I’m extremely curious and love learning. I especially love learning even a glimpse of someone’s story - the story of the guy standing in line with me, the story of my accounting professor, or even the story of my teammate who is starting over me... Now let me tell you some of my story. It has to do with identity.
What does identity even mean? Let’s be practical for a moment. Put aside this blog and find a piece of paper and pen. Draw a big circle to represent your life. In the middle of that, draw different bubbles of different sizes to represent your many identities. For some, being an athlete or coach may be take up majority of that circle. The other bubbles may say daughter, student, teacher, sister, artist, co-worker, Christ-follower, sorority member, activist, bio student.
We are proud of many of these identities. These come with many expectations, though. How are we expected to live all of these out, and where do they intersect? Specifically, in our case, what does it mean to be both an athlete and a Christ-follower. It’s easy to say that we are both, but often times adopting both of these identities is a challenge.
For example, what happens when that new transfer is doing really well and threatening the starting position that was finally yours? How do you love them? Can we really be competitive and loving? Is it ok to be jealous? Because... I mean, it’s just a sport! It’s different, right? This was the case for me. Not only was my spot threatened, but this girl was outspoken, belittling, and physically larger than me. I don’t get mad easily, but she had me fuming almost every practice.
My two biggest identities began to clash.
I was really tempted to gossip about her after practice –– often giving in. I had the right to! (Right?!?) She shouldn’t have come onto my team, made her presence very apparent, and taken my spot... I demanded respect. My two biggest identities began to clash when she talked down on teammates, but I was too fearful to speak up with boldness. And they clashed when I was happy she missed the game-winning penalty kick, I’m embarrassed to admit.
I was challenged to love her extraordinarily.
Now, how does one even do that? That type of love only comes from praying to God and asking the Holy Spirit to help me do it. I genuinely could not do it on my own. I asked God to forgive me for my pride and jealousy. I prayed for her to know God. I prayed that he would give me His eyes for her.
I was then encouraged to get to know her as a person. I sat at her table at team meals and asked little questions about her story, learning how it has shaped her. Her relationship with her mom explains her strong personality. Her aggression on the field was actually just passion for success in her last season of collegiate soccer. And practically, when she needed a favor done, I was the first to offer. In other words, I would serve her.
For a while, I thought I was just being fake. But yet again, when we are called to love our enemies, God knows we don’t actually love them with emotion –– yet. At first, we need to act before we feel. It starts with humility. I started to understand that He loves me no more than He loves her. I know that’s cliché, but look deeper in that and let it sink in. It’s a humbling thing. Then, with pride set aside, genuinely pray and serve her. Over time, I believe God can change our hearts. He can actually make us love that person.
I thought I would lose my competitive edge by doing this.
I thought I was just going to let her win by letting her walk all over me. But when I began to actually love her, my motives changed. I focused more on how I could be the best player I can be, rather than just being better than her. My work ethic wasn’t motivated by jealousy, but a healthy competition where I desired excellence for myself as well as for her. It’s a healthier place to be. I praised God when at the end of the season, I was actually stoked when she scored, knowing she was having an amazing senior season.
To bring it back together, it’s not easy to fully be a Christian and an athlete. It takes commitment to prayer and obedience to serve. Over time, we can learn how to compete and love.
I have a passion for helping others grow, ideally through a pursuit of God. I grew up in Orange County, CA. Now I live in LA as a junior on the USC Women’s Soccer Team. I’ve been playing soccer as well as riding horses since I was 5. I’m also studying accounting and business. Aside from being a student-athlete, I’m involved in other things on campus. I live in Delta Gamma sorority and help lead a Christian ministry for the sorority/fraternity Greek life at USC.