I talked to a friend of ours earlier this week whose son is currently playing football for his middle school team. It's his first experience of playing full contact football, meaning that he is playing with full pads, helmet, etc. and that this year there will be real hitting and tackling. After his first few practices, our friend's son reported that he really loved being on the team and that he really loved playing football, but that he just wasn't sure football was for him. When asked why, he responded, “I just don't like the contact--the hitting and tackling. If there was a way I could play football without those things, I would keep playing for sure.” I laughed when I heard this, because it reminded me of statements I sometimes hear from adults, my self included--not about playing football, but about other aspects of life.
“I wish our relationship could be stronger, but I prefer to avoid addressing the hard issues that are dividing us.”
“I would like to feel more secure about retirement, but I'm not much of a saver, and I hate budgets.”
“I wish I had a stronger spiritual life, but I just don't have the time or the discipline to commit much time or effort to that right now.”
“I like being a leader, but I hate making tough decisions. I would prefer not to have to deal with conflict either.”
“I want to get in shape, but I just wish I didn't have to work at it so hard. I really don't like to watch what I eat and I hate exercising.”
Football, like life itself, is a full contact sport. We get bumped and bruised and knocked around at times. Sometimes we get hit so hard that we get the wind knocked out of us. If you are going to play well, you need to be all in. And if you are going to play football, you will have to learn how to deal with the hard hits. If you are going to have meaningful relationships, you have to learn how to have hard conversations. If you are going to be a leader, you have to learn how to make tough decisions and manage conflict. If you are going to get in shape, either physically or spiritually or financially, you have to develop and commit to some regular disciplines and habits and it won't be easy.
All of the things that I have mentioned in this column, including football, are things that a person can get better at with practice. There are skills that can be learned. There are people who can inspire us, guide us, and teach us. In the end though, it is we who have to decide if we really want to play--if we really want to be all in. If we do, and if we are willing to absorb some bumps and bruises in the process, as well as get back up when the wind has been knocked out of us, we will soon see positive growth in ourselves. We will see growth we may not have even dreamed was possible.