When growing up, I was not only the shortest kid in my school class, I was also clumsiest. But in America, you play baseball when spring comes around, so we would all go out, and I would be humiliated on the baseball field.
Basketball was tolerable. Height matters, a lot, but so does skill. Dad put up a hoop and taught us to play basketball at home. Though short, clumsy, and slow, at least I knew how to dribble, pass, and shoot. I wasn’t any good, but at least I wasn’t the worst to have on your team. I knew to pass the ball rather than shoot and miss a lot.
American football wasn’t too bad, either. In little-kid football, you can pretend to do something but do nothing at all. They won’t give you the ball if you are worthless, so being bad at the game doesn’t matter. You still get to run around, yell, and usually nothing bad happens. In touch football, there is just a chance you could touch the guy with the ball (which counts as a tackle) and be a hero. That probably would happen occasionally, no matter how bad you are. Or if you happen to get to the right place, the guy with the ball might slip on the mud trying to avoid you.
Baseball (or softball, the same but the ball is slightly bigger and not quite so hard) was a disaster. With too many trees at home to learn there, softball was school-only. The one thing worse than being short, clumsy, and slow is to be short, clumsy, slow, and totally unskilled. There is no hiding. If the ball comes to you, everyone sees it go past you. At your turn to bat, everyone watches your sheer incompetence on display.
In the field, everyone on my team (especially me!) hoped the ball wouldn’t come to me. I was always in right field (where the ball was least likely to go). Sometimes, I would stop the ball — if it hit me. I would pick it up and throw it where I thought I was supposed to throw it, and they might not get a home run. But usually, it would roll past me all the way to the car park, while my teammates groaned and the other team laughed. I can still visualise a ball rolling into the gravel car park and landing in a mud puddle.
By now, you might think I’m exaggerating. You’re wrong. I really was that bad. But it was when my turn came to bat that my exquisite level of badness really came to the fore.
At first, my batting performance was very consistent. The pitcher throws the ball, I swing and miss. Repeat. And again. Three pitches, three strikes, you’re out. Sit and wait until your team is in the field again, go to right field, and hope they don’t hit it to you.
I remember when a friend explained that I didn’t have to swing every time. If it wasn’t close, not in the strike zone, I could let it go by. They’d been pitching beyond reach, knowing I would swing at anything. The first time I let one go by without swinging, my teammates cheered. Even that was a victory. And then one day, I hit the ball! It was a foul ball, not in the field of play, which still counts as a strike, but I hit it!
A kind teacher explained that, even if the ball is coming at an angle, you plan for that, but you always swing straight and level. Before long, I was hitting foul balls all over the place. Sometimes I even hit it straight. It always went to a fielder, I never made it to first base, but at least I wasn’t striking out every time.
The ALL-STAR GAME!
I made the school All-Star game. How did someone so bad get in the All-Star game? That was mortifying, too. It was the stars of fifth grade (10 years old) and eighth grade (13 years old) vs. the sixth and seventh grades. We were chosen by vote of our classmates.
About this time, some popular girls in our fifth grade class decided little Jonny (that’s me) was “cute” — so all the girls decided I was cute, and they were “in love” with me. (Blech!) Of course, they decided (since I was cute) to vote for me for the All-Star game — and they had enough votes to swing the election.
All the guys were mad — me, too. Other guys should be in that game, and I would just be humiliated. (By game day the girls decided another kid was cute, not me. This horrible experience at the hands of those girls caused all my weird character quirks. Fifth-grade girls are the root cause of war and disease and world poverty and hunger.)
My FIRST HIT EVER!
I went on field in the All-Star game angry. I’d decided one thing — no ball was going past me in right field. Twice a ball came my way. Once, I actually stopped it with my glove, the right way. The second time, I at least got in its way so when it bounced over my glove, it hit me. I had a bruise, but I stopped it.
My first time at bat, I struck out, as usual. The second time, I swung hard, and hit it with the middle of the bat. It rocketed past the man at third base, and into left field. I ran as fast as I could to first base, and stopped. A single! (My teammates wanted me to run to second and get a double, but I didn’t care, I wasn’t risking my first safe hit.)
Singles, Doubles, Triples, Home Runs
A funny thing happened on my way to adulthood. I grew, and my strength and coordination improved. By university and young adulthood, playing church softball, I wasn’t a star, but I could hit the ball. And I could run, and sometimes I’d get to second base (a double), to third (a triple), or even circle the bases for a home run. (I could also catch the ball, except when viciously attacked by a fence. My version of that painful story is heroic, but Terri’s version is that I was dumb, so we’ll just move along. )
A home run is best, but a single or double is good. Don’t get out. Your team only gets three outs, then the innings ends and you go field while the other team bats. If you only hit a single, you still aren’t out. If a teammate had a hit before you, your single might let him score a run. If the next man gets a hit, you might score. A single isn’t a home run — but it is good. Sometimes only one or two runs wins a game — a single gives a chance at a run.
A Baseball Blog?
Yes, there’s a point. No, this isn’t a baseball blog. Nor is this a plea for sympathy for the horrible things I suffered. I’m not looking for revenge on fifth-grade girls.
In the Christian life, sometimes we think we have to hit a home run. We look around at the home run hitters, and we don’t match up. She lives a victorious Christian life, and I can’t even break this old habit. That guy quotes 1500 Bible verses, and I can’t quote three. I’ve never seen her do anything a Christian shouldn’t, and my neighbours must wonder if I’m really a Christian at all. He led five (or more) people to the Lord last year, and I stumble over my words when telling people about Christ.
Sometimes, we feel entirely worthless as a Christian. We try, but we fail. In sport, the kid who never ever stops the ball is thrilled when he succeeds, even if he has a bruise on his chest to show for it. But the bruised Christian looks around and sees other fielders catch the ball and make an immaculate return throw.
We forget just how loving and gracious and patient our Lord is. We let Satan tempt us to think and act in pride, for focus on our failure is just as “me-focused” as focus on our “success.” Satan, our accuser (Revelation 12:10), loves to have us accusing ourselves, to have us forget that thinking about failure isn’t thinking of Christ. He wants us to give up. He wants us to forget that the Saviour paid for our sins, paid a price that was good enough, to forget that He didn’t just die to pay for them, but also to break the power of sin and give us victory.
Keep getting in front of that ball, keep swinging the bat. If you never hit the ball, learn at least not to be tricked into swinging when you shouldn’t. Before long, you’ll hit a foul ball, and one day, you’ll hit it straight. Sure, the fielders will probably catch it. Keep swinging. The singles will come, and the doubles.
God hasn’t left you powerless, He hasn’t left you helpless. The victory is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ. It may take time, it may not happen immediately, but ultimate victory is coming, and He’ll give many smaller victories along the way. If you fell down, that proves you were on your feet, so get back on them again. It’s better to stand and fall than to never have stood at all — as long as you get back up and swing your bat again.
Did you sin? Confess it, trusting the Lord to forgive, get back on your feet, and swing for righteousness again. Don’t know your Bible? Read it some more, and keep growing in grace and in knowing the Lord. Failed to explain the Gospel well? Go back to your Bible to help you explain it better, but keep telling others what God has done for you. An “incompetent” attempt to tell of Christ is better than no attempt at all. Did you forget that He promised to use the foolishness of preaching?
Keep on keeping on. Forget the home run hitters, and work on swinging your bat straight, in line with God’s Word. Encourage your teammates who struggle, too. Learn from their successes and struggles. Help them learn from yours. Press on, and on, and on.
Even if you never hit a home run here, one day in glory you’ll hit them every time. You’ll serve the Lord perfectly there, without sin, without weakness. This life is just practice, anyway. The real All-Star game is in glory, that’s where the greatest service for Him will be, and you aren’t going there because a bunch of daft girls think you are cute. You’ll be there on the merits of the Saviour, and that’s good enough. You’ll belong, and you’ll shine as the brightness of the sky, reflecting the glory of the Lord.
I John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I John 2:1
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
I Corinthians 6:20
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord….
I Corinthians 15:57
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
Edit: Just an additional note to ask you to read the Scripture that Pastor Scott Markle cited in the first comment on this post, and his thoughts on it.