Monday, March 22, 2010


Some of my best memories from high school are from the volleyball court. My first year playing I warmed the bench, screamed my voice raw and was proud to receive that sad little trophy for "Best Improved" which we all know is code for "Worst Player But Really Tried Hard and Had a Lot of Team Spirit."

In the years after that, I moved from bench to starter to captain and absolutely fell in love with the sport. I still love it, that feeling I get when I walk out on that court with a team and eagerly anticipate a spectacularly exhausting volley that could potentially end with a perfect, downward oriented hit that makes that sweet leather on wood sound that only a volleyball can make when slamming against a gym floor.

So, when I found myself with a little evening free time after returning to work, I decided to fill a little bit of it by joining a competitive volleyball league. One night a week, 8 to a team, co-ed and competitive. Man, I looked forward to Wednesdays! Our games started at 9:30 pm which sounded totally absurd to my 31-year-old bones, but the adrenaline proved to be an age-defier. I ran, I dove, I set, I hit and I returned home generally injured in some capacity but grinning from ear-to-ear. I love this game.

A few weeks into play, after my voice was getting used to yelling terms like "sideout" and "ace" and "block" again, I began to think about some of the ways that I seem to play volleyball in my everyday life. For those of you who don't roll in the world of volleyball, when someone yells "sideout" she is reminding her team to be ready to receive the ball, to be on the defensive, if you will. And while I'm on that court, I am always ready to yell that word. In fact, I always seem to be the most ready for defense, the most vocal cautioner to those around me.

As I began to really think about that, I realized how much of my life I live in sideout. Constantly having conversations in my head with imaginary people, just in case something doesn't go right and I have to defend myself. Trying to set myself up to be in the best position before trying anything new so as to defend myself from failure. Terrible at taking risks when pursuing friends because I fear rejection more than I crave relationship, so rather than pick up the phone and call, I internally go on the defensive and assume said person to be busy with other friends and not in need of hearing from me.

I think I can actually operate this way without becoming too lonely because I've tricked myself into enjoying my own company a little too much. While volleyball is a team sport, I played setter for most of my career and in that particular position you can sometimes feel pretty isolated on the court. If you're playing with serious players, the setter always gets the second hit, always has to be ready to make sure the ball doesn't fall and the hit is set up, is always responsible to make sure the team keeps functioning. This means setters can often begin to see themselves as more important than we are, to feel we are holding things together around us more than what is true in reality.

Now, I don't necessarily think operating in sideout some of the time is bad. It's good to be ready for things, good to anticipate ways that we can be a team player, to help those around us and to move toward a particular goal. What's unhealthy is always being on the defensive...I think it's just a fancy way of focusing on myself and living in fear, rather than in a holy readiness.

Volleyball has been finished now for two weeks. And for two weeks I've mulled over this and wondered what I can do to change my mode of play. How to untrain myself from being that super-defensive player and learn ways to embrace the offensive. How to learn ways to take more risks in how I pursue people, how to stop pointless imaginary conversations from even starting and how to let God continue to move me from a stance of "sideout" to a dynamic awareness of each moment and what response it calls for.

There's nothing I can do, only things that can be done in me to conform me more into a person who can trust God and the risks he asks me to take. So, if you see me swaying from side to side on the volleyball court, that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to let God change me, staying on the move, being ready for some response to Him and those around me and fighting my hardest not to resort to a safely pre-determined move that avoids the risk of failure.

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