Putting skin in the game: Overcoming pain and regrets in life and sports
You would think tennis is a pretty safe game, right?
Well, this past weekend’s league tennis match proved that injuries can spring up unexpectedly, at any moment, bringing embarrassment, pain, blood and tears, and jeopardising a successful win as outcome. My spectacular sprint to the net to reach a killer drop shot resulted in a head-over-heels dive forward-roll in which I used my face and various other vulnerable skin parts to apply brakes.
This gave new (literal) meaning to “leaving some skin in the game”. In being prepared to risk to win, the price in skin was paid.
So too, with life, the unexpected is bound to happen… call it Murphy’s Law, stuff happens, life throws a curved ball, or whatever.
Robert Burns’ poem from 1785 reminds us: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Fate has a knack of stepping in… scuppering our plans, initiatives, innovations – even ministries.
As we ponder sport and life, we explore how God allows pain and how we can approach life knowing that pain will often be our unwanted companion. By coming to grips with this reality ourselves, we are then also able to help young people navigate life with all of its surprises.
Unlike Burns’ mice, people tend to remain fixated on the past. We don’t easily forget and move on. As with all people, Christians remember the past experiences of pain, carrying baggage that isn’t easily swiped away with a snappy verse from Scripture, or a claim in faith, or a zippy prayer. Regrets linger; scars remain; internal conflict and stress persist; anger is harboured; grief overwhelms; confidence is shattered.
Some of the injuries are far deeper than my temporary skin grazes and bruised ego. People wrestle with deep pain, often to do with people around them: the premature death of a family member; being scorned by fellow believers after a shameful experience; failure to achieve in business; a snide remark; not fitting into a church group; struggling with life-long debt; struggling with a mental health issue; or not being able to get a job.
(For the younger generation, hurt is commonly caused by online rejection or shaming – virtual friendships cancelled, not being accepted, being scorned or bullied, and so on. These may be centred in virtual life, but are very real and personal.)
Our faith and pain
Contrary to the claims of some modern “Christian” leaders, the Christian is not set free from life’s circumstances and struggles. We are not absolved / freed / spared the discomfort of life. We are born into cultures and circumstances which can have a direct bearing on our day-to-day lives.
As soon as we enter the playing field of life, we expose ourselves to potential pain.
The “good news” from the Bible is that God allows pain to come across our paths and ironically, He does care and help us recover from it. The Good News of Scripture essentially is: God keeps His promises!
He is able to help us:
- Accept setback or defeat: Philippians 3:13-14
- Put things in perspective: Romans 8:28
- Renew our minds: Philippians 4:4-8
- Move ahead in faith: 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10
- Grow in strength: Isaiah 40:28-31
Hopefully these verses are of some encouragement. It takes courage to have faith.
The Holy Spirit is able to help us “look forward” and not just dwell on the past. We need to cling to the reality that having the Spirit in us is even better than having Jesus beside us (John 16). The Spirit guides us in daily living, continually bring a different message and way of thinking / acting than the messages we receive all around us. Walking with the Holy Spirit helps us walk through pain.
Start with today
The opportunity to make a fresh start starts today. There is a way to get going, even though the hurts and pain from the past are still with us. We are able to “press on” and do what we can, even if they are small steps. Ecclesiastes 11 urges us not to sit and watch, but to get up, to weed, to sow, to water, and to hope.
It may be that today will be an opportunity to speak to someone about your pain… take a small step to make this happen.
What has helped me at times has been to use a “mind dump” or “brain dump”. In this simple technique, we put down on paper those things that are overwhelming us. We list the pain in our lives. We list the people we need to forgive (and then forgive them). We list the things that are stressing us out. Just by listing these things, we make a start to being less overwhelmed, and more confident and able to make a fresh start.
(For a 1-minute video on how to do a brain dump, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bpo41WGeqFs.)
I’m hitting the tennis courts again this Saturday for our next match – albeit less visually appealing, with ugly scabs on my face, but hopefully better aware of how to reach that drop shot successfully.
May I urge you today: don’t hold back from re-entering the adventure of daily life. While our comfort zones are useful, there are new interests to be explored, new adventures to be had, new challenges to tackle, new rivers to cross. Sometimes we have to “grow some skin” and become a bit tougher – better able to handle criticism, able to persevere, able to be less easily offended, and able to take a knock and remain standing. And we should know when to be thicker-skinned and when to be sensitive.
May you experience a fresh willingness to “put some skin in the game”: to reinvest energy, time and skill; to be willing to risk; to have another go…! And as you are able to do this yourself, put yourself in the “skin” of a young person in your sphere who you are able to help navigate pain and move forward.