I love racquetball. I especially loved it last Saturday, when I won the match, 11-10, 11-10. I love winning a big point, winning it with an ace serve or with a kill shot into the corner. I love going for the winner, and when you nail it, seeing what it does to the other guy. And I hate it when I turn out to be the other guy, seeing what it does to me. My favorite poem is about racquetball (though it could be about golf, or tennis): “I hate this game!
I hate this game!
I hate this game!
I love this game!”
I’ve spent over fifty years in ministry, attempting to be nice most of that time, or at least to appear to be nice. Racquetball is not nice. The guys in my group are good sports, not sore losers. (Well, most of the time.) But we are competitive. There’s something primal about this. Our games are about power, weakness, potency, domination, ruthlessly imposing one’s will on another. On the courts, we seek out each other’s weaknesses in order to exploit them, we show no mercy at a friend’s fatigue, we grasp at every advantage. Yet the friendships among us suffer no ill effects. We are great pals.
Can someone who desires to be kind also be aggressive? Can I seek to serve others and also seek to master a killer cross-court serve? Must I be sweet in order to be like Jesus? On the court, in a tight game, W.W.J.D? I believe he would go for the kill shot and display a fist-pump when he hit it. Mercy comes afterwards, court side.
Some people believe that losing within the confines of a game is actually a way of controlling and limiting the pain that accompanies loss. I hate to lose, but losing at racquetball is less painful than losing in an ICU or at the end of a marriage.
Winning, on the other hand, is so sweet. I work on my game, because I long to get better at something difficult. Improving is such a small part of my life at my age. We stop getting better at so many things so early on. There’s little power left in my game, but I can improve in other ways—finesse, strategy, focus. I learn that power is less a matter of raw strength than of refinement.
Finally, when I’m on my game, I love the sense of being in control. When I grow old, so many of the things I struggle with will be beyond my control. I want to push my body to its limits before it pushes me to mine. My inability to totally master this game reminds me that there is something larger than me.
To love something as intensely as I love racquetball is either a God-thing or an anti-God thing. I can’t explain the connection, but I choose to deem it a God-thing. I believe God likes anything that makes me feel as intensely alive as I do on the court. Lost in a tie-breaking point, I’m more able to also become lost in wonder, love, and praise.
“Sometimes, Tom, you have to do a thing in order to find out the reason for it. Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers.” –John le Carre, A Perfect Spy