Wimbledon Tennis: Two weeks of Pimms, strawberries, and patriotic fans cheering their country's tennis hopeful on. You see them hitting the life out of a ball and stalking the white lines. It can be two weeks of embarrassing losses and close-fought wins. Or, it can be two weeks of humble defeats and gracious victories. Is it possible to deal with and learn from both graceful losing and honourable winning?
Melanie Reid, a writer from The Times newspaper once wrote that she would never encourage a son or daughter to aspire to be a professional tennis player, citing the incredible loneliness, unrelenting sacrifice and unyielding scrutiny. When we listen to the hopes and dreams of young people they say that they want to be firefighters, doctors and pop stars.
Becoming the next Lleyton Hewitt or Nick Kyrgious is curiously absent from their minds. Why?
Discipline, hard work and dedication are key drivers to becoming a successful athlete. The schedules they keep – the strict adherence to training and diet means that there is no "night off". Whether you are in winter or summer, come rain or shine you must go and do your best. When even your best is not good enough, what can you do?
Athletes can teach us how to journey to triumph and disaster and to 'treat those imposters just the same'. Their response to everything that happens to them, good and bad; is that they played their best, but someone else was better than them on the day. Their desire is to improve for next time and to be the best that they can be. It seems to me that athletes have a lot to teach us in what it means to "run the race".
In Hebrews 12 v 1 Paul says 'let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us'. The Cambridge online dictionary defines perseverance as 'to try to do or continue doing something in a determined way, despite having problems.'
How we respond?
What we realise in life is that things do not always go our way. But how we respond in all of this is what matters. When it comes to tennis, some players treat each other with a respect and courtesy that is surprising. Novak Djokovic, a top tennis player showed unprecedented levels of sportsmanship against an opponent at Wimbledon this year. He later praised another player, saying that he was pleased to come through in straight sets 'against a player like him'. There is passion on court yet respect and admiration for players off court.
Gladiators of old fought for greatness and immortality. Is tennis the modern-day equivalent? The chance to have your name etched on a trophy and to be referred to by legends both present and past must incite a work ethic like nothing else. But perhaps, more pertinently we have the privilege, painful at times, of journeying with them, through winning and losing.
In seeing how people like that deal with failure, you feel like you can see how to get up when you do not feel like it. In seeing how someone deals with being on the losing side by staying in the moment and playing every point like it is their last, you feel like you can begin to walk through and weather your own storm.
Losing is never pleasant, but real greatness is defined as much in how you lose as in how you win. Anyone can win a few matches, but it takes someone special to lose honourably and gracefully. For me the measure of any man is not in how he is when he is found winning, but how he is when he is found losing.
There are countless examples in the Bible of men and women who were "on the losing side" and yet persevered; for instance prophets; giving an unpopular message to an unbelieving people. Or perhaps Joseph in prison, Job in sackcloth and ashes, following the total destruction of all that he had known. Mary giving all she had to wash the feet of Jesus. Or perhaps Ruth, giving up all she knew to follow God. They responded to the call on their lives and kept going, despite the odds and in spite of the way things looked.
They did not look at themselves or the situation, but rather they were faithful to God throughout. God's work of grace was at work in them. Someone explained to me once that grace is Gods Riches At Christ's Expense. The riches of God are all about blessing. But they are also surely about an ability or strength in weakness; a capacity, given to us by the Holy Spirit, to embrace the challenging, the overwhelming and the earth-shattering.
The same today
The same strength that permeated Jesus and gave him victory over death is that same strength, that same hope and that same grit that the Spirit of God gives us today.
Winning and losing can both be embraced, if you have the Spirit of God at work within you. It is him that gives us the strength to overcome and to be victorious, where we might not see that we can have victory. Is it such a bad thing for a parent to want a child, or indeed for a child to want to become like a famous tennis player? If they can develop the qualities and inner reserves of strength, passion and maturity that are so evident in the men and women's game, then I would be a proud parent.
With anything that comes our way as Christians, let us persevere with boldness, strength and courage. We may not play tennis on Centre Court at Wimbledon, but that does not mean that we cannot 'play' each day with conviction, courage and grace; knowing that win or lose, God's got it.
Rosie Robinson resides in Manchester where, in between feeding herself coffee and bagels works for an international custodian bank, called BNY Mellon. She attends a lively church called Audacious, enjoys reading, running and watching films and is currently on a trek with Jesus; discovering slowly but surely, all that life has to offer. And she has decided that she has the coolest big sister on the planet! (fellow young writer Amanda living in New Zealand).
Rosie Robinson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/rosie-robinson.html