Jun 012021 2 Responses

Can You Hit a Curveball?

After winning three world championships, Michael Jordan shocked the world by announcing his retirement from basketball in order to pursue a career in baseball. Having grown up loving the game, a young Michael assumed baseball would be his future. Yet as his basketball abilities excelled in high school, he gave up on the game of his youth. Feeling as though he had proved everything he could in basketball, he re-engaged his youthful passion and gave the sport a go.

To outsiders, it was a sideshow, but to baseball insiders, they quickly saw the possibility of a career for Jordan. In his first few weeks in minor league baseball, he showed potential. But then a weakness was exposed–Michael couldn’t hit a curveball. Once teams identified his weakness, all Michael got at the plate were curveballs. His batting average slumped and within a year he was back to basketball, winning three more championships.

Some see Michael Jordan’s pursuit of baseball as a joke. Others believe that with enough reps he would have made the major leagues. But one thing is certain: until he learned to hit a curveball, his career was stuck.

A Prerequisite for a Happy Life

Life is a lot like baseball. Just like you can’t get into the major leagues without being able to hit a curveball, you can’t have a happy life until you develop the ability to hit a curveball. (See: You Won’t Change Until…)

Curveballs are a guarantee of life. Everyone faces unexpected turns in life which they neither desire nor control–a bad diagnosis, job layoff, being passed over for a promotion, sudden death of a loved one, an unforeseen end to a relationship. There is no end to the list of things that can happen in our lives that will disappoint us, cause us to question what is next, and require us to make a new game plan for life.

Yet unless you and I can navigate the unexpected, we have very little chance of having a happy, meaningful life.

A Common Problem

As a pastor, one pattern I see is that many people can navigate life as long as it is going according to their plan. When the job is easily attained, the spouse is found, the right number of kids come along, and everything generally goes as they expect, happiness, faithfulness, and contentment generally follow. Yet the moment something unexpected happens, disillusionment is born. Doubts of faith arise. Questions about fairness dominate. Relationships begin to suffer. And life satisfaction tanks.

Obviously the hardships of life cause difficulty. No one should expect to breeze through grief, sorrow, and suffering without some struggle. However, some people have the ability to navigate the unexpected in life while others never learn how. It’s the former, not the latter, who experience a happier and more meaningful life.

Simply put: in life, we have to learn to hit the curveball.

How To Navigate the Unexpected

I’m the last person you want to teach you to hit a curveball in baseball. The curveball is the reason I quickly stopped playing and went into coaching as a kid. Yet when it comes to hitting the curveballs in life, I have a higher success rate.

Here are four skills you need to hit the curveballs of life:

1. Identification. A pitcher has different pitches. To hit a curveball, a batter has to first distinguish the pitch from the other pitches. He does so by seeing the spin of the seams. In the same way, we have to identify when something has gone a way we didn’t hope or expect. This calls us out of denial and into action. Be willing to admit heartache, grief, or loss is the first step to dealing with it. (For more, see my book Fearless Families. Far too often, fear tempts us to ignore our hurts, but in so doing, those hurts just do more damage.)

2. Acceptance. Imagine seeing a curveball but still trying to pretend like it’s a fastball. That would never work. We must accept that life will not always go as we wish. When it does, we can deny it, fight against it, or do something about it. Only the latter is a real option. Too often, we get so stuck trying to undo the circumstance that has happened that we fail to start responding to what has actually taken place. Once the unexpected happens, admit it, accept it, and start dealing with it.

3. Patience. One thing about a curveball–it comes a bit slower than a fastball and a batter must wait until it begins to break in order to hit it. This requires patience. We often struggle to deal with the changes of life because of impatience. We attempt to hurry through grief, rush through the time between relationships, and speed up in order to get to the good parts of life. Yet impatience never works. We can’t rush our way to wisdom, love, or beauty. Whenever we hurry, we end up complicating things.

4. Consistency. After a batter identifies, accepts, and shows patience, he still has to hit the ball. This requires all the same form and technique he’s spent years developing in order to hit a baseball. So it is with life. We still have to do the things we know we need to do in order to navigate the unexpected. Sadly, people often abandon what they know when life throws them a curveball. They know they need spiritual disciples to maintain a vibrant life, but something happens and they stop going to church or praying or meeting with others. We know our relationships require time for nourishment, yet couples get out of the habit of a date night or regular conversation. In the tough times of life, I often encourage people to “consistently do what you know to be right.” I know that if they do those things, the actions will pay off in the end.

Can You Hit a Curve Ball?

How good are you at hitting a curveball? This is one skill that we should continually be improving on because life is certain to consistently throw them to us. It’s also a skill that we want to pass onto our kids at an early age. They need to recognize that life will often not go as we expect. When the unexpected comes our way, it’s our chance to trust God, learn some new skills, and create a life that is different than we expected but no less meaningful or satisfying.

If you look at your life and realize you struggle with this skill, get some help. Call a counselor and learn a few skills that might better assist you in navigating the uncertainties of life. (See: Change Your Marriage Today)

Unless you have the ability to fall back on your Hall of Fame basketball career, you better learn how to hit a curveball.


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