Monday, March 22, 2010

Because Soccer Doesn’t Matter

Guest post by Allison Salerno 
Yesterday afternoon, our ten-year-old recorded nine saves during his two quarters as goalie, helping lead his traveling soccer team to a 4-0 victory over the U-10 team a few towns over. I watched intently from the sidelines and felt oddly indifferent to it all. My lack of reaction was so apparent that parents sitting next to me were saying things like, "Did you miss it? Your son just made a really great save."

I'd like to think it’s a sign of spiritual maturity that the farther into my faith journey I walk, the less attached I feel to my son's God-given talents. I now also cherish the parts of his life where our son struggles, because I have come to see challenges as gifts, too. I feel content to know that the talents and the struggles are all part of God's plan for my little boy.

Our 10-year-old acquired the nickname "Lucky" a few years ago because his Little League team deemed it lucky when he was playing. The boy was gifted with athletic abilities. He never crawled; he started walking at nine months, the same age he started throwing and catching balls.

At one time, I was emeshed in his athletic successes. When he was seven, he made the regional swim championships as a summer swimmer competing against boys who already were swimming yearround. "This is our big moment," I said out loud as one of Lucky's races was about to begin. A wise acquaintence next to me said gently, 'No Allison, this is his big moment, not yours."

One of my midlife epiphanies is that God created humans to worship. If we don't worship God, we end up worshipping something else. In the case of many of us middle-class parents in the United States, we worship our children.

We build our lives around their schedules and end up treating them like little gods. Our son plays on two travel teams: summer baseball and spring-and-fall soccer. I estimate we've logged thousands of miles in the family van, shuttling him across Central New Jersey for games. I've stood on the sidelines of soccer fields, swimming pools, and baseball fields, cheering Lucky on in all kinds of weather, acting as if my destiny depended on how well he played that day.

As I have grown older and, I hope, wiser, my husband and I have brought our own family's internal rhythm in sync with the Church's. The great drama playing out is not the ref's latest call, but our own ability to grow in holiness and faith. The challenge before us is to help our sons mature in all their dimensions, to ensure that they treat themselves and others with the exquisite care that God has demonstrated for them.

I have also come to cherish my son's challenges as much as, if not more than, his talents. Lucky is a bright boy who struggles with school. Speaking came with difficulty; by age four my husband and I could understand only about five percent of what he was saying. His older brother understood him and served as a translater for us and everyone else.

Lucky has worked hard to speak, to read, and to write. He doesn't expect anything to come easily to him. Neither my husband nor I know anyone who works harder than Lucky does on whatever task lies before him. The kid has grit.

Sure, I like the fact that my son's good at sports. It gives him the chance to have fun and use his talents to help whatever team he's playing for.

What really matters, however, is what we do with the multitude of gifts God gives us, including our hardships. This might sound blasphemous in some circles, but at the end of our days, soccer is irrelevant