It was an amazing alignment of fortuitous circumstances. My wife and I would arrive in Corrientes, Argentina, for our son Jonathan’s wedding a few days later with Sol, a young Argentine woman.
Long after our plans were made we learned there would be an international soccer game at this small city on the very day of our arrival. Incredibly, the contest would be between the national teams of Argentina and Brazil.
The huge game would be televised around the globe. Much of the soccer-crazed world, largely outside the United States, would be fixated on these two former World Cup champion teams. Sol’s father, Ariel, had acquired tickets and, remarkably, we would be there. It was an unexpected dream-come-true.
What are the chances? We’d never been to South America in our lives. The small stadium just outside Corrientes is not the sort of venue that would normally host two soccer behemoths. How did it happen that we’d arrive on just the right day and be invited as guests to this rare, celebrated game? I was deeply moved by what seemed clearly to be an undeserved divine blessing.
That evening we found ourselves in the enormous line to enter the stadium. I was thrilled at being in a Latin American country, stretching my high school Spanish, donning my new Argentine jersey that Ariel had bestowed on me, and purchasing from street vendors Argentine flags to wave like crazy at the game.
Eventually we made our way inside the stadium and began snapping pictures of the two collective national symbols warming up on the field. Some of the great players of the world were before us. Nothing could surpass the magnificent cross cultural experience to this point except one thing — the game itself.
One problem. No game.
Minutes before the scheduled start, half of the field lights went dark. We waited as the teams continued to warm up on the dimly lit field. Over an hour later came an announcement that the game was cancelled – cancelled! As the sting and shock painfully penetrated, we quietly made our way out with the stunned and somber Argentine crowd.
Is it possible for a dream-come-true to transform into a nightmare of bitter disappointment? How could the hand of Providence that seemed to lay all this in our laps now cruelly snatch it away?
Suddenly it felt as if the heavens were mocking us for daring to anticipate something so wonderful. Was it God’s idea of a cruel joke – a “mal chiste” as Ariel might put it?
I suppose, in the big picture, a missed Latin American soccer game registers almost nothing on the seismic graph of life’s traumas. Even so, the phantom game hints at questions about parallel life experiences of much greater significance.
How is it that life’s blessings – including those that seem to be infused with the benevolent hand of Providence – sometimes collapse into the rubble of crushed dreams? Continued unemployment, grave illness, devastated relationships, untimely death of loved ones and many other dream killers can leave us wondering if we were fools to have anticipated good things in the first place.
Experience indicates if we grasp too tightly onto what appear to be heaven’s blessings rather than holding onto God himself, we will be in utter despair when events take an unwanted turn. The resultant pain and disappointment can readily morph into anger at a God who could have – “should have” – reworked the circumstances to our benefit. Every believer, and even Jesus himself, has felt at one time or another that the God of love is really the God of “mal chistes” (Psalm 13:1-2; Mark 15:34).
Perhaps we do well to process the jagged line of life‘s experiences like those game cartoons in which one must find the hidden objects. It’s helpful to learn to perceive the hard-to-see hand of Providence not only in the happy events but also in the painful experiences of our lives.
God may not have caused the stadium lights to go out. Maybe a careless electrician did. And perhaps he didn’t likely produce the more serious circumstances that have crushed you or me. But he can enrich us in ways we couldn’t anticipate as we work through the agonizing experience. There is faith and character to be developed, humility to be instilled, and eventually wisdom and comfort to be “paid forward” through everything we experience – good or bad (II Corinthians 1:3-4). Recognizing this is a way to begin to approach life transcendentally as we learn to arduously cut through the turbulent waves of life.
I’m still deeply saddened when I think about the lost, probably once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity to experience a major Latin American soccer game. But I wonder if, in the heart and mind of God, our hoped-for experience of the game was really about something else all along. I’ll feel a little more confident of it if someone reading these reflections finds in them some degree of encouragement in the midst of a much more significant heartache.
Pastor Bob Levin serves at North County Community Church, 7410 Howdershell Road in Hazelwood. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org