Wednesday, July 6, 2011

God's a mean coach

In 7th grade, I signed up for track. I wasn't especially good at it, and I didn't like my coach because I thought she was mean, but looking back on it I'm glad she was.  She pushed me to jump hurdles when I was terrified of them, and I discovered because she pushed that I could.  I even got to a point where I kind of liked them.  I'm afraid of them again, but because of her I know if I pushed myself I could overcome it.

I quit track at the end of the year, and it all came down to my first and last track meet.  During the meet she scheduled me to run a mile. I lined up for the event, and started out okay.  By the final lap, though, my lungs were really hurting and my legs were aching and I was far behind the other girls.  There was no way I was going to win, so I didn't see any point in going on. Why push on through the pain if there's nothing to gain from it?
My mom was at that meet. So, I limped over to her, complaining about the pain, and she sympathized with me. She let me quit.

On Monday morning, that coach politely (politely in that she did not call me out by name) but firmly chewed me out.  She said she didn't care whether you won or not, she cared that you finished. She said only quitters leave in the middle of a race.  She was a mean coach. I knew she was talking about me and I didn't appreciate the criticism.  It hurt my pride and wounded my feelings.  I told myself she didn't understand and she wasn't there.  The truth is, she was right and I didn't like having it pointed out to me. So I quit track.

God is a mean coach, just like that mean coach in 7th grade.  He forces us to confront our fears. He demands that we jump hurdles we don't think we can jump.  He orders us to keep running even when we can't see the point, when we seem to be behind everyone else and all we can feel is the pain.  He insists that we not quit, that we not give up, that we keep going until the end.  We don't always like the mean coach, but His advice always makes us better if we are willing to humble ourselves enough to listen and follow it.

My mom is like most people.  They sympathize with our struggle, they give us permission to quit trying, they tell us we are right to give up and agree with us that since it's an impossible goal we shouldn't push ourselves to reach it.  Most people are "nice". They don't challenge us to grow. They don't encourage us to overcome the hurdles in our lives so we can move past them.  They don't tell us to stay in the race because the end is in sight and the pain we are going through will be worth it, that even if we don't end up with the recognition that comes from finishing first place we'll have the knowledge that we did it and the knowledge that we can do it to lift us up the next time.

We like these kind of people because they make us feel better about our sins.  They don't remind us that what we're doing isn't something we should be doing. We don't walk away from them feeling guilty for how we've treated someone else or some choice we've made in life. Unfortunately, these people aren't the people who are doing us any real favors.  They may mean well, as my mom did, but they aren't really helping us.

I have never forgotten my "mean" coach. I didn't understand her words then, and it's honestly taken me years to truly get what she was trying to tell me, but I'm grateful for her effort to set me straight. When times are hard, and I feel like giving up, I remember her. I thank God for her. I thank God for all the "mean" coaches God sent me along the way, the people who reminded me that my sins weren't impossible to overcome no matter how big they looked. I thank God for all the people He sent to encourage me to keep praying and keep believing when my hope for the future was so dim I could hardly going on to the next minute, let alone the next day.  Yes, I thank God for the "mean" coaches in my life. I am the better for their having been there, even if I didn't appreciate them at the time.

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