It’s Spring in Atlanta! And here at our house, that can mean only one thing Softball! We’re geared up and Leia’s 11th season of base hits and pop flies is underway! So early this past Saturday morning, she packed up her bag, laced up her cleats, grabbed her freshly-oiled glove and in no time, we were heading to the ballpark. On the way, we were reflecting on the highlights (and lowlights) of all her previous seasons and before we pulled into the parking lot, we had recounted a significant number of the good plays and bad errors, the championships and bitter losses, and the extra base hits and easy outs. As we unloaded the van with the necessary gameday supplies and headed to the field, she paused to reflect for one more minute, then told me that her years of softball had taught her several important things. As I thought about her conclusions, I realized that Christians would do well to come away from our victories and losses with the same set of lessons.
Be a good loser.
During our trip down memory lane, Leia recalled a particularly frustrating tournament game. Her team had been declared the winner, but because of a protest from the other coach surrounding a highly unusual set of circumstances, the umpires decided to replay the last inning, and this time, Leia’s team came up on the short end of the score and as a result, exited the competition. It was disappointing, to say the least, and left a lot of parents, coaches and players with lingering exasperation and irritation. But instead of dwelling on the particulars of that game, I took the opportunity to help Leia see that a person’s true character often comes out, not when they win, but when they lose.
How much better would the testimony of the church be before an unbelieving world if we always remembered that simple lesson? Of course, everyone prefers to celebrate a victory, but how much more attractive would our message be to others if we spent as much time and effort demonstrating lives of gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control (ie the fruit of the Spirit – Gal. 5:22-23) in times of great disappointment, sorrow and disillusionment?
Don’t let mistakes derail you.
A dropped fly… an overthrown ball to first base… a mishandled slow roller… and suddenly an inning that should have been 3 up and 3 down becomes a bases-loaded disaster. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count, but focusing too much on a momentary failure can cause even good players to lose confidence, and then the snowball effect turns doubt into more errors until the game is unrecoverable.
I’m sure you’ve experience the same thing. A bad morning at work turns into a worse afternoon, which morphs into a terrible evening a home. It isn’t due to a “karma thing” as some think today. It’s often just due to our inability to simply let go of a bad situation and make a fresh start. We spend so much time beating ourselves up for things that happened last hour (last week, last month or last decade!) that we can’t lift our eyes from our failures to take advantage of the next opportunity to do right. Whether it’s in a softball game, or in the game of life, we need to adopt the attitude that Paul modeled in Philippians 3:13-14 – Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Every person matters.
In softball, the person deemed least skilled and effective typically bats last and plays right field. But initial assessments about proficiency often prove to be inaccurate when an undervalued player gets a hit at a pivotal moment or makes an out when the other team is rallying. That’s why labels (especially early ones) can be detrimental to team unity. While the team ‘star’ may have more innate skill or expertise that comes from years of play, there’s no way he or she can play all the positions. That means that those who aren’t bases-clearing sluggers are still important and valuable to the success and effectiveness of the group as a whole.
Unfortunately, the church today all too often leans toward overvaluing the ‘star’ players as well. Highly effective communicators of the Word, moving worship leaders or skilled teachers are lauded with praise for their impact and usefulness while less visible believers doing jobs that aren’t so glamorous are undervalued. But children’s workers, prayer warriors, set up volunteers, people who visit the sick and many thousands of of other unseen servants of God are necessary and vital to the proper functioning of the church as well. In fact, the body of Christ can’t effectively do the job of taking the Gospel to the world without everyone pulling together and doing their part. (1 Corinthians 12:17-20)
Give it your all regardless of the score.
The score was close heading into the final inning of Leia’s game this past weekend. However, they strung together and amazing number of hits and put 15 runs on the board which lead to a very lopsided victory. It wasn’t that our players were that much better. Instead I think as the score stretched out a little, the other team became disheartened and stopped trying, which led to more runs crossing the plate.
Maybe they were right and in this instance, the game did become a lost cause, but for believers, we have to remember that in the spiritual realm, we don’t have a scoreboard that tells us where we are in the game or even what the run tally is. I mean, have you ever looked at the life of someone outside the faith and mistakenly believed that they were too far away from God to be saved? Or confronted a situation that seems so desperate to be beyond even God’s ability to change? In those times its natural to be tempted to give up praying, or to stop trying to share the truth. But Scripture clearly tells us that we can’t always see God’s plans or understand His ways (Rom. 11:33). So that means that our assessments are often faulty and as a consequence, we end up not fully understanding what’s really going on. But based on the Bible, what we can know for certain is that there are NO lost causes in God’s kingdom. There are NO people beyond His ability to save and there are NO situations that are beyond His power to correct. While we can’t know all the details of why He does (or doesn’t) do things, we can trust that “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Lk. 18:27) and that even when we can’t understand outcomes, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)