When I was in high school I was a nerdy musical jock. I didn’t exactly know how to do just one thing and do it well — I had to do everything that everyone else was doing well. One might say I didn’t really know when to stop. As a senior, I was in denial about the fact that I was about to graduate and have to go to college and pick what I was going to do with the rest of my life. So, of course I was still doing too many things — orchestra, musicals, too many unnecessarily difficult classes and volleyball year-round.
One day at volleyball practice, I was having a great day and felt like I had just nailed all my digs, served the ball well and was really getting the coach’s attention. I was one of three people who played the same position, of which there could only be one on the court at a time. I really had to work to get time on the court since the other girls were all just as good or better than I was. We had a game that week that I was getting amped for.
After practice, I was feeling so great that I ran back to the video tape room to chat with my coach. I burst in and blurted, “Hey Coach, do you think I’ll get a chance to play tomorrow?”
I immediately regretted this decision.
What I remember next is almost nothing about what she said to me, but more about the look on her face as she said it.
It was in this moment that I realized two things:
1). I was most likely not going to play tomorrow, and
2). whatever my coach had to communicate to me now was not a fun thing to communicate.
The rest of this moment mostly involved me standing there, nodding politely in silence. My coach explained that whether or not she put me in did not have to do with me and only me, but with a number of factors, like how well the team was playing, how good the other team was and what she felt was best for the team at the time and in the moment.
I remember feeling very sheepish and silly for asking this question. Of COURSE it would be based on all these things and not just me. But, for some reason, I was so focused on me and how I was doing that day, I thought surely my coach would be on the same whimsical cloud I was on and rejoice with me that yes, I was going on tomorrow! Not so.
While this was ridiculously humbling for me, it had been no less of an easy moment for my coach. She had to be the bearer of not-great news. She had to speak truth to me even though it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and roses. In order to lead me, she had to have a tough conversation and be honest.
And she did speak truth, whether she realized it then or not.
It took me a while — as in years — to fully unpack what I had been taught that day. While I should celebrate small victories like having a great day at practice, my purpose there was much greater than just getting better for the sake of being good by myself. I was there to be a part of a team and to serve that team in the best way I could when my coach called on me to. I felt really small in that moment, and I think it was because she had hit so clearly on the fact that I was seeking validation from her and from being able to be a star on the court. I was hoping someone would tell me I was meant to be a volleyball player for the rest of my life. But that wasn’t the truth she had to bring that day.
I see this same thing in my life and others’ lives now. We want so much for someone to speak truth about who we are and what we’re meant to be, but we often hope that they’ll say something we’ve already contrived, rather than trusting God with what He has given and promised us; rather than trusting Him with the journey of finding our gifts and letting Him direct us as to how to use them for His mission.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10
This story does not end with me becoming the team captain and winning state. I didn’t become homecoming queen and I wasn’t class president. I did, however, make it onto a great club team just after the school season ended — most likely thanks to the great coach I had during the school season.
And I turned it down.
I turned it down because it was at that point that I had a choice. I could either continue doing a million extra things, or I could slow down and figure out where God really wanted me. So I did.
I can’t do everything amazingly. But I can journey with Him, following where He leads to use the gifts He’s given me. That’s a gift and it is amazing.