I dribbled the soccer ball down the field. I spotted my teammate—she had the perfect shot, but so did I. Instead of passing the ball, I kicked it toward the goal. It sailed through the air, but the goalie caught it just as the buzzer sounded.
"Sorry, Coach," I sighed, when I got back to the bench.
"You're a good player," he told me. "And you could be great, but you have to remember to be a team player."
His comment didn't really sink in. What I really dwelled on, though, was missing that shot—something I vowed to never do again. So I practiced even harder.
While I practiced all the time, I didn't really think about Coach's words again until later that year when I went skiing with my youth group.
After a day on the slopes, Ron, my youth pastor, gathered us together for prayer. He started by talking about forgiveness.
"Part of being a Christian is confessing your sins," Ron said. "God is ready and willing to forgive you."
Ron asked us to separate into small groups to pray for forgiveness. At first, I was nervous about confessing my sins out loud, although I easily came up with things like not being nice to my brother.
But I felt like I was missing something. While I did need to be nicer to my brother, it seemed too easy. I knew I needed to take a really good look at the rest of my life.
Then, Ron really pushed us to think about our lives.
"Is Christ at the center of your life?" he asked. "Do you put him first no matter what?"
I felt a knot form in my stomach. I didn't want to admit the answer.
I couldn't help but think back to that soccer game when I took the shot instead of passing it to my teammate.
I loved sports—but I liked winning more. I was so competitive, I wanted to take the shot—not help my teammate do it. I suddenly realized I was a really selfish player.
But even worse, sports had become the number one thing in my life. I spent more time playing sports than with God.
I took a deep breath. "I don't want God to be second anymore," I cried, "I want him to be first."
My friend Julie smiled. "I totally know what you mean," she said softly. "I struggle with the same thing. It's so easy to do with grades, friends … anything."
I felt relieved that I wasn't alone. We spent the rest of the evening praying that God would come first in our lives.
I left the retreat on fire for Christ. I was determined to keep him at the center of my life. So I started a prayer journal to help me stay focused on him. I prayed that God would change my super-competitive attitude. And no matter how busy I was, I tried to not miss youth group. I just knew I needed to make church a top priority.
It's been a year since that retreat, and my coach has noticed a real change in my attitude. I'm much more of a team player, which has made me even more valuable to my team. I feel much better about myself as a player and more importantly as a Christian. I'm still competitive, but Christ comes first—on and off the field.
This past summer Ashley, a sophomore, joined her youth group on a service trip to Honduras.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Ignite Your Faith magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Ignite Your Faith.