Seeing people get hurt stinks like a porta potty! As a professional athlete, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed it. Some grow numb to it and some are too caught up in themselves to even notice. But for myself personally, I’ll never get used to it. On the contrary, it keeps getting harder and harder.

This past week was especially tough as I, yet again, watched three fellow colleagues get injured.

The Axed:

I had a friend who was on trial with our team for most of pre-season. In professional sports, a trial is exactly what it sounds like, a trial. You’re given a certain amount of time (whatever the coach decides) to prove yourself in hopes of earning a spot on the team. Well last week, he heard the words no player on trial ever wants to hear. “You didn’t make it.” And just like that, he’s out of a job. Now, while he’s left trying to figure out how he’s going to provide for his beautiful seven-month old baby girl, someone else on trial is thanking the Lord that there’s one fewer guys who can potentially take his spot. It’s a very selfish environment.

Just like anything else in life (like war, hunger, slavery, etc.) we can so easily become desensitized to it all. For us athletes, we’ve lived this routine most of our lives, and we’ve figured out ways to cope. Just another guy getting cut…right? Wrong. This guy has feelings, hopes and aspirations just like the rest of us. Now his life has been turned completely upside down. What he’s going through is painful, scary and overwhelming. He needs support now more than ever, but how many of us athletes will be intentional about reaching out to him in the following weeks, months and years to come? Not many. The reality of it is we know that sooner rather than later, we’ll be the player who gets pushed to the side, cut, forgotten about. It’s only a matter of time and we know it. But it’s much easier not to face it.

The further I’ve progressed in my career, the more sensitive I’ve become to others on my team. I make it a priority to go out of my way to make the trialists feel comfortable. Why do I do it? Because I try to treat others how I know I’ll want to be trated when the ‘axed’ player becomes me.  We all want to feel loved, especially during times of uncertainty. Being on trial is very uncertain. Nine times out of ten, the odds are against you. It’s important to remember how even the smallest acts of encouragement can impact a life tremendously!

I hated to see my friend go. I hurt for him. But I rest in the sovereignty of God knowing that He is in total control.

The Injured:

Another friend who was on trial (I’ll call him Thunder), recently hurt his knee during at a pre-season scrimmage game against a college team. It was freakish. That was it. Donzo. Game over (at least for Thunder). Maybe even career over. It happens in a flash. You don’t see it coming. Just like that, Thunder finds himself without a job. And because he was on trial and without a contract, the team has no obligation whatsoever to do anything for him.

And just like that, the next day, I find Thunder cleaning out his locker as we (the team) come in from another day of practice. It’s almost like he’s invisible. There he stands putting his stuff in his book bag as players pass by exhausted from another day of the grueling pre-season.  He wore his hat as if he almost didn’t want to be seen. His knee was wrapped. It was very clear that he had hurt his knee badly enough to need more than the allotted time he would be given to make the team. He needed surgery. It was the same knee he hurt two years earlier.

I knew something was wrong just by the way Thunder carried himself. My heart sank. I greeted him just like I would anybody else. I asked about his knee. I told him I would be praying for him. I have been. I’m sure my condolences felt good for the moment, but I know as soon as he got alone that they would be lost in the reality of the situation. Lots of uncertainty lay ahead for Thunder.

His knee wasn’t the only part of his body hurting. His heart hurt. The game he loved that had given him so much was being stripped from him. Only God knows why. The surgery is cake. It’s the future that’s scary. Wounds like this for people don’t disappear the next day or even months down the road. They take time. They are life-changing and painful as they cut right to the core. It’s a tough but necessary reminder that we aren’t what we do. We are who God says we are. We are His beloved children. But even for the mature Christian, this is hard. Something Satan has a hay day with it.

I watched as he walked past the guys on the team as they carried on with their lives as usual. It was almost surreal. He wanted to get out of their as fast as he could because he didn’t want to face the questions. I know I would have. But the sad thing was, nobody was stopping him. No one even really noticed…except for me. Because I’ve been doing this for so long, I consciously soak in this kind of stuff. I know my time as a professional athlete is coming to an end. I know I’ll be in that guy’s shoes soon enough. I just hope someone stops me and tells me goodbye.

Thunder’s been a soccer player his whole life, just like me. Now he has to figure out “what’s next.” It’s hard. It’s a struggle. One that I know God no doubt will use to draw Thunder closer to Him.

The Loaned:

One of my best friends on the team who traveled with me to the Republic of Congo this past December was told that he was being sent out on loan to Louisville. Just like that. What he thought would be another normal day at practice turned into something way bigger than that. The gaffer (English jargon for coach) wanted to see him after practice and within three minutes, he was informed he’d be leaving for Louisville in two days. He had no idea it was coming. What about his girlfriend with whom he’d recently become serious? What about the six months he still had left on his lease? What about the local youth soccer team he coached? Just like that, everything changed.

If he’s anything like me (which I know he is) one thought after another rush through his head. Then he started to question his abilities. It hurt his pride. It made him feel like he wasn’t “good enough.” The enemy really starts attacking where he knows it will hurt most.

And there you have it…bam, back to identity. If our identity is not in Jesus, situations like this will make us question our worth and value. That is a money back guarantee! Jesus is the only true source of peace and joy that we’ll ever find. I am so thankful my buddy has a strong faith. Even though it hurt him to leave the team just like that, he knows God’s plans are greater!

I know that God uses all things for our good. But it sure doesn’t always feel that way. I mean come on God; can’t you make it a little easier? Pretty sure he’s not the problem though; but rather the problem is us. Yep, you and me. We need help. Thankful God is always there for us.

We must go through the valleys to get to the mountain tops. God knows what’s best for us, so we must trust Him. But let’s take it a few steps further. Let’s not only be intentional about comforting others who are going through difficult times, but also let’s rejoice in our sufferings. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? I thought so too. But it’s Biblical. The Jewish executioner Saul, who was gloriously transformed by Christ and renamed Paul, encourages us in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 with these words, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”@WellsThompson” remove_url=”true”]Remain encouraged! It’s always darkest right before the dawn…”(Philippians 4:4)[/tweetthis]