How do you respond when most people around you want you to fail at what you’re doing?
I had a chance to find out at a recent USTA Sectionals tennis tournament I played in with my USTA Mixed 40+ team.
It was a high stakes tournament, for the winning team would advance to Nationals, which is a big deal for USTA tennis players. It’s the highest level possible to attain.
I was on court with my mixed partner playing what appeared to be a “do or die” match. Of the three teams on court, one of my teams had won, but the other was getting crushed in their first set. If my partner and I won, my team advanced. If we lost, another team in our flight would advance, everyone figured.
The team hoping to advance was local, and the viewing platform, which was adjacent to our court elevated 15 feet above our heads, and open air, was jammed with their team members and supporters watching in suspense to see the outcome of our match. My wife and 2 team members were the lone supporters of me and my partner.
While on court, if our opponents won a point, the arena would erupt with cheers and elation. If my partner and I won a point, I could hear my wife clapping “up there” somewhere amidst the crowd of spectators. The match was intense, super close and demanding everything we had to give.
I double faulted on a critical deuce point (bad idea!). A loud male “Yay!” flung out of the viewing stands. It was a surprise to hear for cheering for another’s failure is not standard etiquette in tennis. But the desire of this opposing team to see us lose was so intense, it erupted anyway. I looked up at the stands and smiled, held no resentment, and just loved the guy who vocalized his intent to see me fail. He turned away in embarrassment and left the viewing area.
I was thoroughly enjoying the match. I did not feel out-numbered by all the people cheering against us. To me, it didn’t make any difference if 2 million people wanted to see us lose. It was irrelevant. All that mattered was me living true to my reflection of divine Love. My “competitor,” was not the opponents across the net or the hopeful team in the viewing stands. It was fear, distraction and doubt, and I could keep those out of my thought by knowing God’s presence on the court giving me all the inspiration, guidance, wisdom and ability I needed to excel at what I was doing. “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:31, NLT)”, Paul reminded us. No other person, or large group of people, could keep me from knowing and reflecting God’s presence.
We won the match, barely, and the other teams rooting against us were congratulatory and very gracious afterward. It was all healthy vigorous competition, but more than anything, I was grateful to realize that Love had won the day. It never was “us versus them.” It was all about reflecting God’s presence and not letting any fear, doubts or worries get in the way.
In the end, my team advanced to Nationals, which we’ll play in November in Mobile, Alabama. It is without doubt the highlight of my tennis life, and my team is super excited about going, but I pray to keep my perspective that winning is not about the score. It’s about the spirituality one gains and expresses while competing.
When your priority is to express God, you’re always on the winning side and no opposition can hold you back.