Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Freedom to Fail

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

I have become convinced over the years that many people walk a "defeated" walk because they have this idea that being a Christian is about being "good." Let me remind that scripture teaches us that "None is good, no not one." Might I suggest to the reader a review of Romans chapter 3? Indeed the heart of the believer is to do the will of God, or at least that's our confession, yet we still at times think coming to God is about ritual instead of relationship. Many have embraced the performance and plastic over the reality of the eternal elasticity of the journey. We should expand and contract with the heating and cooling of the kiln of Christ, yet some just crack up.

Many of us are trying to exchange the deposits of the Father for the stocks and bonds of others. I truly believe that He doesn't want to change who we are (personality), but whose we are (relationally). He wants to change how we are who we were made to be. If we are intimately connected to the Father then He will redeem that which is His deposit. It's about letting Him use the fabric with which He's woven us together. If you're burlap, don't try to be silk. If you're an extrovert, don't suddenly become introverted. Be who He made you to be and let Him transform and redeem that into His image and likeness. Don't hear something I'm not saying – if you are a drunk, get sober, and if you're a whore, go and sin no more.

One of the concepts Pops God has me embracing these days, is the "freedom to fail." I mentioned this in an earlier post. It's a lot like when I played baseball. As a boy, I used to take a tennis ball and glove out into the front yard and literally throw it against the bricks for hours, "pitching" to a spot and then subsequently taking "grounders" over and over and over and over again. I didn't do this because I had to, I did it because I loved it - it was part of my fabric. This communion with my gifting did two things: It compounded the joy of it within the discipline of practice, and it created the muscle memory necessary to execute the skills required to play. It is not possible to number the "errors" made in the context of that practice time. Conversely, never could I number the errors it prevented in the game.

This pursuit was a result of my childlike mindset to "imagine" a game played with the holy ghosts of my soul without the intimidation of failure. Practice became a place I could repeatedly fail and still know the love and joy of the game. I never knew the Holy Spirit was such a fan of mine. It wasn't until recently that I understood He was playing beside me and with me on those lonely summer days. I knew the pain of rejection of neighborhood kids, but found the companionship of friends unseen. I didn't really know it at the time, but my Trinitarian teammates surrounded me with the love I needed and knowledge that failure was just another opportunity to succeed.

I'm reminded too, of the times my earthly dad let me pitch to him. What a lovely reminder that even when our peers protest our presence, and our playmates pretend then offend, the Father will always show up to give us what we need. Dad simply played "catch" with me for hours upon hours. How boring is it to just throw a ball back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth? To some it would seem like monotonous menial minuscule misery. To me and my dad, it was a catalyst for communion and construction of relationship and recreation (read re-creation). God is found in the daily details as much as He is the Sunday Spectacular. I'm thankful to see his hand at work in the magnificent and the mundane.

When I was in my mid-twenties I played in a semi-pro baseball league in Fort Worth. It was classified semi-pro because we got paid "prize money" for winning, so let's not glamorize it too much. My positions included short-stop, second base, third base and pitcher, and I was our "lead-off" hitter. For those of you unfamiliar with batting line-ups, the lead-off spot is reserved for someone who, as a batter, is most likely to make contact with the ball and put it in play. This person would not necessarily hit for power, but would usually have a high "on-base" percentage (of their plate appearances). On our team, this person was me. This is not always a coveted reputation when the chips are down.

We were playing in a divisional final trying to secure a spot in the tournament championship. We played well coming into the bottom of the last inning. It was a 1 run game. Our player-manager and my good friend, James Masters, was giving the signals, and was our also third base coach during this time. We had a man on 2nd and 3rd with two outs and I was coming to the plate. A base hit would tie, and most likely win the game.

James called "time-out" and met me halfway down the third base line and said these most encouraging words, "Tim. There is no one else I would rather have at bat in this situation." Wow. Such high praise. His recognition of my skill was only surpassed by my inability to deliver. I struck out. He walked up to me afterward and put his am around me and said, "I still mean that." I was encouraged because I knew there would be other opportunities.

Little did I know opportunity would knock in the very next tournament. As if God were writing a Fairy Tale script, we found ourselves in the semi-final again, and you guessed it, the same scenario played out with me coming to bat with two outs and a chance to tie the game with a base hit. James, in his infinite wisdom, called "time-out" again, and walked down the baseline to greet me with those now immortal words, "Tim. I meant what I said last time, and I still believe in you." All the while I'm thinking, "C'mon James. Don't you think I've already got enough pressure!?!"

His faith was unmoved as I went down 0-2 in the count. As the next pitch whirred in, I took my step and my swing like I had practiced a zillion times. THWAP! That was the sound of the ball hitting the catchers-mitt, not my bat. Ballgame over. I slammed the tip of my bat into the dirt and lashed out at James imploring him to please never tell me that again. He just smiled with crinkled mustache and congratulated the other team.

It wasn't until years later that I understood the heart of James and our heavenly Father working in that situation. We can fail and still be embraced to run the race. We can fail again and again and again, and still be an important part of the team. James was saying the very thing The Father is saying to each of us, "no matter how often you swing and miss, I'm just glad you're on my team, and I know that more often than not, you're going to make contact. Sure you will strike out on occasion, and even at inopportune times, but I still love you and want you to keep stepping up to the plate and giving it a go. Just like the character from the movie Signs, the Father is calling out "Swing away Merrill. Swing away!"

Do you have the freedom to fail? Have you come to terms with your propensity to project an image other than His? When you do, it will make you more flexible in His hands. Our ability to be conformed and be transformed will directly correspond to our willingness to humble ourselves under His mighty hand. Please don't make a dead "work" out of that process and make it a contingency to relate in so doing. Understand it for what it is; an obedient response to His wooing. He continues to call the children to Him and still gets a little miffed when anyone tries to come between them. That's a pretty good picture of a Dad who loves to play catch with his kids.

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