The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup began this past Saturday with host nation Canada’s victory over China. This year’s event marks the seventh iteration of the Women’s World Cup and is the third time that the tournament has been held in North America. Like the Men’s World Cup, which finished its 20th tournament last year in Brazil, the contest occurs every four years.
The field of teams has been expanded this year to include 8 more countries than in previous tournaments. The 24 teams are divided into 6 groups with the top 2 teams from each group and the top 4 third place teams advancing to the next round. From that point, it is a single elimination tournament until a champion is crowned.
The U.S. team is one of the favorites, along with Germany and Brazil, to emerge victorious this year. They won their first match against Australia 3-1 this past Monday night behind a two goal effort from Megan Rapinoe. However they will likely face a more difficult test when they play Sweden on Friday night (7:00 p.m. CST).
The tournament couldn’t come at a better time for many soccer fans given the allegations levied against several FIFA officials and the recent resignation of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. While that cloud of corruption still hangs over the tournament to some degree, the great thing about sports is that it offers a unique diversion from the larger concerns of life. For 90 plus minutes each match, fans can forget about the difficulties facing the sport and simply enjoy watching some of the best athletes in women’s sports compete at the highest level. The added dimension of international competition only heightens the enjoyment as it brings in fans that might not otherwise care to watch the world’s most popular game.
In the interest of full disclosure, I largely fall into that latter category. I married into a soccer loving family and have gained far more appreciation for the sport as a result. However, it’s still not something I would be overly interested in were it not for the international element.
There is something strangely exhilarating about international competitions. Whether it’s the Olympics or the World Cup, the chance to cheer on athletes representing your nation offers a level of excitement that transcends the category of competition.
I think the primary reason is that it reminds us that we’re part of something larger than ourselves. Individualism is a highly valued concept in the West and a great deal has been accomplished by people who felt empowered and free to test their limits as a result. However, we were created to be part of something greater and can only be the best versions of our unique selves when we embrace that truth.
Paul spoke to this balance in 1 Corinthians 12 when he wrote that the body of Christ has many parts that have each been uniquely created and gifted by God to serve a purpose that only they can fulfill. He goes on to describe how we should not view membership in that body as a restriction on becoming who God has created us to be but as a liberating and enabling force to help us become the best versions of ourselves for the betterment of God’s kingdom.
God doesn’t ask us to give up what makes us unique but rather to submit our uniqueness to his guidance and plan. When that happens, our individuality is not destroyed but rather redirected to the service of something far greater than ourselves. We are wired to crave that larger purpose, even if we don’t always realize it.
However, only God can help us find that sense of meaning because God is the one that created it in us. That’s why it’s so important that we remain an integrated part of the Body of Christ rather than lone agents trying to fulfill God’s plan by ourselves. We need the community of believers in order to accomplish the unique purpose God has for each of our lives.
There was once a man who left the church because he tired of the hypocrisy and thought it unnecessary to fulfilling God’s purpose for his life. After a few weeks had passed, his pastor came by one cold winter evening to check on him. The two men sat in the den for a time simply watching the roaring fire that was providing heat to the room. After a few minutes, the pastor picked up the tongs next to the hearth and set a single coal on the brick mantle. They watched as the once red-hot coal quickly turned ashen and cold. With tears beginning to run down his face, the man who had once thought the community of Christ unnecessary told his pastor that he would see him on Sunday.
Which coal are you today? Are you thriving in the hearth or dying on the mantle? You may be able to survive on your own for a time, but your usefulness and, ironically, your uniqueness will quickly fade apart from the larger Body of Christ. God has created us to be part of something larger than ourselves. Are you?