My five-year-old son just finished his first season of soccer on Wednesday. By Thursday, he was asking me, “When does soccer start again?’
I guess that means the season was a success.
He headed out to his first practice in February and even the absolutely bitterly freezing cold didn’t dampen his soccer spirit. He was happy to practice and happy to play (especially defense so he could chat with his other teammates and listen to them tell jokes).
My son is a pretty social guy.
After two weeks in the season, though, every time I said, “It’s almost time for soccer,” he always had one question to ask:
“Is it a practice or a game?”
He’d had a deep revelation about soccer, something he didn’t realize in advance and really hadn’t anticipated.
Games are hard.
Practices are super fun. He could run across the field, touch his toes, do some toe taps on the ball, dribble to the goal, and all those practice activities.
The idea of a game even sounded fun at first: All those kids on the field at the same time plus all the people on the sidelines watching, family cheering you on, snacks at the end of the game.
What’s not to love?
My son says it best: “When there’s another team trying to take the ball away, soccer is just harder.”
I get that.
It’s the opposition he doesn’t like and who, after all, wants an enemy? Who would rather have conflict than peace?
I read about this contrast in Proverbs:
Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy (Proverbs 12:20 CSB).
I posted this verse up on my fridge almost two years ago and I keep it up because I’m still mulling this over and meditating on what it really means to be a promoter of peace. Or, as other translations say: A person of peace. A planner of peace. A counselor of peace. A lover of peace.
When you don’t have anyone needling your soul with conflict or judgment, disagreement or criticism it’s pretty easy to promote peace and to have joy.
But the Psalmist knew that even when we long for peace, we sometimes (maybe even often!) live among those who don’t.
In Psalm 120, the Psalmist mourns:
I have dwelt too long
with those who hate peace.
I am for peace; but when I speak,
they are for war (Psalm 120:6-7 CSB).
And that’s where the Psalm ends. This jars my heart a bit because most Psalms make a movement from despair to praise, from conflict to hope in the Lord. But this Psalm lingers in a place of sadness.
The Psalmist wants peace but those around him want war.
Most of us know what that feels like. After a prolonged time of conflict or discouragement or even maybe just annoyance, we feel battle-weary, worn-out, emptied out, and plain out done-in.
Barnes’s Notes on the Bible say:
There are many trials in human life, but there are few which are more galling, or more hard to bear than this….It has been an injury to me; to my piety, to my comfort, to my salvation. it has vexed me, tried me, hindered me in my progress in the divine life.
So what hope is there for us peacemakers who live in a land of war?
We stumble on landmines of unexpected conflict and it tumbles us into pain, distraction, and wound recovery. It’s hard to serve Jesus when battle wounds are on our mind and the sadness of opposition is on our heart.
My son thought maybe he could practice and enjoy everything about soccer and just not go to the games.
But I realized as I read Psalm 120 again today that the Psalmist made another choice.
This Psalm is the first in a series of fifteen chapters called The Psalms of Ascent, which were sung by pilgrims on the trip up to Jerusalem during the three major feasts.
So, I turn to Psalm 121 and I continue the Psalmist’s thought. He lived too long among those who loved war….but:
I lift my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 CSB).
We make the pilgrimage closer to Him–because HE is our peace. We don’t rush the process. We look up rather than looking back at the sludge of conflict. We press on with other pilgrims, traveling together, choosing not to abandon hope in others completely. And we sing praises along the way because worship redirects our hearts back to the Prince of Peace Himself.
It’s a journey where we peace-loving pilgrims heal up one faithful forward -moving step at a time.