“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Jimmy Dugan aka Tom Hanks said that in “A League of Their Own”. It’s been one of my motivational mantras since my high school swimming days, but gosh, it applies to more than sports.
As I sit here with a sore throat and a toddler playfully talking in her crib, awake way earlier than she should be, I feel sorry for me. Matt is out of town and I’m peering at my day as a sick single parent unamused. But as a read my morning devotional built around Hebrews 12:11, I realize pruning days are critical.
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
I’m not sure if getting sick and parenting is “discipline”, but it certainly takes a particular discipline. And as I look back at most painful moments in my blessed life, I do see there were roses beyond the thorns that I wouldn’t have seen bloom if not for the season of pruning (analogy stolen from Ruth Simons).
As I watch my mom tenaciously battle cancer, I see her sincere appreciation for her good days, because they are radiant in the comparison to the multitude of days blanketed in heavy fatigue.
As I mother my daughter, I find myself bothered and frustrated by her behavior some days only to see her sweetness magnified the next.
Sport is the perfect place to see pruning at work. I trained hard in college, probably too hard…I worked my muscles to failure having faith that the full body breakdown would allow my body to grow into a more powerful swimmer by season’s end. But it’s easier to see pruning played out in sport because you’re voluntarily putting yourself in suffering’s path. You know what set lies ahead…and you’re positive it’s going to hurt.
Life’s pruning isn’t predictable. That’s why it’s incredibly difficult in the heart of a struggle to believe “everything works together for good.” There have been plenty of time’s I’ve reminded myself of Romans 8:28 only to get upset by it. How could any of this be for good, God?
My husband Matt has had a magnificent swimming career. He made the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams so when the 2016 Olympic Trials rolled around, we had an inkling he’d qualify again. Not to undermine what it takes to make the US Olympic team every four years– it’s ridiculously hard. We live in the fastest country in the nation and you must be one of the top two in the country (which often means the world) to qualify in Matt’s primary event.
Accelerating the story, Matt took third at the 2016 Trials. He was stunned because he hadn’t emotionally prepared for not qualifying for the team. But the way he handled that disappointment became a defining moment in who he is now. I watched him gracefully find words in interviews, knowing his gentle stoic eyes were fighting to dam up his tear ducts.
Matt would have never asked for a disappointment like that. Surely the lessons he had to learn and grow could be learned another way. But how? Some of the most successful athletes seem to be those who have the hardest time handling life’s adversities. Many say sport is the greatest teacher, but what if you rarely fail in your sport? Because the top-tier athletes grow very accustomed to success. Many of the greatest coaches are those who had – by the world’s standards – unsuccessful careers as players. But geez, they learned a lot through their athletic disappointments and are a treasure trove of wisdom because of them.
I never made an Olympic team. There was a time when that statement would have torn me to pieces, because that was the one thing I wanted so badly from my thousands of hours invested in the pool. But six years after my last Olympic Trials, I don’t feel slighted. That experience of not achieving what I thought would epitomize success in my sport doesn’t make me feel like a disappointment. It was a heartbreak. It ached for a while. But eventually, I realized it wasn’t what I needed to be happy.
Swimming gave me life-long friends. Swimming gave me a husband worth more than every Olympic medal ever, melted into one. Swimming gave me a true addiction to exercise, which I’m usually grateful for. Swimming taught me how valuable pruning was…even when it seemed untimely.
So many roses beyond the thorns in this life! May we strive to grow through the sharp moments and reach toward the beautiful blossoms ahead.