Playing the game

I’ve been playing a lot of tennis these days. Sure, I played a lot in high school, but I belonged to the Bad News Bears of tennis. We were one of the worst teams in an inner-city league in Seattle — before the days of Venus and Serena. So to say that I’m playing lots of tennis today to recapture my glory days would be a gross exaggeration. I have no glory days to speak of.

But it’s been fun. And tennis is one of the few sports where practice can be more fun than the real game. Just going out there and hitting the ball back and forth is sometimes more gratifying that the double-fault ridden, approach-shot sailing games I’m usually a part of. Practice is more enjoyable.

And it’s here that I realized a huge difference between practice and the game. In practice, my partner hits the ball to me. I try for long rallies, and there’s no score. It’s nice. But during a match, my opponent hits the ball away from me. He’s trying to pass me, or make returning the ball the most difficult thing. So balls vary in direction and depth, pace and punch. Nothing is easy to hit. So it’s no wonder I prefer practice from the real game.

But practice isn’t tennis.

Our faith can often be the same way. We often like practice — such as going to a retreat and listening to a great speaker, or studying Scripture with excited friends, or praying together into the wee hours of the night. When we’re with other followers of Jesus who are excited to be there, and it’s enjoyable and fun. Practice can be a blast.

But when we’re out in the real world, and we’re faced with an oppressive boss, or a driver who seems intent on clipping our front bumper without a signal, or a family member who can’t shift out of the gear of criticism, or a friend who’s downright hostile about your talking about spirituality, or even worse, when we drown in the news of mothers who drown three of their kids, or children sold off as sex slaves, or civilians dying at the hands of murderous butchers — we realize that we don’t like playing matches. People keep hitting the ball away from us.

Yes, practice is supposed to make us better players. So practice is important. But tennis was made for the game, and our faith was made for real life. Tennis, anyone?

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  1. ahh mr. willard strikes again.

    i love this image of the disciplines of faith as “practice.” and faith is lived out in the actual game.

    but my question is…what is indicated when the hours and hours of “practice” are ineffective when it comes to the actual game (assuming we actually get IN the game.)? does that indict our practice habits or the difficulty of the game?

    i’m guessing both :)


  2. the game is freaking hard, and lonely.
    but that wisper calls out, … it’s not about the fight, it’s about the victory.


  3. Unfortunately our practice fields are too little like the competition courts, so it feels liek 2 different games


  4. hello there! I’ve stumbled upon your name quite a few times now, just in the past week. First was reading a chapter from the Worship Team Handbook, then poking around the Urbana website, and now here. Very cool site! I’ve been here five minutes and I’ve already gotten a lot out of it :) Maybe I’ll see you in St. Louis!


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