Growing up, my mom would make us go to church every Sunday. Even when we went out of town to soccer tournaments, my mom would find a local church we could go to on Saturday or Sunday. I believed in God and would pray, but I didn’t really feel like I really had a relationship with Him. Honestly, I dreaded going to church because it was always boring and I could never tell you anything that was said after the service.
I was a good kid and never got into trouble or partied because soccer was my life. From age nine I knew I wanted to be a professional soccer player, so everything I did was to make that a reality. Soccer was my identity. I can honestly say I know it wasn’t right, but in my heart, my priorities were first: soccer; second: family; and third: God.
When I got to college, I started going to church but stopped because I wasn’t getting anything out of it, and I was going by myself, which was tough. The music and the service were very slow and couldn’t keep my attention. I would only go when I was back home with my family. But right before graduation, I found a church I really liked, where I felt connected with the worship and attentive during the message.
Then at the MLS draft, after I had just gone to the MLS combine, I didn’t get picked up by a team. I was at a loss for words and didn’t know what to do next because I was devastated. It was what I had been working toward my whole life. I knew I was good enough, so I didn’t know why I wasn’t selected. But, I knew I was going to make it happen somehow.
My friend who was watching the draft with me had been selected and was very supportive of me. He put me in touch with one of his friends who played in Germany. So, I went over there for more than a month to trial with his team. I ended stayed up at his house, with his parents and brother, who were the nicest family! It’s crazy to think that having never met me before, they allowed me to come live with them for over a month. I really enjoyed my time with them.
At one point, I came home for a couple of months before going back to Germany for more trials during the summer. But, before I went back, I attended the wedding of one of my friends from high school. Seeing him after not seeing him for a while, I noticed something diﬀerent about him. The way he was, and the way he and his bride interacted, they had this unexplainable joy that I knew was from their relationship with God. I was very curious and remember really wanting that.
The week after the wedding, I was on a plane to Germany where I signed with a lower league team. Only a few weeks later, I got tackled and tore a ligament in my ankle causing me to be out for six to seven weeks. Since it was early in the season, I had no friends on the team yet. I was all alone, far away from family, and I couldn’t play. I was miserable. This was by far the lowest point of my life.
I had nothing else to turn to, so I turned to God. I began to pray, listen to Christian music, watch a couple of Christian movies, and my older sister sent me daily Bible verses and messages – every one of them seemed like they were speaking directly to my situation.
Around that time, I found a church I could go to every Sunday and, although it was in German, I felt at home because it was similar to the one I grew up in. I spent a lot of time there praying. The more I prayed and put my trust in God, the more it seemed like the dark cloud over my head went away.
My whole attitude changed and no matter what was happening, I was able to reframe my mindset and attitude to be thankful and appreciative, rather than thinking, “Why me?” and “Why are things going this way?” Although it wasn’t always perfect, I was able to make the best out of situations and made amazing friends and relationships that I still have today. After being there for the rest of the year, I came home and signed for a team in San Antonio.
This time, the first thing I wanted to do was find a church. So I prayed about it, and God led me to a church that I felt extremely connected to after the first service. Every weekend I really looked forward to going. It was the first time in my life that I really wanted to go. I got connected, volunteered, and my relationship with God began really growing.
The month before I went home for the oﬀseason, the church was having baptisms, and although I was baptized as a baby, and confirmed in the church I grew up in, I didn’t feel like those were my decisions. Before leaving San Antonio I got baptized again, and this time it was my decision. It was awesome to follow Christ publicly. To me, it felt like a new beginning.
Now everywhere I play I look to get plugged into a church and try to continue growing in my faith. This year I have been growing strongly in faith, praying and reading the Bible more. It hasn’t made things any easier, but it has given me peace when things go diﬀerently than how I thought they should have.
This year I joined FC Cincinnati, and three weeks into preseason I broke my leg and needed to have surgery. A friend from college told me a couple of years ago about the song, “It is Well with My Soul,” and the story behind why it was written. That morning, before the injury, it was on my heart to read the story behind it and listen to it again. Two hours later I went down in training. My first response was, “No, this can’t be happening!” But I immediately began thinking about that song, and it gave me so much peace. God was preparing me for the injury and telling me it was going to be okay.
From that moment on, I realized I have never felt so much peace about something like this. I have been through so many things that I can now look back on and see God’s hand in it, and I think, “Why was I worried?” It is becoming easier and easier to trust in His plan and realize that it has always turned out better than my plan would have.
It’s made it easier for me to first pause and pray, then to look at everything that happens and say, “How can I use this time or experience to turn it into opportunities that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise?” Looking back I’m very thankful my mom made us go to church because even though I didn’t want to go, having that background helped me realize when I grew up that God is number one and I should always make time for Him. I’ve found Colossians 3:23 very meaningful: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” At the end of the day, I focus on playing for an audience of one!
Tyler Gibson is a midfielder in his first season with FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League.