Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Embrace the Challenge

Crossword Puzzles. Jigsaw Puzzles. Tying your shoes for the first time. Sports. TV Game Shows. Running a Marathon. Earning a certification for your vocation or career. Solving Rubik’s Cube.

All of these have something in common. They present challenges. At least they should. That’s the reason we attempt them, right? If no challenge was involved, would we even try? OK, maybe “tying your shoes” can be eliminated here, but if you ever watch a four or five-year old tying their shoes, you can’t help but get tickled by the focus and concentration painted on their little faces.

So, if things like game shows, puzzles, and sports keep us interested and enthusiastic about them because of the competition involved, and inner strength required to reach great heights, why do we not approach life the same way?

Sometimes I get into this mode where I just want things to go smoothly. It’s called “being human.” It basically happens every day. Smooth days are nice. Bumpy – not so much. But, if life is always smooth, and I never encounter adversity in my path, am I truly reaching my God-given potential? If I am not pushed relationally, emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually, I am settling. And, perhaps worse than that, I could be regressing.

Think about the most difficult path you’ve walked in your life. When you look in the rearview mirror of your years on earth, did that event or trial strengthen you, or did it weaken you? I’m not necessarily talking about death of a loved one, or sickness or some other devastating event. I am talking about those times you had to dig deep, work hard, and give it your all. In hindsight, were you glad you gave 100%, or was it a complete waste of time?

Occasionally, it’s nice to receive a hand-out. As a baseball coach, it’s a relief sometimes to not toil over who to pitch in the last inning, or who to put behind the plate when it’s 95 degrees outside. But, the most rewarding “wins” are the ones where everyone is putting it all on the line, and you eek out that one-run victory on a bases-clearing double. Those are the ones you celebrate the most. But it’s not the hit itself that wins the game. It’s the attitude the hitter has in the box.

In his book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg talks quite a bit about those things that hold us back from achieving our best. It’s the “what if” moments that cause discouragement to creep in. Ultimately, it’s a lack of confidence that creates something that destroys the joy in our lives: fear.

So, if fear destroys joy, then (as Ortberg writes) “challenge produces joy.” The payoff for the base hit isn’t just the “W” in the victory column; it’s the joy you get from meeting – and overcoming – the challenge. If our baseball team was undefeated, and had won each game by ten or more runs, we’d be over-confident. We wouldn’t know exactly what our best truly is. We wouldn’t aspire to become better. We’d go through the motions and settle for “good” when “best” is there for the taking.

And so it is with our lives. We trudge through our days, going to work, paying the bills, getting the kids ready, talking about the weather, lamenting about this and that. Generally speaking, we have what we “want” – a nice house, two cars (or more), some gadgets and gizmos, a decent job, and a few friends.

What we fail to realize is that if we will challenge ourselves – really push ourselves – we can reach new heights. We can accomplish great things and influence countless lives. But, all too often we are complacent about “the unknown.” And, if we’re not complacent, we’re just plain scared. But, as I tell my players, “You can’t play scared.”

Ortberg writes that “fear and joy are fundamentally incompatible.” When I wonder “what if” and think about all the worst-case scenarios, I am snuffing out joy.

And, who wants to be a joy-snuffer?

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