Last Saturday, a group of us went on a mysterious outing. All the planners would say is that we had to dress casual, wear all-white, and make sure we wore comfortable shoes – preferably sneakers. The four of us met at 9:00am (well, almost 9am – I was late! 😳 ).
When we arrived at our destination, a small, unassuming sign by the entrance announced “National Croquet Center.” A long driveway led us to a clubhouse built in the style and charm of old Florida.
We spent the morning with our instructor, Monty, who patiently explained the history and rudiments of the game. And we had a ball! However the more Monty spoke, the more I was impressed with applications far beyond the game of Croquet.
One of his first words of advice was to “Never say ‘I can’t.'” When one of us faced a difficult shot, the words, “I can’t do this,” often escaped our lips. And Monty was quick to admonish us that if we say we can’t, then we have effectively denied ourselves even the chance of succeeding.
As a Christian, I have an even better reason to avoid saying “I can’t.” Although there are many things I’ve been called to do beyond what I believe are my abilities, I have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to enable me to succeed in what He wants me to accomplish. Maybe I can’t…but He can through me!
Another bit of advice from our instructor was to follow-through on each swing of the mallet to gain the distance we needed for the shot. Life is like that, isn’t it? We begin a task, then become distracted or discouraged, and we don’t finish what we start. How many unfinished craft projects are hidden in the recesses of my closet? How many partial manuscripts are sitting inside documents in my computer? The Bible reminds us “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Hebrews 12:1).
Monty also cautioned us to “Be aware of the danger ball.“ The danger ball belonged to the next person in turn. Even if I set up a perfect shot, if I wasn’t careful, the danger ball could knock me out of position.
I’ve been hit by some danger balls in life. It happens when I become complacent, or when I allow unrealistic expectations of people or circumstances to cloud my judgment. The apostle Peter reminds us to “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). Even Jesus told His followers to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Being aware of the danger ball leads me to Monty’s next piece of advice, “Don’t block your partner.” We played in teams, and in addition to being aware of who followed us from the opposing team, we needed to be aware of our partner’s position. It didn’t benefit my team if I focused only on myself. Many of the times we scored a wicket were because one team member made sure her shot did not block her partner.
What would happen in our relationships if we heeded this advice? More to the point, what would happen in my marriage if I heeded this advice? The apostle Paul advised us to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4). I can at least start by not “blocking” my partner so that he is free to move as God leads!
Closely related to the last bit of advice is: “Don’t trash the opposition; instead encourage your partner.” Croquet is a polite game. Instead of trash-talking between teams, we were exhorted to have a positive focus. Paul might have had something similar in mind when he wrote, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
Monty’s final counsel summarized our approach to the game: “Know your options.” Every turn provided options. Block your opposition? Knock your opponent out of position? Set up a shot for the next turn? Go for the wicket? Each option contained a certain amount of risk and offered a particular reward. The question became one of balancing the risk against the reward. And I quickly learned that the first option I so confidently selected wasn’t always the best choice!
I need to know my options in life, too. What choices do I have? What is the risk and the reward of each one? But it’s not enough to think of short-term risk and reward. As a Christian, I must keep an eternal perspective. Sure, some things will provide enjoyment for now, but what are the long-term consequences of my actions? Paul wrote to the early church in Corinth, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17-18).
Our morning lesson culminated in a delightful lunch on the veranda, overlooking the croquet courts. Did I have fun? Absolutely! But I also learned something about myself and life. Now if I can only remember to apply those lessons!