There is a boy on my son’s soccer team named José. He is a phenomenal player. In fact, it’s safe to say he is the best player on the team. He is fast and precise, intentional and strategic. But there is something about the way José plays that cannot be measured in skills or footwork. He plays without effort. He reacts to the game as though his body was created for nothing else than playing soccer. It’s not that he doesn’t need to try, it’s that he doesn’t need to think. He simply plays, without consideration or analysis. While other players are thinking about what needs to happen next, José is already doing it. His play is like his breathing: effortless, easy, and steady.
I would like to love the way José plays soccer. In my life, I have not always loved well. To be more accurate, when it comes to those who may be difficult to love, I have rarely loved well. And in the instances when I have somehow risen above my own self-centeredness and chosen to express love despite the circumstances, it has been just that: a choice. It was not easy and it was not effortless.
Scripture can sometimes be vague and biblical doctrine and interpretation is debated by some of the brightest theologians of our time. But regarding the topic of love, there is no question. We are commanded to love. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Mt 22:39. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Co 13:13. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Mt 5:44. And that’s just off the top of my head.
Love the Lord, love your enemy, love your neighbor. Love, love, love. No exceptions, no conditions or parameters; just a straightforward command. If only following that command were as easy as acknowledging it. Unfortunately, all too often I fall way too short. I am judgmental, quick to anger and belittling. What I wouldn’t give to shed that persona, that entitlement, and choose love without thought or consideration.
And that brings me back to José. Although José’s soccer is graceful, flowing and beautiful to watch, there is the reality that such an accomplishment did not come overnight. It came with a great deal of time and a great deal of practice. José has clearly been playing soccer for as long as he could walk. He has been sharpening and wielding his skills for a very long time and he is now reaping the rewards. That said, I recognize that developing a loving perspective and attitude is something that does not come naturally for me. But that’s not to say, it can never come naturally. On any given day, I am presented with opportunities to choose love or choose myself. I am convinced that if I consistently strive to choose love, in due time, that choice will become effortless. While today it is an intentional and pointed decision, somewhere down the road it can happen without thought or exertion.
One last thought about José. José rarely has a bad game. He usually walks off the field with his head held high knowing that he gave his best, that he played well and did exactly what was required of him. What if I could finish each day with the same realization? What if I could crawl in bed each night and rest in the peace of knowing that I had loved well, that I had done what was required of me? It’s not that I’ve never had that, but more often than not, my day is filled with missed opportunities and choices I faced that went sadly awry.
Love, love, love. It’s simple and complicated all at the same time. I want it to be simpler. I want to remove the complexity from love and let it flow from me as gracefully and effortlessly as the mighty Mississippi. And at the end of the day, I want to count myself in the ranks of José and his soccer playing. I want to reflect on my actions and choices and feel confidant that I loved as well as José plays soccer.