Not long ago if I was asked the question “who are you?” I had an easy answer: “I am Leandro, a soccer player.” Or even before saying my name I would say “I am a player of x club.”
Most of us probably do something similar with that question. We associate who we are with an ability we have. This is especially true for those of us in sports. I have been around athletes all my life and for them the answer is a no-brainer. “I am a fill in the blank player.”
This isn’t necessarily wrong. But I think it does reveal the easy ways in which sport becomes an athlete’s identity. In some ways, it’s difficult for this not to happen. Sports take up so much of an athlete’s time and focus. To even make the team, much less excel, requires talent, discipline, and hard work. And there’s always another test on the horizon, another practice or competition where you and your efforts are going to be evaluated—by teammates, opponents, coaches, fans, the scoreboard. With so much mental and physical effort required, why wouldn’t an athlete take pride in their abilities? Why wouldn’t they want others to know that they compete, that they’re on the team, that they’re an athlete?
The problem is that this identity is not secure. It cannot last forever because it’s based on performance that will come and go and on skills and abilities that will fade with time. I don’t care how good you are, you will not play forever.
I started to see this identity problem more clearly nineteen months ago when I had the amazing experience of becoming a father. My new role transformed me. It was like I discovered a part of my heart I didn’t know existed. There have been so many “firsts” and each one of them has been unique and special. Fatherhood has also been a spiritual journey for me. I see the world and the Word through a different lens. Bible stories like Abraham and Jacob, the prodigal son, Jesus himself, and even my relationship with my earthly father have a completely different meaning now. My boy rocked my world!
There is nothing better than when my son comes running to me with arms open wide for a hug. I literally miss him the second after I put him in bed. When he misbehaves, it only takes a minute for me not to be upset with him anymore (and only seconds if he gives me his cute smile). No matter what happens, I am always longing to be with him, every second of the day. My love for him has nothing to do with his performance, and everything to do with the simple fact that he’s my son.
Because I know how powerful my love is for my son, it’s crazy to think about what the Bible tells us about God’s love. He loved us so much that He gave us His only son (John 3:16); His love for us is great (Ephesians 2:4); it endures forever (Psalm 136:26); and He ultimately died for us because of His love (John 15:13). It is safe to say that God’s love for me is greater than my love for my boy.
I have to be honest, it’s hard to process that fact. But reflecting on that truth has helped me appreciate even more what it means to be a child of God.
What about you? If you are an athlete, do you see yourself as a child of God who happens to be an athlete? Or an athlete who happens to be a child of God? Please embrace your affiliation and never forget that first and foremost YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD.
This means that you have a Father who loves you (2 Cor 6:18); you are His heir (Galatians 4:7); the kingdom of heaven belongs to you (Matthew 19:14); you are cared for and you are beautiful. There is nothing you did in the past that can change God’s love for you. There is nothing you can do now or in the future that will change God’s love for you. All that you have, including your talents and abilities, were given by the Lord.
So why not glorify Him by playing for Him? Why not embrace your affiliation?
I am Leandro, a child of God. And I happen to play soccer too.
About the author: Leandro Gleria de Medeiros (38) was born and raised in Brazil. He came to the US in 2009 to attend graduate school at Moody Bible Institute and became an American citizen in 2018. He is married to Nicole Medeiros and father of Luca Medeiros. He is currently the Executive Director of the Chicago Eagles (Missionary Athletes International – MAI).