole story. By the grace and strength of God, we can be enabled to endure even the toughest of times. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to commend them for just such a spirit of endurance when he said:
“…so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure…” (2 Thessalonians 1:4)
They had become an example to other churches that patient faith in a loving heavenly Father can carry us through those seasons of pain. If left to our own strength and abilities, we might crumble and fail under those real-world pressures. But, by grace, God can help us to endure. Even at the death, it is always too soon to quit if we know the God of grace and strength. He alone can give us what we need to endure.
Bill Crowder, Sport Spectrum Chaplain