From Psalm 116
I started playing tennis when I was six. I remember my first racquet—a child-sized, purple-and-white racquet that I couldn’t have been prouder to call mine. My mom played. My dad played. My grandparents and uncles played. I joined a lineage of lifelong tennis players when I first stepped on that green-and-white court.
Over the years, I became a decent player. I started out in junior USTA leagues, regularly playing on Sunday afternoons and entering a few tournaments every year. As I got older, I trained with private coaches and played for the school tennis teams both in middle and high school. I hit my peak in tenth grade, when I made “academy” at the tennis club and became a varsity player. That year, I was the only player on our team to win my match at state.
Still, the only goal I ever had tennis-wise was to one day beat my dad. We’d go play at the courts in our neighborhood every week or so. I’d practice and work on my strokes and get fired up: Today is the day. I’d start out hopeful, but three or four points in, my confidence would drain. I’d get a little behind, then a little further behind, and finally, he’d beat me 6 to 4. Or 6 to 3. Or whatever the score was that day.
I got close once. I think our score was 6 to 5 (Dad was up), and we got to an ad round (which basically means we were neck and neck). When he finally pulled through and got the point to end the match, I thought, Okay, I’m getting there! Next time I’ve got this. Bursting my newly formed bubble of confidence, Dad said, “Well, I guess it’s time for me to start playing right-handed.” What?! (For the record, Dad is right-handed.)
I never did beat him. We’d play often, and I sometimes got ahead, but I never could clinch the win.
Yet, despite that, I’d never look back on my history as a tennis player and think, I was just terrible all around. I should have quit. Sure, I never beat my dad, but I beat plenty of other players in plenty of other matches. I had a great serve. My strokes improved significantly with all the practice. I was a good tennis player overall, even if I never met my goal.
Why, oh why, can’t I learn this lesson spiritually?
I have plenty of spiritual goals. And over the years, I’ve hit many of them—all praise and glory to God! But … I’ve also struggled with many spiritual goals. I don’t memorize Scripture often. I don’t regularly seek opportunities to serve. I don’t keep guard over what I say and do and watch as often and as carefully as I should. In other words, I mess up. A lot.
And for some reason, when I do, I look back on the whole history and think, I’m just a terrible Christian all around. And I feel like a fraud. A wannabe follower of Christ who can’t get her act together.
I read a quote this week in the book Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love by Edward Sri:
“Despite our many sins and failures, God remains committed to us, looking at us patiently and mercifully in the face of our faults. He loves us even when we do things that hurt our relationship with him.”
A section of Psalm 116 echoes this aspect of God’s character:
“The Lord is kind and does what is right; our God is merciful. The Lord watches over the foolish; when I was helpless, he saved me. I said to myself, ‘Relax, because the Lord takes care of you.’” (vv. 5–7 NCV)
I’m NOT saying we shouldn’t try. We absolutely should keep praying to the Lord and confessing our sins and asking for help to stay on His path. But don’t let your shortcomings lead you to believe you’re a failure altogether. Remember: no matter how far we fall short, “our God is merciful.” Even when we are helpless, He remains strong to save.
Next Week’s Reading: Psalm 117–122.