Part of the Game
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. ~I John 5:16a-19
Growing up, I always loved the game of baseball. From the time I was four until I graduated college, playing baseball was part of my life. Over the span of years playing baseball, I have been a part of some really good teams as well as some really bad teams. I learned never to yell at an umpire; that was the coach’s job. When pitching, don’t show you are upset, because it can negatively affect your team while motivating your opponent. I have learned that in fight-or-flight mode, your body doesn’t recognize negatives. So telling yourself “Don’t strike out” all your brain recognizes in the moment of swinging is “Do strike out.” However, one of the biggest lessons I learn playing baseball was “You can’t be afraid to play the game.”
Up until I was 9 years old I had no fear when it came to the game of baseball. It was all softer balls and tees, and coaches were pitching. I loved to practice and would even go home and play in the vacant lot in our neighborhood by myself. But at nine, that all changed. Age nine was when kid pitch started. As in any baseball league the move from coach pitch to kid pitch can be quite dramatic, but for me it wasn’t. I was a good hitter, swinging mostly at strikes being very disciplined at the plate. Baseball was my game and I was good at it.
That was until we faced one of my friends named Matt. Matt’s dad had dreams that Matt would be a professional baseball pitcher one day. So at the age of five, Matt’s dad started working with Matt and his pitching. By the time we were nine, Matt could throw a ball by most batters before they took the bat off their shoulders, and Matt was accurate. At nine years old, he could paint the plate like an artist, and in baseball, speed and accuracy is a deadly combination. However, if you could get by the fact that he was throwing 70 mph, every ball he pitched was straight, and once you got your timing down it was easily hit.
I remember stepping into the batters box to face Matt. I was ready. I remember him winding up and me gripping the bat in anticipation of swinging. As he delivered the pitch I don’t remember anything else… The next thing I remember was waking up with my coach, dad, and a few others over me. I looked around and saw that Matt was on the mound talking to his dad crying. As things starting to come back into focus, I realized that that 70 mph did not make its way to the catcher's glove or even to my bat, but rather the ear whole of my helmet, knocking me out.
After several minutes, I was able to get to my feet. Matt came over and said he was sorry, and I stumbled down to first base and the game went on. The next week came and we faced a different pitcher named Chad. He was a year older and threw just as hard, if not harder, than my friend, Matt. As I stood in that batter's box ready to face Chad, the ball left his hand and found its way to my ear whole again, knocking me out and leaving a bruise around my ear and neck. It was so bad this time that I think my dad carried me to the bench, as I could not play the rest of the inning. From that moment on I was afraid. Anytime I got in the batters box to hit, I would pull away from the ball in fear that it would hit me. It didn’t just affect my batting, because when I was fielding and a ball was hit to me, I would turn my head because I was afraid.
After about three games of struggling to play baseball because I was afraid, my dad pulled me aside after a game and said to me, “This is baseball, and part of the game is getting hit by the ball. You can’t play if you are afraid of being hit, as it is part of the game. If you don’t want to play that is ok, but if you do, you have to learn not to be afraid.”
My oldest son, Trey, just started playing kid pitch baseball, and he won’t admit it, but he is afraid of being hit and hitting someone with the ball, and it shows. I find myself telling him the same thing my father told me. Hitting kids and being hit by the ball is part of the game. You can’t be afraid of the ball if you are going to play the game.
I tell this story because despite the Bible telling us over and over not to fear, not to worry, not to be anxious, we are. We get hurt and it causes us live with fear. We fear rejection so we don’t try new things. We fear judgment so we keep conversations on the surface. We get anxious wondering if we are good enough, so we throw ourselves into work so we can prove that we are. But it isn’t just us. Our media thrives on our fears and insecurities. How often do we see stories of good in our world compared to the bad that surrounds us… lurking to get us?
Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are to 1) love your God and 2) love your neighbor. John tells us, “God IS LOVE and those who abide in love abide in God.” Things are going to come up in our lives that aren’t easy, that aren’t fun. Things might hit us in the head, like a 70 mph fastball, and knock us out. We might get knocked out so bad that we have to rely on someone else to help us up and that is terrible and it sucks, but it is life. God did not intend for bad things to happen to us, but they do. But we can’t let fear of the unknown rule our lives. John tells us “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
Every day we have a choice. We can choose to let fear, worry and anxiety rule our lives or we can choose to live in LOVE. It is hard to give up fear, worry and anxiety because we have been hurt so many times, but we cannot live the life that God desires for us if let fear win. If we want to live life and live it abundantly we have to be willing to let go of our fears and choose to love. John reminds us, “We love because [God] first loved us.”