Last weekend, our family of four went bowling. Our kids had never been (yes, they’re sheltered). It had been a long time since I had gone, too, like twenty years long. Although I expected to be rusty, I’d only need a few warm-up throws.
Things didn’t start out well. I couldn’t find the right ball. My two kids and my hubby had each picked a ball and were waiting for me, but I was still in the back . . . looking. This wasn’t a color problem. This was a no-upper-body-strength problem. Many of the balls were too heavy for this weakling. All of the light balls had very tiny finger holes, as if they expected a house-elf to drop by to bowl a few games. My first frame was played with an eleven pounder—gutter balls galore. After searching some more, I found an eight pound ball. That seemed better, better as in my–arm-can-support-this-ball-without-it-killing-me-tomorrow.
After a second scoreless frame, I was worried, but tried desperately to hide it. I’m a very competitive person. If I’m not doing well when we’re playing (during any activity, board game, sporting event, Wii game), then I’m not having fun. This sets a lousy example for my kids. This time, I was determined to have fun even if I lost, darn it. I was being a Good Example and building character. (Nobody told me I’d still be building character as an adult; I don’t like it any better now than I did when I was young.)
By the fourth frame, everyone had scored except me. I kept a smile firmly planted on my face, even while throwing gutter ball after gutter ball. The kids offered hugs. My husband offered advice. His tips worked in the second throw of the fourth frame. I finally scored, by knocking over one pin. Everyone cheered, like I had bowled a strike.
So, I had all the kinks worked out, right? Um, no, not even a little. I didn’t score again until the eighth frame and finished the game with a stellar score of 53. (And in case you were wondering, both my ten-year-old and sixteen-year-old newbie kids beat me).
While we were playing, I mentally reviewed what I needed to do and what a good approach looked like, but I couldn’t make my body do it. The hand-eye coordination was missing (as were many other things). So, I simplified. I gave up on an approach and concentrated on throwing the ball in a straight line. My kids were having fun, so I tried not to let losing bother me. It wasn’t too hard to do. Both of them picked up the technique pretty well. And by the time the game was halfway through, I settled into a lovely little bubble of defeated helplessness.
While reflecting on the experience, I realized this was a lot like Life. We know what we want it to look like. Most of us make grand plans for it, especially when we’re young and starting out. Some of us even plan for contingencies with a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C . . . But then things go wrong. Whether we planned well or not, we’re left with unexpected difficulties. Sickness, divorce, debt, and other troubles—gutter balls, if you will. We scramble to make the outside look good. We smile and say we’re fine while things fall apart. Defeated helplessness and worry sets in. Maybe we should simplify. Start praying. Enjoy the things that are going well. Admit the troubles, rather than hide them. Listen to the advice from the people who love you. Take the offered hugs. Pray some more. Then pray with others. It’s surprising the number of people willing to help, if we only become transparent.
This transparency is hard. It makes you feel vulnerable, especially if you’ve spent a long time trying to make things look good. But do you really want to spend your energy trying to hide the gutter balls? Or do you want to work with others and let others love you, so you can finally bowl a strike?