“Pam!!! Tennis is not an aggressive game! It’s a graceful game,” Bellowed Neal from the other side of the court.
I was taking tennis lessons with a group of 10 women. I loved it and I wanted to do well. It was challenging to pay attention with a group of friends who I wanted to talk to; it was challenging to improve my skills. On the first day, I discovered I was on the B team. It was humbling and I accepted my position – I learned a lot from the guidelines:
· Tennis is a gentle sport
· Keep moving your feet
· Wait for the ball to hit the dead zone
· Swing all the way through
· Use your left hand to guide how you will hit the ball
· Tennis is a graceful sport, not an aggressive sport
· Start over with every swing
Taking tennis lessons reminded me of the Ten thousand hour rule from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. His principle asserted that champions who excelled at one given skill, job or sport consistently logged 10,000 hours of practice time. I was a long way from 10,000 hours of practicing tennis! But what was clear was how much I improved playing tennis when I played the right way.
The game of tennis became a lesson in life to me. Less aggression – more grace – pauses and positioning myself, less charging forward with all my might. What would my relationships look like if I consistently logged 10,000 of practicing belonging to God? In other words, if I cried out to God first when I recognized the pain, instead of pushing through life, would it make a difference in my relationships?
During those few weeks of tennis, I realized that it really wasn’t about winning the game. Rather, the enjoyment came each time that ball was shot into my court. I had decisions to make, to remake, to make again, to improve and to get it. With a few accurate instructions, I was so happy! I’m still not good enough to play my husband and his friends, but I could not get over how those lessons given personally and consistently took me to the next level.
The instructions that monumentally impacted my game were the ones given personally to me from the instructor – even while I was still practicing my strokes with the other players, I left each day knowing what I needed to do. And those instructions, that certainty, were gifts to me. When I put them into practice the next day – the other players noticed that I had improved. And I noticed how much each one of them improved. The decisions about how tennis should be played were decided a long time ago. I moved into the room of decision when I accepted that the game of tennis was established and guidelines put in place so the game could be played a certain way. Simply, when I followed instructions, my tennis improved.
I was young when I moved into the room of decision and accepted that I was on my own in life. Within five years of my family of origin falling apart, many of my extended family members died early from health problems. As a teenager, I lived with my father and brother in our family home in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. By the age of 14, I went from being surrounded by my mother’s Jewish relatives and my father’s Catholic relatives to having no one around. It was abrupt. As a young girl, I was close my parents but for health reasons and marital problems, my mom moved out of our house and my father moved into himself. I was, emotionally speaking, on my own. Even in the middle of community, school and church life, when the people closest to me were unable to give – I felt lost and abandoned.
My teen age spirit knew something then but could only put into words as a much more whole adult: I cannot rely on anyone else to be there for me at this level. I resolved to not burden others. Little did I realize the decisions I was making would impact my future in life and in relationships. Later, when I was living in healthy close relationships, I would see that I didn’t have to stop receiving from others. Belonging to Him came with benefits that He wants to give me.
Christ has given personal instructions for me based on decisions He made in the past. Yet, the prerequisite before I could receive the Five Unfailing Gifts of love is this:
· His hands made me and formed me (Psalm 139; Psalm 119: 73).
· Like the Psalmist, I needed to decide that “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me. . . and He will not abandon the works of His hands (Psalm 138:8 ).
· Or in my times of searing pain I needed Job’s decisive spirit that asks, “If your hands shaped me and made me, will you now turn and destroy me?”
· In this room of new decisions, we mortals are not more pure than our Maker and I needed to practice Belonging to God.
Why would I resist decisions made by Someone like that?
I resist because I am distracted.
What I am distracted from is hearing that I belong to God! I am distracted from hearing this every day.
I can still hear the faint voices of our tennis team on those crisp summer mornings . . . “it’s a gentle sport. . . . wait, wait, wait. . . .all the way through . . . use your left hand to guide. . . start over . . .” Those instructions, repeated over and over, were reminders to me that I was playing tennis; those instructions refocused me on the courts and I remembered where I belonged at that moment.