Wednesday night’s Women’s World Cup semi-final match between England and Japan was defined as much by questionable officiating as by the play on the pitch. At least, that was the case going into stoppage time. However, the game’s story changed when Japan’s Nahomi Kawusumi lofted a ball into England’s box that defender Laura Bassett inadvertently kicked just over the head of her goalie and off the bottom of the cross-bar for the game-deciding goal. It was a tragic end to an otherwise entertaining game.
ESPN analyst Kate Markgraf called the shot Bassett was attempting to clear “The most difficult ball to defend.” Others have echoed similar sentiments and many have reached out to offer her support via social media. After the game her coach, Mark Samson, said of Bassett and the English team: “We’ll go home knowing that we could not have done any more…we gave our all. I’m very, very proud of the group…the way Laura Bassett has played today and in this tournament, she’s epitomized all the values English football fans want to see… I know when they get back, they’ll be welcomed back as heroes.”
While Samson is probably right, it is understandable if such sentiments offer little consolation at the moment. Japan was heavily favored going into the game but England dominated for much of the action. They had 24 touches in Japan’s penalty area to Japan’s six and outshot their opponents 15-7. Perhaps their best chance to put the game away came in the 62nd minute when Toni Duggan’s shot hit off the cross bar, maybe 5-6 inches higher than where Bassett’s clinching goal would hit on the opposite end. Ultimately, while the game may have been decided in the final seconds, there are many reasons why England lost.
Bassett and her teammates still have one game left to play and will face off against Germany in the third place match on Saturday. Perhaps that game will offer a chance at redemption but, whatever the outcome, it will be difficult to put aside questions of what might have been. As Landon Donovan, the face of men’s soccer in America for many years and a member of teams that often exceeded expectations only to fall short after the group rounds, tweeted after the game, “Absolutely devastated for @laurabassett6 We all make mistakes and I hope she doesn’t let this define her.”
Our mistakes have a way of doing that. Bassett was a big reason that her team even made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup. However, for all her success, it will be difficult to keep her defining moment in this year’s tournament from being other than that ill-fated deflection. Yet, while she may not be able to change the outcome of Wednesday’s game or what people remember from it, she is the one that will have to determine to what extent it will define her going forward.
The same is true for each of us as well. Donovan is right when he says that we all make mistakes. However, God’s redemption is such that he can turn our greatest errors into his greatest successes. The most obvious example is the cross where humanity chose to kill its savior and God responded by saving his killers. Yet God is working similar, albeit smaller, examples of redemption in our lives every day. He can bring good from our evil (Gen. 50:20) and is working all things to the good of those who serve him (Romans 8:28).
Our problem is that we don’t always look for that redemption, instead choosing to focus on our failure. Yet such a perspective robs us of the life-giving and restorative grace God wants to bring about into our lives. While the consequences may persist, they don’t have to define us. Moreover, our witness is vastly improved when our lives testify to the redemptive power of that grace and the reverse is true as well. What does it say to others about our God when we live as though the liberating mercy and forgiveness we preach is not effective in us?
So, for his sake and ours, don’t be defined by your past mistakes. Instead, embrace the redemption that only God can give and trust that, when you do, every aspect of your life will be a testament to his grace and love. That is my prayer for Laura Bassett and for us all. Is it yours?