Landon Donovan, The Sabbath, and Weakness

The US Mens National Soccer Team won the Gold Cup on Sunday. While this is a great feat, it’s no world cup victory, and the tournament is usually made up of b-list rosters and guys trying to prove their worth on the national scene.

That said, it is a good sign for the US team as they continue to steam roll their way towards the 2014 World Cup (their 11 straight wins a record).

The most interesting thing to come out of the Gold Cup is the resurgence of Landon Donovan. This article does a fantastic job dissecting the ambivalence American’s feel towards Donovan.

The story, essentially, is that Donovan, who had played soccer professionally since age 17, turned 30 and needed a break.

So he took a sabbatical.

That’s actually the word he used to describe his time off. This word is related to the word “sabbath.” Holy rest.

He got slammed for it. He got slammed by the fans, he got slammed by other soccer players, and he got slammed by Jurgen Klinsmann the US coach.

American’s don’t do well with weakness. We don’t want our president to take a vacation, and we certainly don’t want our pampered, over-paid athletic heroes to need a break.

We don’t allow people to be human.

To take a break, to respect the sabbath, to have a sabbatical is seen as a sign of weakness.

[my favorite part is that hardly anyone will tell you this your face. they will instead say helpful things like: “my old pastor/youth pastor/campus minister was always there for me…i could show up on their doorstop any time of the day or night and they’d stop whatever they were doing and help me.” love that one!]

The problem is that we need these breaks, these spaces, to recover our sense of self, to remember that we are humans, not machines, and to say no to a culture that is permanently in overdrive. And it is from this rest that we actually have something to offer the world.

Donovan played some of his best soccer of his life in the Gold Cup. He seems to have rediscovered his passion for the game. And he is back in the good graces of coach Klinsmann after his impressive showing.

The story is interesting to me because Donovan has tapped into a deep truth of the universe: we need to rest…God, the creator of all things, rests and invites us into that rest. And he got slammed for it. He was labeled “weak”.

It’s ok to take a break.  It’s ok to remind yourself you are a human being.


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