Authored by Marie Story
A good friend of mine decided to take up tennis. She bought all the gear, scheduled her first lesson, and headed off to the tennis courts.
When she got there, though, she was immediately aware that there were other people around. There were kids in the playground, people walking their dogs, and a group of others watching a baseball game nearby. Although none of them were watching her, having people around her made her extremely self-conscious.
Her lesson started, but she could hardly hit the ball for nervousness. She kept looking around, checking to see if anyone was watching. She felt silly and clumsy—and stupid for even trying to play.
Finally, the instructor sat her down to chat. “You know,” he said, “no one ever succeeds at anything unless they’re willing to risk looking silly at first.”
He explained that until she could quit thinking about herself and how she looked on the court—basically, until she was willing to look silly—she’d never make any progress with learning to play.
As my friend told me this story, it got me thinking about how often many of us do the same thing—and not just in sports.
Have you ever avoided going to a party because you don’t dance well, so you didn’t want to look silly? Have you ever opted out of playing a sport or game because you’d never played it before, and you didn’t want to look goofy trying it out for the first time? Have you ever avoided answering a question in class because you weren’t sure if your answer was right, and you didn’t want to look dumb?
I know I have.
I lived in Mexico for nearly eight years, but never achieved more than beginner-level Spanish. My sister, on the other hand, was able to speak fluently after just a few short years. What made the difference? Was it superior intelligence? A higher I.Q.? A greater aptitude for languages? More hours spent studying? Sure, perhaps those were contributing factors. But the absolute biggest reason was a whole lot simpler. She was just willing to try.
When I hung back because I wasn’t sure how to say something, she stepped up and tried. When there was an opportunity to hang out with people who only spoke Spanish, I’d do everything I could to squirm out of it. My sister, on the other hand, jumped at the chance to practice.
Did she speak fluently from the get-go? Nope. She made a lot of mistakes and looked really silly sometimes. In fact, I even teased her about things she said wrong, but she didn’t let that stop her. She’d figure out what she had said wrong, find out how to say it correctly, and then she’d try again.
How many fun things might we be missing out on simply because we’re afraid to fail—afraid of looking goofy? More importantly, what big plans might God have for us that we’re in danger of missing out on because we’re afraid of failing—so we never even try?
You might not see yourself doing great things, so maybe you’re trying to excuse yourself from taking the first step in certain directions. Maybe you figure it’s okay for you to avoid certain things because it doesn’t seem like a big deal now for you to skip out on it. Remember, though, not one historical hero started off as a hero. Each one had to risk looking totally silly in order to accomplish something great.
Look at Joshua and the children of Israel taking on the city of Jericho.1 The Israelites had a strong army; they had defeated plenty of other cities. But instead of fighting, God was telling them to walk around the city. You can imagine what they were thinking by the third or fourth day: “Okay, we’ve been walking for a few days now and nothing’s happening. Jericho’s army is laughing at us. We must look totally stupid.”
But did they quit? No! And because they were willing to look silly, the walls fell down, and the city was conquered.
Look at David going to face Goliath.2 He was certainly the least likely candidate around. I mean, he wasn’t even a soldier! He had no weapons training, no battle skills, no giant-fighting history. On top of that, he was just a scrawny teen.
But did he let any of that stop him? Nope. Did he stop when people laughed at him for offering? Did he stop when Goliath laughed at him? Nope and nope. He figured he was the one for the job, and he didn’t let anything get in the way of his destiny. He stepped up, looked goofy, and slung that giant dead.
Look at John Grisham, a best-selling American author. His first novel, A Time to Kill, was initially a flop. The book was rejected by 16 agents and a dozen publishing companies. Finally a small company printed a mere 5,000 copies, and Grisham purchased 1,000 of those copies to sell personally. He did his own little book tour, promoting his book in his hometown library, then in various libraries across the state. And it took a good few months before he sold off all those books. I wonder if he felt nervous or maybe even silly trying to sell a book that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I wonder if he ever got hit with thinking “I should just call it quits on my writing career.” During this time, however, Grisham didn’t give up on writing and worked on a second novel, The Firm, which became an instant success. His determination paid off, even if initially he may have felt foolish or looked foolish to others.3
The Bible tells us that we can do “all things through Christ, Who gives us strength.”4 It doesn’t say “all things perfectly, without mistakes,” or “all things easily, without looking silly.” If that were the case, we wouldn’t need Him to give us strength. We’d be able to breeze right through effortlessly.
It takes strength to risk looking foolish. It takes strength to fail and then to keep trying. It takes strength to try something that seems crazy or unrealistic. But that’s the strength that God has promised to give us.
Is there something you’ve been avoiding because you’re scared of failing? Are you running away from some challenge in your life because you don’t want to look dumb if you mess up? If you are, stop! Turn around. Face that challenge, dare to look goofy, and win!
1 Joshua 6:1-27.
2 1 Samuel 17.
3 “John Grisham marks 20th anniversary of A Time to Kill,” by Dennis Moore, USA Today.
4 Philippians 4:13.
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2011 by The Family International