The Winner

I was watching some small children play soccer (football). They were only five or six years old, but they were playing a real and serious game. There were two uniformed teams, coaches, and a small crowd of parents watching from the sidelines. The teams seemed quite evenly matched, and as a casual acquaintance of one of the families, I was able to enjoy the game without too many anxieties about who won or lost. I only wished the parents and coaches could have done the same!

Nobody scored in the first period. The young players were hilarious. They were clumsy and earnest as only children can be. They fell over their own feet, stumbled over the ball, and kicked into the air, but they didn’t seem to care.—They were having fun!

In the second period, the Team One coach pulled out what must have been his A-team players and put in the substitutes, with the exception of his best player, whom he left as goalie. The game took a dramatic turn. I guess winning is important even when you are five years old, because the Team Two coach left his best players in, and the Team One subs were just no match for them.

Team Two swarmed around the little fellow at the goal. He was a great footballer for the age of five, but no match for three or four who were equally as good. Team Two began to score.

The little goalie gave it his all, recklessly throwing his body in front of incoming balls, trying valiantly to stop them. Team Two scored two quick goals. This infuriated the young goalie. He shouted, ran, dove. Even though he did all he could, it wasn’t enough, and before long, they scored a third goal.

I soon learned who the goalie’s parents were. I could tell that his dad had just come from the office, tie and all. They had been yelling encouragement to their son, but after that third goal, the little kid changed. He could see it was no use; he couldn’t stop them. He didn’t quit, but futility was written all over his face.

His father changed too. He had been urging his son to try harder, yelling advice and encouragement. But then he became anxious. He tried to say that it was okay, and to hang in there.

After the fourth goal, I had an idea what was going to happen. The little boy needed help so badly and there was no help to be had. He retrieved the ball from the net, handed it to the referee, and burst into tears. He just stood there while huge tears rolled down both cheeks. Then he went to his knees.

As the father rose to his feet, his wife clutched his wrist and said, “Don’t, Jim. You’ll embarrass him.”

But the boy’s father tore loose and ran onto the field, suit, tie, dress shoes, and all. He charged onto the field and picked up his son and hugged him and kissed him and cried with him. I have never been so proud of any man in my life.

He carried him off the field, and when they got close to the sidelines, I heard him say, “Son, I’m so proud of you. You were great out there. I want everybody to know that you are my son.”

“Daddy,” the boy sobbed, “I couldn’t stop them. I tried and tried, and they kept scoring on me.”

“Scotty, it doesn’t matter how many times they score on you. I’m proud of you. I want you to go back out there and finish the game. I know you want to quit, but you can’t. And son, you’re going to get scored on again, but it doesn’t matter. Go on, now.”

I could tell it made a difference. When you’re all alone, you’re getting scored on, and you can’t stop them, it means a lot to know that it doesn’t matter to those who love you.

The little guy ran back on to the field. Team Two scored two more times, but it was okay.

I get scored on every day. I try so hard. I recklessly throw my body in every direction. I fume and rage. I struggle with every ounce of my being. The tears come, and I go to my knees, helpless. And my heavenly Father rushes out on the field, right in front of the crowd—the whole jeering, laughing world—and He picks me up. He hugs me and says, “I am so proud of you! You were great out there. I want everybody to know that you are My child, and I declare you the winner!”