It is October and while some are excited for the changing colors of leaves, there are hordes of baseball fans that are cheering their teams on in hopes of winning a pennant. Even the casual baseball observer pays a little more attention to the reporting of scores and may even turn on their television mid afternoon to catch a playoff game. I used to work with a guy who always left his office door open until the tenth month of the year read on the calendar. As September ended, his office door would close so the cracking of bats and the roar of the crowds would not draw attention to his obsession with baseball. (For the record he was kidding no one.)
October is the time of year when there are more conversations, in quantity and intensity, about the pitching on any given team. Fast balls, curve balls, change-ups and knuckle balls are the pitches that will dominate most discussions on wins and losses. For the non-baseball fans, pitching is such an important part of the game that records and stats are kept that track how often a player throws a certain kind of pitch and how effective it is. There is even a list of “The Hardest Pitches To Hit” and Adam Wainwright’s, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals from sixteen years ago, curveball still ranks second on that list.
Part of the pitch’s difficulty is that sufficient spin is put on the throw to make it veer from its expected path. Batters tend to commit in anticipation of where they think the ball is going to go, but with the curveball it becomes a much harder read. Hence the popularity of a baseball term being adopted and applied to all kinds of situations like, “when life throws you a curveball.”
The curveballs in life tend to be the things that shake us from our foundations and rock our core. For Christians we need to know that Satan delights in these opportunities because we are vulnerable to self-doubt, self-pity, anger, and a whole host of other things that are less than virtuous.
Given the difficulty that curveballs present players, one might wonder why pitchers don’t always throw this pitch. One word…practice. Baseball players practice and practice and practice some more so that they can handle whatever is thrown at them. Whether or not you are a baseball fan, this is a great axiom for all of us—practice, practice, practice.
The Collaborative’s blog posts often highlight the influence of the rhythms and rituals of our lives. They shape us whether we admit it or not. We have thoroughly discussed on multiple occasions that spending time in the Word, having an engaging prayer life, and participating in weekly worship are all important components of the life liturgies for a Chrisitian. At some level these acts are us practicing for whatever curveball comes our way…and if it hasn’t come your way, it will.
I can attest to the value of this personally. Just last week a client dropped a bomb on me from out of nowhere. This situation has all the usual elements of a crisis including hurt, heavy-heartedness, misunderstandings, doubt, etc. Unfortunately, this was not the first one of these I have encountered, but over the years I have learned how I naturally react to situations like these and how I should react. In this instance I have a great friend who was quick to remind me of what I know to be true and further challenged me to do a handful of things in the coming days. I cannot begin to tell you the difference these things have made, and while I am confident my situation is not going to end well humanly speaking I have an odd peace about it all which is only by the grace of God.
This got me thinking about how much I wished I had practiced these things in the past when difficulty hit. What do you do when life throws you a curveball? Are there things you have already practiced so when hardship comes you can ramp up these things? My friend who offered his sage advice works with people in crisis all the time and he too has been on the front row of crisis in his own life. Over the decades of friendship I have enjoyed with him and his family, rarely have I seen him shaken by what life has thrown at him, and I am convinced that is because I know of no one who has and continues to steep himself in the Word of God. This practice has made him know who he is and Whose he is.
You may already have your go to plan for the curveballs in your life, but if not here are some things (listed in no particular order) that I have been challenged to practice in the seasons of difficulty, and by God’s grace it has made all the difference.
HOW TO HIT A CURVEBALL
Shorten the rope: Stay tethered to our Heavenly Father and be more deliberate in practicing spiritual disciplines. Plead with God to draw near even if the “feeling” of His nearness seems far, far away.
Pray through Scripture: There are any number of passages that are particularly helpful to pray through like Ephesians 3 or Psalm 23 or maybe you have a favorite chapter. Try to do this daily.
Write your prayers: If this is not something you do routinely, I would encourage you to do it at least for a season. If you write out your prayers, it requires the brain to engage differently than if you are just verbalizing them to God. This kind of cranial exercise helps to settle our spirits and leads to greater clarity of thought.
Meditate on music: Pick a hymn or a meaningful Christian song and play it on repeat, so the words can penetrate the soul. My favorite right now is “It is Well with My Soul,” recorded by a group of Nashville singers during covid. Consider the lyrics and the history of when or out of what circumstances was the song written.
Exercise total honesty in prayer: Take to the Lord our fears, anger, distress, hurt, disappointment, etc. Give Him our desires and hopes for the situation. Petition for the extraordinary, the unimaginable.
Live in community: Let close friends know what is going on and ask them to pray. We are not meant to go it alone. We need to join with one another in prayer and sharing the load. However, we are unable to carry one another’s burdens if we don’t know what they are. This does not mean you need to tell everyone and in most cases that is not possible or prudent. Use wisdom in who you tell.
Seek wisdom: This can apply to multiple fronts depending upon how complex the situation is. Currently, I have reached out for support of personal counsel, legal counsel, and spiritual counsel because this is what the circumstances dictate. I do not say these things lightly because I know this can be extremely hard. Reaching out has been one of the things I have had to learn over the years because I am terrible at it.
Find humor: There is usually nothing funny about a crisis, but when possible laugh. At some point, there will be a place of levity and this will be a blessing that is good for the soul.
Do mental gymnastics: Remind ourselves of what is true. The Lord has us right where He wants us. The Lord keeps that which is His own (Ps. 121). Rejoice in the Lord always…Be anxious for nothing (Phil. 4:4-8). This is a critically important practice. When we have been hurt and our emotions are on edge we become prime targets of the evil one who desires to render ourselves paralyzed or at a minimum create doubt in ourselves, the truth, and what God is doing at the present moment. This is not a one time effort. Rather we need to do this throughout the day on multiple occasions even when we don’t see what there is to rejoice in or what God may be doing. Doing mental gymnastics will help us to see what is the next right thing and sometimes that all is all we can see.
Own what is yours: Sometimes in difficult times there is something we have done or not done that we should have. I am not talking about perfection here, but rather a logical omission or commission. When we have done something we need to own it and make apologies where necessary. However, we need to clearly define in our own minds and before the Lord where our responsibility begins and ends. DO NOT coop what is someone else’s responsibility. This is often hard to determine so do not hesitate to take it before the Lord and a friend who will speak truth to you.
It is important that I offer a word of caution about the above list. You must know that every crisis is different and will cover different periods of time. This is not a silver bullet to solve all of your issues. My current problem will run for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, but there could be implications for years to come. Other situations I have been involved in have spanned decades. The list above is not designed to be exhaustive, but rather to help us catch our breath and fall into the arms of our Heavenly Father, which is where He longs for us to reside. Yeah, thou I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me… (Psalm 23:4)
Crosland Stuart, of Crosland & Company, LLC, works with The Collaborative on marketing, recruiting, and content creation. Additionally, she also works in the areas of foundation consulting, communications, and is a literary agent.