Several years ago, after a 25-year hiatus from the activity, I signed up to play tennis. My previous experience with the sport had been when I was 12, but then, not knowing how to keep score, my girlfriend Chris and I simply would count how many times we hit the ball. (Not to boast, but our record was 16 volleys.)
When I took the sport up again -- this time in a competitive league in Texas -- I spent hours honing my skills and ended up at the "B" level of amateur tennis. I gave up the activity when we moved back to Fort Scott in the early 90's but have recently hit the courts again. I was re-introduced to it in Mexico when I was asked to play with a group there, and it quickly became apparent they were much more dedicated than I. They took lessons, read tennis tips on the Internet, watched it on television and discussed which brand of tennis ball worked better in humidity. Serious stuff. They even had the outfits to prove it. I told Dave that I needed much more practice. And I needed a tennis skirt.
Dave and I have continued to play as often as our schedules allow, but sometimes I get frustrated that I have lost so many of the skills I developed in Texas when I played regularly. Far too many shots either hit the net or fly out of bounds.
My backhand is weak, so I do everything to avoid using it, and I too often misread my opponent's racket. Today I actually stepped on my own foot when returning a volley from my husband. I'm lucky I'm alive.
The truth is my body does not respond like it did 30 years ago, and even though I lose far more than I win, I find myself looking forward to our next match, as it affords me opportunities to learn and progress. That's actually how I've approached most areas of my life.
After all, I am a better wife, mother, speaker and teacher than I started out to be, and even though I know there are no guarantees, hopefully the same will be said of my tennis game. There is, however, one area that's languishing. It's the one that should be at the top of my "need to improve" list but somehow hasn't become enough of a priority: my prayer life.
Like my tennis game, it too takes discipline, commitment and practice, yet I sometimes act as if it will become perfected with little work on my part. Scripture disagrees.
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you," (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
I will not become a better tennis player just "thinking" about playing or, worse yet, ignoring it all together. It is a necessity that I practice and not give up, just like it is if I'm going to improve my relationship with my Father. Yet sometimes I forget to pray, and when I do, my words are impatient and hollow. The sad thing is that compared to tennis, prayer takes little effort, requires no specific location, needs no partner or special outfit and gets guaranteed results. So what's my excuse?