“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” – James 1:12 NLT
Growing up in a divided home definitely wasn’t the easiest thing to navigate or understand as a child. Since I was four years old, Jesus and soccer have been a huge part of my life. However, they were always kept separate. Sundays were actually the most chaotic and confusing days in my house. As a kid, I was forced to decide which I found more important on Sunday mornings: soccer games or church.
At 12 years old, I set a goal to earn a scholarship to play Division I soccer in the U.S., or play for the Canadian Women’s National Team. I felt like I was on my way to achieving that dream, when two years later, after countless hours of training, I learned that I made Team Ontario. I felt like I had made my dad proud. But, I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
At 16 years old, after two more years of proving I was good enough to play on the first line, I was crushed with a near career-ending injury. I was told that I had two bulging discs in my lumbar spine, and soccer would likely be too physically demanding on my back to play.
After many extremely early weekend mornings and hours of training, I had given up. I left my cleats in the closet and felt like I had nothing to show for my hard work except for the excruciating pain. Since soccer was my only source of fulfillment, I felt as though I had nothing left.
It wasn’t until the last year of high school that I finally began to feel motivated again. Through physiotherapy, I began seeing slight improvements in my back and my hope returned. So much so, I was given a late scholarship opportunity to play for York University; and I decided to give soccer another shot.
Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, I have been hit with injury after injury in my collegiate career. In fact, I have only played a total of 22 games in four years.
During my first year of university, I found myself continuously discouraged and hopeless due to my pain and frequent injuries. As a result, I made the decision to start taking my faith more seriously and joined my campus’ Athletes in Action. By my third year, I went to AIA’s National Training Camp (NTC). Finding a ministry that ensured me it was possible to blend my talent and love for soccer with my love for Jesus, was one of the more encouraging things for me.
It wasn’t until NTC that I realized I was drawing my source of motivation from the improvements I saw in my injuries. Sure, my physiotherapist gave me hope when I felt hopeless, and I felt motivated when my injuries slowly got better. But, since NTC, I have been learning to draw my motivation from God, the only person who truly loves me unconditionally, will never forsake me and never leave me.
Being a chronically injured athlete is definitely challenging. However, God has been showing me that my talents and love for Jesus are part of a much bigger plan, and that my sport is not just for me. When soccer became less about me, and more about Him, I started to see beauty in how my sport can be used to bring people to Jesus – injured or not. Instead of questioning whether God wanted soccer in my life, I began believing that God will use my position, whether I’m on the field or on the sidelines, to impact the lives of those around me.
Although soccer is a huge part of my life, God continues to show up in other areas of my life as well. He has blessed me with a boyfriend who not only loves me, but loves Jesus. He has answered my year-long prayers, and helped me find my home church in Toronto. And, on January 27, I was baptized.
“The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” – Proverbs 20:24 NLT
Whether or not I am able to step onto a field again and play, I know that God has made this sport so much bigger than me. Instead of trying to understand everything that happens along the way, I will remain faithful and trust that God has a purpose and plan for my life.
Sia Papadopoulos is a third-year forward for the York University Lions in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.