Bravery in Beginnings

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“Not knowing something already doesn’t make you bad or dumb; it doesn’t mean you failed. Not knowing something doesn’t mean you’re falling behind or fundamentally flawed. It just means there’s more to learn.” – Shauna Niequist

It’s just after 6:00AM when I park my car. To my left, I see a group of men playing pickleball. I can hear the radio in the background as the wiffle ball makes contact with their paddles. I listen as they talk about their vacation plans, banter, and curse at missed shots.

I walk to the cage to the right of my middle-aged friends and drop my bag in the far court. I grab my racket and a sleeve of tennis balls and begin volleying against the wall. I’m not good. I’ve lobbed shots over the 10-foot fence on more than one occasion and had to climb to get my ball out from behind the back board. It’s a bit of a mess. When I go home with three florescent green balls, I consider it an accomplishment. Even if they’re not the ones I came with.

Sometimes we shame ourselves for the things we can’t do well, but maybe being bad is a part of the process. It’s like making art or starting a new job or having our first child. There’s so much we don’t know, and it’s daunting, discouraging even, when it feels like everyone else around us knows what they’re doing. Not knowing something doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us, and it doesn’t mean we’re dumb. It just means we haven’t learned that yet. Perhaps feelings of inadequacy and doubt are just a part of the territory.

We often welcome new beginnings, especially if it’s something we’ve hoped for, even prayed for, but being a beginner? No thank you.

There’s a lot at stake. Mostly our ego because of the number of mistakes we’re likely to make, but there’s also a lot to gain too. We are more impressionable, vulnerable, and eager than our seasoned counterparts. We’re trying hard to get it right. To make an impression. To prove ourselves. We’re novices. And sometimes that seems like an insult, but maybe it’s a gracious reminder that we’re doing just as well as anyone could in our position.

The thing I like about playing tennis is that it teaches me to stop striving, comparing, or buying into the belief that I have to earn my way in this world. That I have to be “good” in order to be here. There is nothing that could speed up the process to make me a better tennis player, and there will always be someone better out there than me. But in this moment, I’m doing all I can with the skills I have, and maybe that in itself is enough.

Not too long ago I met a friend for dinner, and we walked awhile downtown before settling at the restaurant. As we travelled the sidewalks, we came across a chalkboard standing outside a storefront with big white lettering that said, “Be brave enough to suck at something new.” Now, I may not have used quite the same words, but something about this sign struck me enough to take a picture. It may seem silly, but maybe there’s some truth to it. It takes bravery to try something new.

There are times newness is forced, like an unforeseen pandemic, and there are others that we choose. A new friendship, a new job, a new house. It could be as simple as picking up a hobby, like painting or yoga or learning another language.

In either case, we simply can’t know the outcome. It can feel like we’re walking around in the dark. We long for something stable, something certain. We long for reassurance that we made the right decision, or at the very least that our decision won’t turn out to be an utter disaster. But even if we’re afraid, even if we can’t see the whole picture, even if it doesn’t go the way we’d hoped, we can know that we don’t have to walk through the fog alone. And maybe that’s what makes us brave. Bravery doesn’t mean we’re fearless. Sometimes bravery means showing up, even if we’re accompanied by fear.

So, as we travel uncharted waters, whether it be a cross country move, a diagnosis, a child leaving for college, a new relationship, or a new job, may we be reminded that Christ walks with us. We’re not alone on the journey. Christ was every bit human, and he sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us. To direct us, correct us, comfort us, and help us. The Spirit of God won’t shame us into new ways of living but speak truth into the dark places of our lives. He will father us, and mother us, and love us through our new beginnings. Our clumsy missteps, our anxious nights, and our eager attempts. He’ll love us through the learning curve and settle the waves that rise underneath our feet. May we have the humility to rely on Him, the eyes to see how He is already working, and the patience not to rush growth.

It’s been a couple months now since I’ve been playing tennis. I’m still not good, but I’m better than when I started and a little less critical too.

So may you find the courage to start something new. And when you mess up, would you treat yourself as you would a friend, with the same kindness and compassion and tenderness. May you allow for feelings of fear and inadequacy to surge and settle and learn to laugh at your mistakes. May you rise to meet challenges and ask for help when you need it. May you give yourself permission to be a beginner. In life, in work, in faith.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

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