Looking up Mountain

As a professional athlete, do you know what question I’ve been asked a gazillion times more than any other question?

“What will you do after playing?”

I didn’t even get a year as a pro before people started bombarding me with that question. Or a month. Or even a day. I can actually remember being asked this question the day I was drafted in 2007 by the New England Revolution. (I mean seriously? Come on folks. Can’t a guy enjoy ‘the dream’ for even a day before you start asking what’s next?) Apparently not.

Family would ask. Strangers and reporters would ask. My new-found flight mates would ask. Everyone would freakin ask. And if I got really lucky, the bright folks would make sure to follow-up their question with a statement that would quickly become my most dreaded statement out there.

“You know you can’t play forever.”

Brilliant. Thanks for telling me. Wonder how they figured that one out. DUH!

So why did I dread the statement so much? It’s simple. I had no idea what the answer was. I’d usually respond with something like, “Not sure, but I pray about it all the time,” trying to be that good ole’ Christian boy and bring the convo back to Jesus. It usually worked long enough to get people to leave me alone. But it never solved the bigger problem of me not knowing what was next.

And you know what? I still don’t know.

When I was drafted in 2007 I was just happy to be a pro. It was a dream come true. Something I never thought would happen. But, as with most things in life, those ‘just happy to be here’ feelings quickly faded as I constructed new dreams and embarked on a journey to reach new goals.

And then there was always that looming reality that lurked in the back of my head day-in and day-out. The reality that any day, at any moment, my career could be over. One bad tackle. A string of bad games. A newly signed player playing the same position as me. (Or three back-to-back red cards…that’s not the point!) Countless things could have ended my career in a flash.

The next chapter in my life never strayed far from my mind. If only God would send me an email telling me what to do…you know, so I could get a head start on things. But that ain’t the way He works. No doubt He could but pretty sure He don’t. (Side note – I wonder what His email address would be. IAm@IAm.IAm?).

Fast forward nine years.

I actually didn’t mind being confronted with life after soccer. After all, I knew that just like people said, it would come to an end at some point. But the reality of coming to terms with life after sport has been a huge challenge. Sure there are many things that can be done to prepare for that time, but regardless of how much one prepares, the struggle will still exist.

Five weeks post hip surgery, it’s a struggle I find myself in now.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever play another pro game again. And even though “retirement” has been coming for a while now, I’d be lying if I told you I was ready to face it. But you know what? I have absolutely nothing to complain about. God blessed me with nine incredible years as a pro athlete and I am eternally grateful!

Am I scared for the next chapter? You betchya. But I’m fighting that fear. Cause fear sucks and it’s from the devil. As the pro soccer season gears up in America, it’s hard to imagine not being around “the guys” every day. It’s hard to imagine not touching a ball every day. I miss it. I miss the battle. I miss the competition. I miss the emotion of it all. It makes me cry just thinking about it. No joke.

You know, they say a pro athlete dies twice.

That’s never been more real to me. I feel a part of me is dying. I feel lost. I think about working out and eating right, but for what? For what purpose? I don’t have a game to prepare for. I don’t have a job or position to win. I don’t have a game this weekend or the week after. I don’t have to prepare for a beep test. But I wish I did!

I’ve trained, lived, sacrificed, bled, sweat and breathed every part of my whole life for soccer. Soccer’s been a huge driving force for how I’ve lived and the decisions I’ve made. Maybe I’m being dramatic? Maybe I should just tell myself it’s not that big of a deal and move on. But I think I’ve been trying to do that and it hasn’t worked as well as I would’ve hoped. The Holy Spirit gave me great peace those first weeks after surgery (read here). But life seems to have sucked it out of me. I’m anxious and stressed.

Where do I go from here? Maybe you find yourself feeling lost. Maybe you don’t have any sort of direction in your life. Maybe you’re just struggling to get out of bed in the morning. Let me tell you what I’ve been trying to do in hopes that it brings some encouragement to you. Put one foot in front of the other. Simple as that. Keep walking. And seek the only One who has all the answers and knows the way. Yes, go to your friends and counselors and even pets (I vent to Spirit all the time). That’s great. We need them.

But ultimately we need the limitless One.

The One who, before time, knew our name and the number of hairs on our head. Jeremiah 29:11-14 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by yousays the Lord.

This promise was made to the Jews in exile, but they express the unchanging heart of God toward His people. God has a future and a hope for His people always!

So here’s what we tell ourselves, the devil and the world…

We ain’t a one trick pony.

We’ve got greatness in us. So keep walking brothers and sisters. One foot in front of the other. With confidence, hope and assurance. Victory is yours (1 John 5:4). God’s got a perfect track record. He’s never broken a promise and He never will.  And just remember, we are Easter people and hallelujah is our song!

By Wells Thompson

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