I'm on a USTA tennis league and have been for the past 2.5 years. There are many aspects of playing that I enjoy, but the one that has been a particular blessing lately is the opportunity to work on my thinking.
You wouldn't think that I would be nervous on the tennis court, being a speaker who's comfortable with any size crowd. But when I first started the league, my anxiety was crippling. The second I thought about losing the point or double faulting, that's exactly what happened.
I've been reading a variety of books on the mental game of tennis, but this one really convinced me that no matter how far behind I am, I can still win. The author gives many examples of pros who just gave up and lost matches that were theirs for the taking and other examples of players who seemed to come back and win against impossible odds. The key to winning? Believing that you can.
A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I handily won the first set of a match, then fell apart in the second, and finally lost the tie break. Yesterday, we seemed to be repeating that disappointing pattern. We won the first set without much trouble, then soon found ourselves down 5-2! If you know anything about tennis, you know that the other team just needed one more game to win the set.
I could see the discouragement and frustration in my partner and I could feel it developing in me. Then I told her, "We're going to pull a David Freese and win this set." She smiled. When either of us made an error from that point forward, I made a point of saying, "That's okay. We can still win." Many times we were in a David Freese, World Series kind of way by being one point away from losing the set (though not the match). I felt the pressure, but refused to give in. Neither did my partner. We came back to win the set and match 7-5.
The truth of Allen Fox's words became very clear to me on the tennis court, but they've become clear to me in life, too. Maybe you're against impossible odds like:
- You're getting older and you still haven't met "the one."
- You've filled out dozens of job applications and you're still unemployed
- You have a hundred pounds or more to lose
- You've been trying to conceive for months to no avail
- Your house is such a mess that it seems it would take a team months to clean it out
- You've been unhappily married for years and nothing you've tried has worked
- You have an addiction you just can't beat
- You're tens of thousands of dollars in debt
- Your loved one is elderly and still hasn't received Christ
While it's true that the right attitude doesn't guarantee victory, I believe it's also true that no matter how far behind you are, you can still win. I could give you examples of people I know personally who've experienced an unexpected victory in these situations. The key? Believe that you can.
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)
Pictured above is my high school speech team, with my coach at the top.
I have been able to win at the two-truths-and-a-lie game by including a statement that I was runner-up in a Miss Teen USA pageant. Maybe I should be insulted that people think that's a lie?
My junior high years took a serious toll on my self-esteem. Although I began my school years as an extrovert, I had become very fearful of rejection. My mother was reading the paper one weekend morning and found an ad for the area teen pageant, which extolled the virtues of participation, including more self-confidence.
For whatever reason, I let her convince me to enter the pageant and I set about conquering my fear of asking businesses to sponsor me. The pageant was scheduled for a Sunday and we had a bit of a drive to get to the church where it was being held. That morning I was listening to the radio while I was doing my makeup and a sermon was on. The pastor said, "The Lord stands with the losers of the world. Just when you are about to became a winner, God changes the rules." I thought that was a nice sentiment, but really didn't want to be a loser.
My mom, my aunt, and I got in the car and drove to the church. I am not sure if my mom took a wrong turn or if we were supposed to be driving on a gravel road, but I remember distinctly her mowing down a flock of chickens that were in her way. She didn't seem the slightest bit remorseful either! I was concerned that our bumper would be covered in blood and feathers.
Once at the church, I was happy to discover that there were only two of us entered in the pageant from my county. I figured I was a shoe in! But you already know that I took second place. As I went back to the prep room following the announcements, I was honestly feeling pretty humiliated. As I fought back tears, I remembered the sermon I'd heard. That's when my attitude completely changed. I really felt like God was standing with me. I was actually in a great mood! I probably teased my mom all the way home about her chicken massacre.
The following fall, I was in a high school speech class. Our assignment was to give a personal experience speech. I spoke about my experience in the pageant and how God had taught me what winning really means. After class, my teacher told me I needed to give that speech in competition. My sophomore year of high school, that's exactly what I did. Many times after giving that speech, other competitors would come up and thank me for sharing my experience and my faith. An extra bonus was the winning season I had.
Becoming a loser at a beauty pageant was the beginning of a speaking ministry that continues today. It was also the beginning of my understanding of God's ways. He has consistently used my failures and disappointments to change me and even to bless me. I have learned that when God stands with you, there is really no way you can lose.
This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. (Isaiah 48:17)