A shorter version of this article was recently published by St. Martin’s "Daily Word," a short daily devotional written by members of the clergy. I have received so much positive feedback on the piece that I felt it was worth expanding on the original and sharing it with a larger audience.
Ever since I was a little kid I've loved baseball. I lived and breathed it growing up, so much so that by age 11 I had turned my backyard into a baseball field. I learned how to cut the grass low to make a basepath, and then create different patterns in the infield.
My grandfather built me a wooden scoreboard and a concession stand, and my father made jerseys for our family and friends to wear when we played together. There was an epic rivalry between the Tennessee Tornados and the Avalon Avalanches (we lived on Avalon Place). The Avalanches were so good that after a couple of years we even had alternate red jerseys.
The teams always ran onto the field with smoke bombs and Roman candles going off, and we even played the national anthem before the game. We had some epic games in the backyard, but the greatest of all was our one and only night game. I saved up to buy a few construction-grade floodlights from Home Depot and then proceeded to mount them in the outfield trees so that the fielders could even see fly balls.
As you can tell, this was serious business for me. Every person who put on a jersey had to sign a five-year contract that I had written up. If only I still had a copy of that!
As the years went by, I took my love of the game from the backyard to Little League and all the way to college. I was lucky enough to pitch all four years in college. I haven’t played in seven years and yet I miss it every day. Even so, baseball has given me an invaluable gift that has helped me in adulthood. They say sports teach kids important lessons about teamwork and such, but baseball’s greatest lesson for me was how to deal with failure.
I’m not sure there is another sport in which you can fail so often and still end up being a Hall of Famer. You’re considered a great hitter if you get a hit three out of ten times. Your opponent can handily beat you one day, and the next day the exact opposite could happen.
I have never failed more in life than on a ballfield. I’ve struck out plenty of times, made more errors than I want to admit, been a part of some losing teams, and yet I still love the game.
Baseball taught me to fail, and to fail well.
What I mean is that I learned how to not be defined by one strikeout, or giving up a home run. The game forces you to deal with your failure, and get back to playing. You won’t last long if you can’t accept that you’re going to fail at this game.
My sophomore year of college I was coming back from shoulder surgery, and I just wasn’t myself. Every pitch felt like I was about to tear my labrum again. My accuracy (which I prided myself on as a pitcher) was terrible. I got booed off the field once because I almost hit an opposing hitter in the head…twice. It was an awful season, and so I spent the summer working in Yellowstone National Park and the fall studying in Jerusalem. I didn’t pick up a baseball for seven months.
During that time I reflected a lot about what went wrong, and what it would be like to get back on the mound and be completive again. It was seven long months of soul searching. I returned to campus the spring semester of my junior year, and set the school record for most wins in a single season.
During my senior year I only needed two wins to set the school record for all-time wins. I ended up pitching in eight games, threw five complete games, pitched really well in most of those outings, and yet only won two games. I went 2-5 and was the losing pitcher in our playoff elimination game. I had set the record, but the numbers for that season still showed I was a mediocre pitcher at best. What was I? A winner or a loser?
And so, what are we to do with failure? How should we respond?
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11).
It has taken a lifetime of stumbling, staggering, and failing through life to understand what the Apostle Paul is saying in this passage.
Paul reminds us that we are not defined by our failures, but recognizing our weakness is an opportunity to receive a strength that is greater than ourselves; a strength that comes from above. The Good News of the Jesus is that we are not stuck in our misfortunes, our bad decisions, or even our sin. God’s grace is given to us, so that we are no longer slaves to sin. We can accept what God says about us, rather than what we say about ourselves. We are children of God.
But we are not only formed by our failures, in fact, we limit ourselves when we fear failing. We take fewer risks in life, which may be golden opportunities to learn something new—something that would take us out of our comfort zones and challenge us. For me, I need to focus more on the journey and what it can teach me, than focusing solely on the outcome.
In Christ, we can fail well. No matter how hard we try to be perfect or always put together, we are constantly missing the mark. We can’t help but stumble over our pride. It is when we have recognized our weakness and dependence on the God who is perfect, who has put the whole world together, that we can rest in his grace.
We are failures and it's okay. We may stumble and fall, and yet because of Jesus, we are still children of God.
If today you are felling “not good enough, not smart enough, or simply a failure,” I invite you to bring that to the Lord and to hear Paul’s worship afresh: “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”