Winning the War


The star soccer player regained his faith through his father’s blessing. That was far more important than any battle, or game.

It was the third time. Slowly, Doctor Gallagher straightened and shook his head. The four of us—myself, my parents, and my brother Jon—leaned forward expectantly.

“It’s not good,” he said bluntly, nodding toward Jon’s ankle. “Last year or the year before, I would have said to give it a few days of rest. But this is the third sprain on that same foot. This time it needs to be immobilized—for at least six weeks. Otherwise, you take the risk of being a cripple the rest of your life.”

Jon’s face went white. “You can’t do that!” he protested. “The day after tomorrow is our first regional soccer game! If I can’t play, we’ll lose! And if we lose this game, we can’t be in the finals.” His voice trailed off, and I saw the tears in his eyes.

Jon wasn’t being conceited in saying the team would lose without him. He was the goalkeeper for the Hayfield High School varsity soccer team, and he loved soccer more than anything else. I knew that if they won the regional game, there would be scouts waiting for them at the finals, and maybe they would consider him good enough for a scholarship; that was what Jon had always wanted. But if he couldn’t play, they wouldn’t even be able to see him.

When we left the doctor’s office, Jon was on crutches, wearing a plaster cast and an angry, hopeless expression. He sat in stony silence as we drove home.

Once inside the house, my father cleared his throat and put a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “Look,” he said quietly, “I know you generally don’t go for this sort of thing, but if you like, we could give you a blessing.”

Jon opened his mouth to speak. I opened mine, out of stunned surprise. Jon had never been particularly religious. He was the rebellious “middle child” of our family, given to ridiculing my parents’ conservative ways and our family’s faith in the gospel. But to my complete astonishment, he snapped his mouth shut and curtly nodded his head.

My father called the rest of the family together, and he and the oldest two boys, my twin brothers, put their hands on Jon’s head and gave him a blessing. I don’t remember much of that blessing, but I do remember the warm, sweet spirit that filled my heart when my father said that through Jon’s faith in the Lord, he would be healed.

When we arose, Jon shuffled away without a word. My youngest brother, Christopher, looked up at my mother and voiced the fear that was running through all of our minds. “He won’t be healed unless he has the faith to be, will he?” My mother shook her head in silence. I felt the tears come to my eyes and prayed that somehow the blessing would touch Jon, that he would feel the Spirit of the Lord and gather enough faith to be healed. He could lose so much without faith in God: not just the game and the scholarship, but perhaps his chances for eternal happiness as well.

All of us avoided mention of the subject until the morning of the game, when Jon said abruptly, “I’m going to see the sports trainer this afternoon. He can remove my cast so that it can be put back on if necessary.”

I turned to him, my heart racing. “Then you believe in what Dad said in the blessing?”

He returned my hopeful look with a level one of his own.

“Yeah, maybe I do,” he said shortly, and turned and went out the door.

The regional game began at eight o’clock, and long before then, I was hopping about with anxiety. Jon hadn’t even come home after school. He had gone straight to the trainer’s room and from there to the game. We sat shivering in the bleachers, waiting for the team to appear. Somehow I knew it was going to be all right, but still I didn’t know what to expect.

When they finally emerged, I could easily spot Jon’s dark blue goalie shirt amid the orange and white uniforms. And when I saw him, I grabbed my father’s arm in excitement and wonder.

“He’s jogging to the goal box!” I whispered. And I was even more awed when the game began. He played as though he’d never hurt his ankle, jumping and diving for the ball, kicking it back across the middle line into the other team’s territory, shouting instructions and encouraging the other players. Only once, when he ran out too early to intercept the ball, did a player manage to slip by him and score a goal. Anxiously, I waited for our team to score in return, and as the two hours passed, I sent up short, pleading prayers: “Oh, Heavenly Father, please let them win!” This was Jon’s game, his glory, and I wanted more than anything to have everyone else see and share in his triumph.

But they lost the game. When the final whistle shrilled, I sat, stunned, as the stands around us began to empty. I stared at the dark figure of my brother standing in the goal box. It was too dark to see the expression on his face, and in truth, I was afraid to see it. I didn’t understand. Why, after his miraculous healing, after our prayers had been answered, after Jon had finally found faith in God—why did He allow them to lose the game? I was fighting tears, praying that somehow I would understand and that Jon would, too.

But as he walked toward the short fence that outlined the field, I saw that he was smiling. When he caught sight of us, he sprinted the last few yards and threw his grimy, sweaty arms around the first person he could reach, which happened to be me. Then he vaulted the fence and hugged my parents and brothers.

My father stared at him in astonishment. “Well, I’m glad to see that you’re not too upset about the results of the game.”

Jon flashed him a mischievous grin that slowly became a softer, serious look.

“I’m not really disappointed,” he said slowly. “I wanted to play and I did, thanks to that blessing.”

“Thanks to your faith,” my father corrected gently.

“Yeah, I guess. I lost the battle, but I won the war, huh?” Jon replied, throwing an arm around my father’s shoulders.

Jon never won a soccer scholarship (although as a college freshman, he became the starting goalie for BYU’s Varsity Soccercats). But it didn’t really matter to him or to us.

“I lost the battle, but I won the war.” It was a long time before I began to understand that it doesn’t matter if you don’t win the game itself. What is really important is the struggle that no one sees, the struggle inside our hearts, the fight to find our real selves and the real God. And that’s really all that matters.

[photos] Photography by Jed Clark