Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Unexpected: Story 2: Prepare

So, I'm just telling stories on the blog right now that have to do with our devotional focus for the season. The devotional focus for the season is how God works in unexpected ways. We've found that the people that God uses are typically prepared for God to work - or they have turned toward God and toward others.

One way we can see this is in the way that they define who they are. If you read the story of the angel Gabriel going to tell Mary that she's about to have a baby, you'll see that Mary defines herself as a servant to God. The way she defines herself reveals that she is prepared for however God will work, because her heart and identity is defined in God.

The story that immediately follows reveals that Mary is also turned to others, as she rejoices with Elizabeth in the mysterious and miraculous births that they are both about to experience.

At camp, I suggested that one of the ways we can prepare ourselves for the unexpected things God might want to do is to think about how we define ourselves in relationship to God and in relationship to each other.

In relationship to God, we are God's children, God's sons!

In relationship to each other, we are family. We are brothers.

I'd like to look at a story from my experience that helps show how this matters.

2009 Season
The 2009 season was a difficult one. We were coming off our first Sectional championship in school history, but had lost 6 of the 7 players involved in that victory. Our JV players who were moving up to the varsity had mostly experienced undefeated seasons (or close to) in their sophomore seasons. We also had some new teams on our schedule, including a new tournament in which we were going to face my brother's very talented team. In a lot of ways, as you can see, this was a season in which we faced similar challenges to 2015.

We also had an interesting difficulty, one that I hope doesn't happen this season. We were competing for spots on the team. In other words, people really deeply cared about what position they ended up playing. The hottest competition was for #1S. We had three players constantly challenging for that #1 spot.

I kept trying to spin this in a positive way. I would say things like, "Let's push each other to get better. Let's have the three best singles players in the entire Sectional. That will guarantee that we win." I was trying to push this idea that getting better at tennis would make the whole team better.

But that didn't always work. In fact, quite the opposite. Focusing on the tennis part became frustrating. Whoever ended up at #1S felt the pressure to perform, since they had beaten out 2 other people who could maybe play the position better. Whoever ended up at #3S felt like they were playing too low and deserved a higher position. And as a result, both our #1S and #3S didn't play to their own talent level.

It was quickly becoming a frustrating season, so I did what I do. I talked to each of the players individually. And they unloaded some doubts, worries, and fears for me. But frustration continued to build. Perhaps we didn't know where to turn...

After a match against Warsaw, frustration boiled over. There was shouting on the court. There was a blowup off the court. There were even more difficulties piling up in school. The week of the Warsaw match was probably the hardest week I've ever coached.

At the end of the week, my wife and I went on a date. We went to see a concert of a singer/songwriter we really like. He was playing in a basement of a student union building at Grace College. My wife and I were the oldest people there (and this was when we were 28 or so :-) We enjoyed his set immensely, and it was great to connect with my wife and disconnect from the stress of tennis. Then he played this song:

The first line of the song is, "Carry the weight of your brother." As soon as that line was sung, I started crying. Like, real, tears-running-down-my-cheeks crying. The whole season was suddenly piled up on my shoulders, and I realized that's what I had been doing. Carrying the weight of my brothers.

Later, as I reflected on the experience, I realized something. I realized that the weight should have never gotten so heavy on me. As brothers, we should have been carrying the weight of the season together. That's how a family works. But I hadn't been treating the team as a family in 2009. I had been treating it as a team.

In teams, you have problems. You try to deal with those problems through practice, discipline, punishment, drills. If those don't work, things get worse. The season becomes unbearable and everyone can't wait until the season gets done.

In a family, you have problems. You deal with those problems by sharing them, by praying together, by encouragement, by practicing together. If those things don't work, your relationships have gotten better. The season is a joy because you love the people around you.

So after 2009, I have tried to make it a point to point all of my players toward each other. You are brothers. You need one another, not just me. Not just your parents. You need a community of people around you that support you as well. The tennis team will provide that support for you while you are in high school. You have other places for support too, like the community of support that is your church.

But for right now, I want to make a promise to you. YOU ARE A BROTHER. The people around you on this team are ready to support you. At camp, this has already happened. People turned to each other with tennis concerns and life concerns. We prayed for each other because we cared for each other. Lean into this. Know that this is true. Turn towards your brothers, your church, your family.

You are brothers. You are a family. Look after each other. Carry the weight, together.

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