I wish that my foresight was as accurate as my hindsight. I bet you’re the same way.
We have seasons in life that, as we head in to them, feel like seasons of punishment. They involve duty, training, re-education, and orders from on high. Then once that particular season is complete, we recognize the “punishment” for what it was: indispensable preparation for the next season.
Here are my Top Five:
- When I was thirteen and mired in a string of bad losses and deepening slump wanted to QUIT TENNIS … and my dad wouldn’t let me. I remember heavy tears after losing a match in San Antonio and thinking, “this is it.” Dad very quietly and confidently said, “No. When you get to be 16 & 17 & 18 you’ll beat these guys. You’ve gone too far to quit now.” So I went back to practice. Ironically, it was on those same San Antonio courts that I won my biggest matches ever … at 17 and 18.
2. When I was in college and had to write a SENIOR THESIS to graduate. Actually, it was a rite of passage for all of us at Princeton. Mine was about how the fiction of Flannery O’Connor was a biting rebuke of the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it went on for 122 pages (in the days before word processors). I spent a good chunk of time in the summer before my senior year working on it. At times it felt both punishing and like punishment. Now, there is nothing I would trade that early experience in how to read closely and write with precision.
3. When I worked at the U.S. Tennis Association AFTER college and my boss didn’t like my vocal pitch and so sent me to a vocal coach. There I was, 24 or so, and I spoke from my throat and not from my diaphragm. My boss didn’t like the pitch of my voice. I was a bit insulted. Ironically, that boss was a preacher’s kid and apparently knew a thing or two about what a voice should sound like. So he sent me to a vocal coach in our town who through a series of exercises moved the source of my speech from my Adam’s apple to my gut. A year later I was in seminary. I thought my boss was just picky; actually God used him to propel me into just the kind of preparation I needed for ministry. The voice isn’t Chuck Swindoll-esque or anything, but I can project.
4. When in 2000 I hurt my back, had to stop playing tennis altogether, and reluctantly went to the Y for fitness training. By the time I was nearing 40, I didn’t play tennis often, but I enjoyed playing every SO often. And I’d run a couple of miles most days. Then my back and my knee went out simultaneously. While both are healed now, one reason I don’t re-injure them is that I don’t play tennis either. So in 2000 Julie got me a membership to the Gold Hill Y for my birthday and, having never done any strength training, I reluctantly began light workouts. Now those 4-5 days a week there protect my sanity while also putting me in better shape than I ever was when I played tennis.
5. When as a young preacher my District Superintendent had me sign up for an 18 month preaching workshop with a former homiletics professor. I believe it was 1991 or 1992, and the late Lloyd Hunsucker was my DS in the Methodist Church. He either saw that I had some a) promise or b) problems or c) both as a preacher, and recommended me for a prolonged workshop with John Mason Stapleton. Stapleton had taught at Candler School of Theology and was by that time preaching at a church in Myrtle Beach, SC. My inner (sometimes outer) insecurities came out, and I decided it was because Hunscucker saw more problems than promise.
Anyway, the 18 month project — during which we’d gather for a couple of days at Lake Junaluska every six months — went quite well, I made some new friends and learned some new approaches, and I now know 25 years later what I was being prepared for: to lead my current cohort of 16 UMC preacher friends in Simplify The Message & Multiply The Impact.
All these times that felt like punishment were in fact preparation.
Can you look back and see the same pattern in your life?