January 14, 2015

Life and Curve Balls

What do we do when life throws us a curve ball? How do we handle the oncoming ball, how do we prepare for it, and how do we meet it the ball head on so as to continue playing the game?

In order to know how to defend against a curve ball, one must first understand what "it" is. One explanation states, "A curve ball is a kind of pitch in baseball. When you throw a curve ball, the ball doesn't travel in a straight line; it curves downward as it gets close to the batter" ("About.com"). And, according to the Urban Dictionary, "a curve ball is slang used to mean a particularly difficult issue, obstacle, or problem." And, yes, it was "named after the equally tricky baseball pitch" ("Urbandictionary.com").

In baseball and in life, it takes a trained eye, and a seasoned batter to hit a curve ball well. Often, when unprepared for life's unplanned events, we respond to the curve ball coming our way by ducking or dodging the ball, thus altering our game plan ("About.com"). We step back, we move out of the way, and we change our plans because the rules have changed, and therefore, our expectations have been altered. How do we handle life's unplanned and unexpected events?

I am in the midst of a difficult season of my life. You could easily say that I am facing curve balls occasionally, and that I don't always get out of the way of them or use good judgment to size them up so that I can meet them squarely with my bat. Yes, I have been hit a couple of times, knocked down, and bruised, while standing at the plate. Truthfully, I never was a good ball player, and the game of life for me has been filled with less than thrilling results. Praise God, however, I still show up to play the game, and I still go to bat when the Coach tells me to get to the plate. 

This is one of my favorite clips where Tom Hanks uses that famous line "There is no crying in baseball..." (From "A League of Their Own"). I love this attitude, and I think some times we forget that in life, as in baseball, the rules don't always make sense, and the results are not always predetermined. There are winners and losers, but no matter the outcome, the only way you can possibly win, is to remain in the game (even when it hurts, when you get smacked or pelted, or when you really feel like giving up).

Right now, I feel like giving up. I feel like the work load on my plate is too heavy for me to carry alone. I am struggling to keep my head above water, to remain faithful, and to focus on the game in play. Yet, I sense that curve balls and other tricky pitches are coming my way. Do I get out of the way of them, dodge them for fear of being hit, or do I step into them and attempt to meet them, and in some ways, defeat them, with a solid swing of my bat?

In thinking about life, about the challenges that overwhelm us, I recall the biblical story of David and Goliath. Yes, I always seem to go to the Old Testament when I need a confidence boost, a picker-upper, or a fresh reminder of what it really means to be outnumbered, outgunned, and outmanned. In the case of our fearless youth, David, we know the story's outcome well. David defeated Goliath with five smooth stones (ker-plunk, right in Goliath's forehead). David was outsized, and outperformed, yet he showed up to the game (the battle) and defeated Israel's number one enemy, the Philistines. God gave David the strength, the fortitude, and the smart sense to use what was at his disposal (his sling shot and stones) as a weapon to bring down the giant. David was clearly out of his league, yet because of his faith in God, he showed up, stepped up to the plate, and gave everything he had to meet the demands of the taunting and teasing Philistine. The story ended with Israel's victory.

As I think about my life right now, I feel as though I am facing a giant too. My giant may not look like Goliath, but it is as fearsome and overpowering to me as Goliath was to David. My giant has the name of "FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN" and at times he whips me into despair and depression simply by reminding me of the curve ball that is coming my way. He taunts me with "It is coming, watch out, you won't see what hits you," and I cower and shrink back, afraid of another hit, another assault. I forget that my Coach is the one who is guiding me, who is telling me what to do, and who knows the game plan so well because He can read the opponent's play book. I forget that my job is to show up to the game, to dress and to be ready to head into the batter's box. It is not my job to win the game, no. It is my job to do my best and to play with the skill that has been given to me. The Coach is responsible for the outcome of the game. I am just responsible for being a good team player.

So with baseball metaphor aside, I look at my day today, and I think "Oh, Lord, I will show up. I will do my best to play this game," but in my heart, I hear myself cry out "Lord, I cannot do it without you. I cannot face today without your grace."

Yes, the game of life is not always the way we plan it to be. Rarely do we receive foreknowledge of events, rarely are we given the opportunity to see into that crystal ball and to know what tomorrow will bring. Most of the time, if we are lucky, we are able to handle today and today alone. Scripture reminds us that today is filled with enough troubles. In Matthew 6:34 we read,

"So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today."

Yes, tomorrow is its own day. There is no reason to worry about tomorrow when today is staring us squarely in the face.

My prayer then is to remember who I am, in all my flawed human flesh. In doing so, I will remember who He is, in all His perfected Glory. There is a reason why God is God and human flesh is human flesh. Often, we become overwhelmed when we lift ourselves higher than we should, when we begin to think lofty thoughts, imagine more impressive outcomes. It is not to say that the Lord cannot or will not lift us up or bring sweet rewards...because He does...often He does. The Lord, however, chooses whom to bless, to reward, to lift up. His plans, His determinations, and His outcomes are perfect. There is no guessing, no trying, no let's figure this one out when it comes to the Lord. No, the Word says in Psalm 33:11, 

"The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

Likewise in Proverbs 19: 21 we read,

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand."

Thus we take heart knowing that the counsel of the Lord is sure, it is fixed, and it is forward thinking and moving, bringing God's world and His creation into conformity with His expressed will. We may make plans, some good, others not so good -- all without considering the Lord's purpose for our lives. The Word reminds us that the Lord's purpose, His intention for our lives, is what forms the foundation of His will for us. Yes, our plans are futile, often flawed and less than best. The Lord's plans, however, are from everlasting, and they are designed to equip us to do His work, to build up the church, and to bring us to maturity, to that fullness of stature whereby we can remain firm, steadfast, and stalwart until the end.

Ephesians 4:11-14 says,

"Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth."

Therefore, when the battles of life, the curve balls of our metaphorical baseball game, seem to get us down, to overwhelm us, we must remember the goal of the game of the Christian life is not to have fun, to part-ee heart-ee, but rather to prepare, to equip, to train, and to build us so that we can do Kingdom work, to do the expressed will and considered work of the Lord. We must be hardened, toughened up, and smartened up so that we can be mature adults, not weak and immature children. We must learn to stand through the tumult and the trials of life, facing our giants in battle, and not shrinking back in fear at this or that assault. No, we must remain firmly fixed on the Word of God, that which was preached to us, and to remember that we are playing the game to win, not an earthly prize, but an eternal one.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for this present challenge, for this unplanned difficultly in my life right now. I know that you know what you are doing, and that you are well aware of my abilities, my strengths and my weaknesses. I ask that you give me strength to endure, to remain firm and fixed, solidly grounded in my faith, not moved or teased into believing lies or untruths. May I remain steadfast, faithful, and stalwart in my beliefs, and may I rest in the knowledge and security of your Will, your Way, and your Word. I know you have me well-covered this day. I look to your hand of blessing, to your provision, and to your reward. I know you are God, and I know that You have a great plan for my life. I trust you to work through these details, and that you will manage my time, my schedule, my work load so that I do not lose hope. You are God alone, and I rest in your mighty, merciful, and most majestic Name. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah!

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