Day 8: Weakness is Made Perfect in the Group Stage

But God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for wherever I am weak, I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 12:9-10

There is a special kind of suffering that only exists in the last game of the group stage. On Wednesday, we witnessed two delicious wins—Tunisia’s convincing 1-0 triumph over a mostly second-string French team, and Mexico’s 2-1 victory of Saudi Arabia—which were not enough for the teams to advance to the Round of 16.

I sat with my newest friend at the bar furiously calculating how many yellow cards Poland would have to receive in the last 6 minutes of their game with Argentina in order for Mexico to advance by fair play rules. There is no math like the math of the group stage, and there is no sorrow like the sorrow of the group stage.

These losing wins capture the spiritual paradox of suffering. A win is both utterly meaningless and profoundly significant. Suffering is incomprehensible and necessary to comprehend in order to keep living.

Paul’s refrain that “whenever I am weak, I am strong,” is one that triggers a gag response for many Christians (and former Christians). It has often been used to justify suffering and encourage the exploited to suffer their exploitation nobly for Christ. What if Paul is not justifying suffering, but contextualizing it? Research shows that people who demonstrate the greatest resilience after trauma are the ones who can make meaning of it. In sufficient grace, there is sufficient resilience.

Mourning is a critical part of the group stage—and maybe that’s why we watch so closely, because we have so few safe ways to practice mourning (especially for men). Sport is a device to allow us to work out emotions in a safe container, so we are better prepared to process hardship in unsafe containers. And so we find the purpose, the victory, in losing wins. There is perfection in Tunisia’s imperfect victory. There is sufficient grace in Mexico’s return home. There has to be.

I search for meaning by reminding myself that for me, the World Cup is an event; for the players, it is a job interview. Tunisia’s early dismissal on a high note opens doors to more competitive leagues, and increases the likelihood that they will be back in 2026 and perform better.

Does that erase the sorrow of the loss? Never. Is it good and right and necessary to let that grief run its course? Absolutely. But what if grace is sufficient for you, for me, and for the people who let us down? What if we are sufficient, worthy, loved even in our most public defeats?

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3 thoughts on “Day 8: Weakness is Made Perfect in the Group Stage

  1. Thank you, Hillary. I was hoping to see a message from you today. Following you with interest.

    Keep up the good work. I’ll be see Duane Stoltzfus on Sunday—hoping he and Communications cohorts are following you too. Also hoping some friends of mine who are questioning the institutional church are present too!

    Cheers, Bonnie

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