Pastor hopes for three gifts from softball

Posted: Sunday, April 19, 2009

I'm going to play softball this year. Hopefully no one who is playing on my team will read this, because I am pretty lousy.

I have right field and second base down to a science: Stand there, look interested and try not to get hit by the ball.

I actually have quite a bit of softball experience. My parents thought, since I enjoyed watching baseball so much, that softball was a natural fit. They missed taking into account my lack of coordination and depth perception.

Luckily, I batted left-handed, and my strike zone was only 3 inches tall, so I got walked on a pretty regular basis.

I was one of those kids that the coach said, "Whatever you do, don't swing." I even went to softball camp for a week in summer.

On the final day, the final game arrived, and I was in right field praying that no one would hit it there. Then, a very large girl came up to bat and pointed her bat at me. I knew this was bad. The ball came, I ran back and back, glove outstretched, slow motion like the movies, but I missed it and she scored.

So, I'm trying it again this summer as a spiritual exercise in humility, risk and playfulness. I'm getting myself psyched for this experience of awkwardness by reframing it. There are three gifts I hope to receive this summer.

One is the gift of humility. I am going to play my hardest, keep my eyes open, and run toward the ball not away. I am going to be engaged in an activity that is not my strong suit and not stand on the sidelines looking cool (also not my strong suit). I am going to throw my all into it, and when I miss the ball, trip over my feet, or let the ball roll between my legs, then I will remember my limits. Remembering limits is a gift. Failing is a gift. Those are opportunities that make us depend on others and rejoice in the community God has given us. I am not good at all things so I need athletes to run swiftly when I stumble and maybe they'll need me at times to write a sermon or lend a listening ear.

Two is the gift of risk. Softball freaks me out a little. The thought of getting my teeth knocked out or looking like a fool are real fears. The life of a Christian is not one of fearlessness, but one of risk. We need to venture into those territories that frighten us so we learn to trust God and also so we keep living. Life without risk is numbness and even deadly. God keeps calling us into those places of discomfort so we may continue to know life abundant. Softball is a silly example, but maybe it will help me have the courage to venture into more and deeper relationships, to expand my circle to include folks who make me nervous, to look sickness, aging, and death in the face squarely.

Three is the gift of playfulness. I take way too much of life way too seriously. This is an opportunity to play. I love to be outside and get dirty, but too often a long list of tasks keeps me from play. Scheduled play will be a gift. Getting together on a regular basis to laugh, run and get muddy will take playfulness out of the realm of luxuries into a scheduled part of my life. That's a good thing. The heart of recreation is being re-created. Sounds a lot like the heart of Christianity.

Humility, risk, playfulness. The church could probably learn a lot from softball.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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