Monday, April 23, 2012

The Coach

The following stems from a small part of a homily I heard last night at a Healing Mass. The priest said in terms of healing that "God never heals you just to sit out out on the bench" - and I took this metaphor and ran with it.

Take me out to the baaaaaaall game!
I used to be afraid of playing softball.

I think it stemmed from a fear of being hit by the ball. That evolved into being afraid of messing up and missing a catch, making the wrong play, and especially striking out at the plate. I relished the times when I went up to the plate and was greeted with four balls, meaning I got to easily walk to first base. I was that girl that the coach stuck in right field and at the end of the line-up, because my lack of confidence was holding me back.

Going to a hitting camp one summer and making the school team that next year gave me some more confidence, and I found myself using the skills I'd always had and improving on my game. I was even a little surprised to see that while I had been stuck in right field for so long, I was actually pretty good at playing in the infield when I was given the chance to play other positions. I still play in the infield to this day.

Even more, I started to find myself not afraid of stepping up to the plate and even excited by the idea of getting to hit the ball. Even though I didn't always make it on base, I moved from the end of the lineup to the beginning, because my coach told me that having someone who wasn't afraid to take a swing at the first pitch was just what we needed to start off the game. While I no longer lead the lineup on my adult team, I do hit the ball almost every time I'm up at the plate, even if it means getting out at first so that the runners in front of me can advance on the bases.

I needed to gain some confidence in myself, but I also had to come to recognize my role on each of the teams with which I have played. It took these things to help make me a better player, allowing me to use my skills to help the team conquer. It isn't about me making a great play or hitting it out of the park, but about what I do that helps my team win the game in the end.

So what about playing for God's team?

Has the fear of striking out or getting hit by the ball ever kept you from stepping up to the plate?

What about the pain, suffering, and confusion you've encountered in the game?

Sometimes it feels like I'm reading the signs from my third base coach (i.e. God),  and I think I know exactly what He wants me to do and so I just go for it - all in. It's only when I strike out, get hit by the ball, just get beat out by the catch at first, or watch that left fielder make a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch when I realize that what I thought I saw down that third base line wasn't really the sign that Coach was giving me.

Frankly, it feels like a wild pitch straight to the face. Or to the heart.
Oomph! Thanks for that pitch.
So what do I do when this happens? Thinking Coach is about to put me on the bench for the mistakes I've made, I just go ahead and bench myself to save Him the trouble. Yet, once again, this is reading the signs all wrong, and by doing this, I keep Him from putting me back into play where He needs me. I keep myself on the bench, not quite sure where to find healing, when really I need to get back into the field to find what I seek.

God doesn't allow me to experience pain and suffering just to sit me out of the game. He doesn't let my heart get broken, and then leave me alone to heal. He is there to coach me through the pain, wanting to heal me.
Aw, he's too cute to be benched!

I have trouble letting God coach me through the pain, though, especially when I hold onto the idea that He led me there with those crazy baseball signals. (Wait, did He touch the brim of his hat to indicate an actual signal or was it just a signal to throw off the other team... now I'm confused!) Even when I turn to Him, I still have a difficult time completely opening myself up to His comforting words and healing grace. I don't know why - because I beg for for my heart to be open to healing - but I just continue to keep myself on the bench, guzzling my water, spitting sunflower seeds, and trying to do what I can to nurse my bumps and bruises, all the while wishing I could be back out in the field. Yet, while I'm sitting here doing this, Coach is just trying to give me the signals to heal me. He doesn't want to do this just to keep me on the bench. He wants to heal me to put me back into the ball game.

Why? God is the Coach. He is the best Coach out there, but He needs me to go out and actually play the game for Him. There's only so much a coach can do to lead his team to victory, because He can give us all the right signals and coaching tips, but we have the freedom to choose otherwise or choose to see what we think we want to see. Unfortunately, we are playing the toughest team out there, and they are led by a mischievous and relentless coach (i.e. Satan), and Coach can't afford to let His team sit on the bench. He needs me to play my hardest, to do what I can to help the team win the game.

He needs me to go up to the plate. He needs me to bat again for Him. He needs me to take some swings for others. He needs me to be a witness, to show others that despite the mistakes I make in the game, despite the times I get hit and fall to the ground, broken and weak, I can still heal and come back even stronger. He needs me to let Him pick me back up. He wants to heal me and give me another chance to help the team. He needs me to do this to help bring others to Him.

Imagine the kind of home run welcome you'd have if God
were your baseball coach! AWESOME!
I can't be afraid to go to the plate to bat again. Not just go to the plate, and stand there, and hope for a walk - I have to go to the plate, ready to swing away. Ready to take some hits. Ready to take a chance on striking out. I have to be ready and willing to take these risks for the chance that I'll hit it out of the park. He needs me to take those risks if I'm going to play for His team. Sometimes He needs me to help bring others home to Him - to bat them around the bases and score some runs - even if it means making a sacrifice play and getting out myself. This is the call of a team player, and in being a follower of Christ, we are all called to be team players.

Blessed Mother Teresa said, "Let God use you without consulting you. Give God permission." I have to let Him heal me so that He can use me for the next big play. I shouldn't have to give Him permission, but He will wait for me to say, "Yes" to whatever play He calls. I have to let him use me to do what's best for the team, and I have to trust in His coaching.

I don't know what the next play is going to be, or even what kind of play Coach is going to call. As I wait, I am trying to learn to be more accepting and open to the trials, suffering, and mistakes - and the eventual healing - that I will continue to encounter in this game. Hopefully, I will learn the signals that will bring me across that home plate, where God the Coach is waiting, with a jumping high five, to say, "Welcome Home!"

This is how excited Coach gets when you come back to the game!


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