Thursday, October 15, 2009
The Winning Team
By Judy Vandiver
Alex stood in the outfield, his head down and his shoulders slumped. He no longer watched the infield. What did it matter? No one seemed to be able to hit the ball far enough for him to reach him. In disgust, he took the baseball glove off and flung it to the ground. Then he did what any disappointed four year old might do. He cried.
His dirty hands, swiped at the tears and left streaks of brown across his sun burned face. Alex crossed his legs as he dropped to the ground. With his elbows on his jean-clad knees, he propped his chin up with both fists. Then he cried some more.
“Time out,” bellowed the coach. All eyes watched as he walked to the outfield and knelt next to the small, frustrated boy. Alex’s mother rose from the stands and joined them. The three sat on the ground as though having a pow-wow.
Sitting on the hard wooden bleachers, I could only speculate on the conversation. Soon, the pow-wow ended. Alex tried to erase the tears with the back of his hand.
The coach escorted Alex to a new in-field position between the pitcher and third base. Even from a distance I could see Alex’s head raise slightly with each deep breath he took. I could imagine the sound of sniffling with each lift of the dark hair. As the coach placed Alex in the newly created position, he lowered his mouth near Alex’s ear. Alex shook his head up and down.
Alex’s mother sat next to me in the stands. “He’s frustrated, because he feels his position is useless. I thought he should stay there, but the coach is moving him in field.
“It doesn’t really matter,” she continued, “they’ve already won the game.”
“What do you mean,” I asked. “They’re still playing. The game isn’t over.”
“For the young group, the T-Ball players, each team is only allowed so many runs per inning. Alex’s team is so far ahead that even if the other team gets their maximum runs on the next two innings, they could not catch up. So even though they continue to play, Alex’s team has already won.”
“Why don’t they quit? You know, call the game?” I asked.
“Because they are giving the boys a chance to practice their game by continuing to play. They’ll be better players for having this extra time. It just won’t change the final outcome of the game.”
“Oh, I understand,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure that I did. My eyes went back to the ball field. A redheaded youngster from the opposing team moved into the batter box. He swung and missed. He swung a second time and missed again. He swung a third time and his bat met the ball, shoving it in a straight line to the right of third base.
. Alex’s face broke into a broad smile as he darted forward. The third baseman’s mouth dropped as his eyes became large and rounded. Tightening his jaw and squinting his eyes, he made a dash for the ball. At that same moment, the pitcher burst from the mound, trying to outrun Alex.
All three four year olds arrived at the ball at approximately the same instant. Alex dove for the ball, hitting the dirt hard with his entire body. The third baseman piled on top of Alex, just before being sandwiched in when the pitcher nose-dived into the pile. The boys soon became tangled within themselves creating a ball of dust and dirt energized by six flaying arms and six thrashing tennis-shoe clad legs.
The coach again advanced onto the field. Plucking each boy from the heap, he unraveled the pile. As the pitcher and third baseman emerged empty-handed, tears flowed down their faces. Alex surfaced with the ball, but for some reason was crying as hard as the other two. The other six players on the team soon joined the trio in their bawling.
“Why are you crying?” shouted several people from the stands. “You’ve already won the game.” We sat there and watched the unhappy winning team.
Then I saw him. The little red headed boy sprinted around the bases. First, second, third, past the crying team members and on to home plate. He cheered for himself. His team cheered for him. A redheaded man in the stands cheered for him.
Alex’s team continued to cry. As their tears slowly began to subside, they walked from the field; their little bodies sagging, looking like old men returning from a weary battle, defeated and dejected.
The yells from the crowd, “But you won!” did nothing to help lift the spirits of the little boys who had played so hard. Those little boys, Alex included, went home that night looking like little puppy dogs dragging their tails.
As I sat down that evening for my quiet time with the Lord, I prayed, “God help those little boys with their attitude. They were poor sports and didn’t realize they were victors.”
“A lot like you.” I wondered where that thought came from. Reflecting on my own life, I realized that I sometimes act like the little four year olds on the ball field.
There have been times I have not been satisfied with the position God has given me and have wanted Him to create a position more to my choosing; like when He asked me to serve as a sponsor on a mission trip for teenagers. I enlightened God with several reasons why He should choose someone else. In reality, I just wanted an easier job in the Kingdom.
I recalled Paul’s exhortation to the Christians at Corinth. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”[i]
God went on to reiterate that even though I do not always act like it, as a Christian, I am on the winning team. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s word reveals that He is King over the whole earth and that someday “the devil will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur.” Although that day has not come yet, I have read the “back of the book” and know the ending.
“So why,” I asked myself, “do I sometimes whine and complain to God as if Satan were in control?” “Life is unfair. It’s too hard,” and “I can’t get through this” have been in my speech too many times.
And all the time I am complaining, my adversary, the devil, is busy running the bases. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”[ii]
Even now, years later, I can still picture those little boys squabbling among their own teammates instead of working together and concentrating on defeating their opponent. It is a constant reminder of how I should work to encourage fellow Christians rather than focusing on myself.
Perhaps Paul thought the same thing when he wrote to the Philippians: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minding, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interest of others.”
Alex is much older now. He has grown and matured. As I think back to the day of that T-ball game, I have to ask myself if I have grown and matured from the lessons God taught me. Some days I stand in the outfield, wondering when and if the ball will come to me. I pray that I will be not be found crying and disillusioned, but willing to play in the position the Lord gives me, doing so with a joyful heart. After all, I’m on God’s team — and we win!
The Winning Team – copyright 2009 by Judy Vandiver