The Spirit of the Game- Reflections from Giana Cirulli of EU Volleyball

     This past Christmas I decided to take my three-year-old twin brothers shopping for our parents. The last few Christmases had readily turned into everyone watching as my brothers opened gift after gift. They are the youngest (and cutest) of the family, which inevitably meant they were given a plethora of gifts from every relative. But this Christmas, I thought it was time to make sure they had the opportunity to experience the joy of giving (because Lord knows they have experienced the joy of receiving). On Christmas morning, I reminded my brothers about the gifts we had gotten for my parents. They bubbled up with excitement as they handed them over to my teary-eyed parents. The gifts weren’t much, a candle and a mug, but my brothers had chosen them, and that made them very special.

     The rest of the day I saw my brothers get very excited and happy with their new toys, but nothing quite matched the joy that they exuded when they gave my parents their gifts. I was astounded by the fact that three-year-old boys on Christmas morning could fulfill the truth that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, NIV). It struck me then how Truth resounds throughout the universe, no matter the situation or the person.

     From Christmas morning, I was taken back to November when I traveled to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the NCAA Elite Eight for Volleyball. The night before the competition started a banquet was held. A few representatives from each team spoke about their journey to the Elite Eight. In one speech, a player said that this season their team decided not to care about wins and loses or their personal performances, but instead chose to care about each other. This struck me. I could not figure out why until Christmas morning with my brothers. This team had inadvertently performed one of God’s greatest commandments, just as my brothers had discovered the Truth of giving.

     This team had decided to love their neighbor as themselves. They operated in acts of service rather than their own ambition. They had discovered that God’s will for us is not random; it is true. Non-Christians and Christians alike serve each other in teams. A team success does not happen arbitrarily, but rather it is God’s design for the universe. When we serve each other, success is inevitable because God has called us to do so. Service is a fundamental truth of the universe, but it is not true arbitrarily. It is true because God made it so. There is no such thing as “God’s Truth” and “truth”; all truth is God’s.

     When I read the Gospels, I am struck by the Apostles’ desire to be named the greatest. It seems silly to me: Did they not know that they had God incarnate before them? I would be asking Jesus my millions of questions instead of arguing about who was the greatest. Yet I realize this is often how I operate during sports. I am so concerned about my own performance, and I lose sight of the work of God. Relinquishing my own desire for greatness and focusing on my teammates is the ultimate service I can do for my team. This does not mean not performing well, but it does mean not valuing my performance or success above the team’s.

     At Eastern, the pillars for the Volleyball program are, “Love each other, and love the game.” Our coaches constantly challenge us to act in accordance with these. When I make loving my teammates my first priority, I serve God. The simple act of submission to something greater than myself acts in accordance with God’s truth. The universe has been so designed. God’s design for our lives does not stop and start in the Church or in the Bible. Through acting out these pillars and working as a team, we are reflecting the truth found in God’s design for the universe, and this design is an eternal and unchangeable truth. We can see and live out this truth in all things, whether it’s through Christmas presents or volleyball teams.

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