I haven’t played tennis since 1998. My team advanced to the playoffs in the fall of my senior year of high school. When we lost, I put my racket away and never really played again.
Years went by and I didn’t think about the sport very much. There was a part of me that always wanted to get back on the court, but children, work, or time constraints always got in the way. It’s easy to put my desires on the back burner of everyone else’s needs. Which, honestly, isn’t always a bad thing. I have been in a long season of raising babies to teenagers and putting some of my longings on hold was my way of loving them. The bad thing is that I lost touch with my desires completely.
I wrestle with my longings. Do my desires matter? How much space should they take up? Doesn’t love always mean dying to myself? Because I didn’t have good answers to all these questions, I put my longings to sleep. I didn’t pay much attention to them. But longings always tell the truth. They don’t tell me what to do, they tell me what I want. Longings left in isolation leave the heart lonely.
I had every excuse to not sign up for lessons or take a clinic. It took my thirteen year old asking to try tennis for me to reach out to a tennis coach that I know, coach Mercedes.
I dug through my old tennis bag on the top shelf of the garage. The strings on my racket were loose, the paint chipped, and the handle grip was worn down. But, when I held the racket it felt so familiar, like shaking hands with an old friend. I was nervous to play again. At one point in my life, I was actually good. I had the right form, an ace serve, a killer backhand, and a cute skirt. But, twenty-some years later, I might not be able to even rally.
I showed up as the fog floated up from the fenced in tennis courts at Los Posas park. I volleyed, swung, and struggled to find my footing. I moved slower than I did in 1998. My step had less zest, but my seasoned legs could still sprint from the backline to the net. I wasn’t good, but I was so happy.
Coach Mercedes says she experiences God on the tennis court. I’m not sure I can totally relate to that. Tennis is a sport. It is exercise and score keeping.
Throughout the book of Psalms the writers worship God through instruments, their voices, and even their lament. In Psalm 33, the psalmist worships God through a lyre (harp). Play the strings skillfully, he says. I think this is what Coach Mercedes means when she says God is on a tennis court. I think she’s talking about worship. And the more and more I get back on the court, I know what she means.
I can raise my racket like I am raising my hands in praise. I can lob a tennis ball over my opponent the same way my voice lifts to the cathedral ceilings. Everything I do is worship if I let it be.
I can slice potatoes for the soup as an act of worship.
I can call a friend who is struggling as an act of worship.
I can fold the laundry as an act of worship.
I can play tennis as an act of worship.
I can also minimize almost everything that I do. I can look at my revived love for tennis as silly or a waste of time. But I can also look at it as worship. When I understand that all I do is worship then the bounce of the ball off of the strings is a song. The perfect placement of a ball is engaging in a choir of praise. I don’t just play because it’s fun or good to move my body, although both are true. I play because God gave me a love for the game and as I play, I bring Him glory. When I play, I feel alive.
It’s like Ireneaus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
When we give God glory, we experience His love. We are surrounded by it. Our longings lead us to love.
What is more loving than tennis? Even when I lose, I get to call out, “love!” Every game, every match, every set starts with a the bounce of the ball and the words sung out — “Love all!”