There was a startling mistake the first week of Wimbledon. The umpire lost track of the score. It wasn't challenged by the players; in fact, nobody noticed until it was too late to do anything. What was really impressive was that the person who lost the game didn't begrudge the match even though the extra point played was to her disadvantage. It was Venus Williams, who said simply: "I don't think one call makes a match."
Her grace was especially impressive in light of the fact this was the earliest she had been retired from a Grand Slam event.
The debilitating intensity of human life would be greatly loosened if a few more of us had that perspective. In Western culture it can seem as if everything matters all the time. Keeping track of everyone's mistakes not only spoils our disposition, but makes us lose perspective. Every unprofitable trade, every misspoken word in a relationship, every bad decision in a career, hangs heavy on thought. Keeping track of the disappointments is self-defeating; it makes us lose our way.
But everything does matter, doesn't it? Aren't we supposed to be giving our best, striving and succeeding, proving that we can move out of our box? Yes and no. What matters is the substance of life, not the tally of wins and losses.
The substance of life is goodness, and God is the omnipotent, ever- present source of all the good that matters in life. Because God is the origin of each of us, the constancy of God's love secures the good and gives us a base of identity bigger than the task at hand. Where the human mind reads disaster, loss, and ruin, God preserves our perspective so we can see the next step.
A water-skiing lesson this summer made the point for me. The friends who have been helping me over the years are probably still chuckling over the sight of my skis flying off as I would lose my balance in the first moments of being lifted out of the water. This year (after two quick falls) someone suggested that I practice keeping my form in the water while the boat pulled me slowly, helping me overcome the tension that was thwarting my effort. It taught me to relax, balancing in a crouched position. But even after long periods of trolling around the lake, I still couldn't commit to letting the boat pull me into standing position. Finally I agreed to quit to the relief of my friends, who were more than ready to return to shore.
In the scale of disappointments, this is tiny, but thinking about it afterward, I remembered some of the things I learned from my prayer in the water. The first thing was a life-motto I've adopted: Success in life is the glory of God expressed. This is based on American theologian Mary Baker Eddy's teachings. She wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" that God is Life, Truth, and Love.
When I was expressing qualities of Godlike persistence, joy in being outdoors, gratitude for my friends' generosity, and even the humility that enabled me to stop, there was substance to the effort.
I also heard a message that said, "God readies you for progress." This is a much gentler approach to endeavor than the willfulness that tells God what should be achieved and when. I don't know how many more summers it will take before I'm on top of the waves instead of plowing through them, but I'm eager to keep trying. Important, too, is the fact that this is the first time I didn't hurt myself trying.
In more significant arenas, think of the thousands of experiments Thomas Edison conducted before finding a light bulb that really worked. It has taken more than a few tries to resolve problems like debt reduction in developing countries, or to find workable political arrangements in Iraq and Gaza.
When things don't go the way we hoped, all is not lost. Even if the hope of success was on the outside edge of hope, God lovingly helps us sort through the mistakes and disappointments. The fear of failure yields to the fundamental joy of finding persistence anchored in the substance of endeavor.
Biblical Apostle Paul must have known this when he wrote: "My beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58).
That strength is God-given.