I was thinking last night about an interesting line I heard recently from the movie, “The Legend of Bagger Vance”. “Everybody has an authentic swing.” The line relates to golf but also to life, as is obvious in the way the movie plays, and I’m trying to explore the latter. I’m not a golfer, I’m a footballer, so it’s easier for me to think and talk in those terms, although I do know enough about golf to understand what Bagger Vance is saying. Football to some people is 22 men chasing a ball. Anyone who understands it though understands that it’s much more. A football team at its best is the perfect unity of individuality and teamwork. Life is really quite similar. In a sense, life like football is less about winning or losing and more about doing what you’re here to do…no more and no less. And if you really care to make some impact on the human experience on earth, to better the world in some way, as a football player looks to better his team, the best thing you can do is spend your time doing what you’re made to do. That’s the tricky part; some people never figure it out.
How do you know you’re made to do something, what does it feel like, does it feel like anything? I’m going to be brave and say finding what you’re made to do does not involve a search for where your skills lie. Well it does, but it does not hinge on that.
There’s a great apologist today, whose name is Ravi Zacharias. When this man speaks of things that are on the surface intellectual, somehow they hit much deeper than that. There’s a sense that you get even having never met the man, just reading his words that there’s a touch of God in what he says and the way he says it. He tells a story of his failures in life. One such failure was in getting into the Indian military. He’s East Indian, and as a young man, looking for himself he applied to a particular section of the Indian military. A lot of people don’t know this but India’s military is one of the best-trained and most effective militaries in the world. He went through all the tests, and came third. Third out of hundreds. The final test was with a psychologist, who bluntly said to him, “I’m not going to recommend you”. Shattered he asked why, and was told, “because, you aren’t wired to kill.”
Like I said, I play football. I’m a central midfielder, but sometimes find myself feeling like I should play on the wings. Speed is one of my strengths and I have a wicked cross. On paper at least, the wings should suit me much more. Yet somehow every time I volunteer or am forced to play on the wing, it doesn’t feel right somehow, it doesn’t jive with something deeper than just physical attributes. Likewise when I’ve played in attack. Something about my personality makes it so I’m most comfortable being the center of things, seeing the whole field, rather than playing with my back to it, running onto a forward-moving ball rather than holding up a ball and passing it back. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things can be learned. Given time, I could become a good striker or a good winger, but as I say I would never be as comfortable and truthfully I don’t think I’d ever be quite as good.
The point I’m trying to make is that who you are, is much more than what you do well, or where your abilities lie. The best doctors aren’t the best doctors because they have good memories or dexterous hands. These things help their cause of course but it’s something deeper, where somehow their trade lines up with something deep in their personality. Now I don’t know what it is because I’m not a doctor and have often asked myself why not, and my only answer is because I know somehow that I’m not wired for it. What does it feel like when you are? I’m not sure, but I think you’ll know it.
Now I’m not saying once you’re doing what you should be doing you’ll never have to venture out of that “comfort zone”. Of course you will, this is life after all and it doesn’t play by our rules. I even think there’s a lot to be learned from doing things we aren’t natural at, just as there’s a lot to be learned from spending time with people who are very different from us, and with whom conversation doesn’t flow easily. But I believe it’s a beautiful thing if you can find what you’re created to do. Is it important? Absolutely, the world always needs a touch of God, no matter in what form it comes and I think if you do what you’re made to that’s precisely what you bring, a touch of God, just as awe-inspiring and necessary as any great lake or any Grand Canyon. And then there’s the whole football team analogy. The best thing you can do for the whole is to play your part, and everyone, doesn’t matter who you are, has a part.
I’ve re-read this note, and don’t feel like it’s quite complete, so maybe I’ll keep writing till it is. In the movie “The March of the Penguins” there’s a scene that I’ve always wanted to capture in writing. The baby penguins are making their way towards the water, having grown up enough to be independent of their parents. Their parents have long since left. These penguins cross miles of snow and ice, and more snow and ice, all the while slipping and falling and bumping into each other. They are the clumsiest things on the planet and it’s really quite comical. Very little about their constitution lends itself to this journey, and they must have wondered a few times what these flaps on the sides of their bodies are for. Three things get me emotional here. The first is their lack of quit. The second is that they’re making their way towards something they’ve never even seen before. All they know is that something inside them tells them it’s there, and this instinct or whatever you want to call it, keeps driving them home. The third thing, hold your breath for this one…it’s when they get to water. They drive straight in, and these clumsy, waddling, slipping, sliding creatures become the most majestic things ever. They shoot through the water like torpedoes, doing all sorts of flips and turns in what can be best described as a dance of ecstasy at having found their place, having found home.
I think the penguins teach us something important. Don’t expect to be given this. Life will not just hand it over to you. There’s too much God aims to teach us through the trials we face, through the times when nothing seems like it’s going to work and really we’re pretty much lost. The lessons are different for everybody but necessary. You will have to fight for this, and there will be times when all you have is a sense, nothing more and at times a very frail one, telling you to go on, that there is an end worth fighting for to this journey. That freedom lies ahead.
This article was originally written as a Facebook note — it is one in a series of notes that has been compiled into a book called Fields of Grace. It is now available as an eBook at Amazon