| IMAGINE MY athletic career, what there was of it, wasn't more successful because of one thing -- fear. That, and all I really had going for me was soft hands and the ability to take a fall without getting hurt.|
Heck, I'm still a bit scared of the ball, so why I willingly play third base in church league softball is a mystery to me. It's like a claustrophobe jumping into a crowded elevator. It just never came naturally to me to place my body in front of a five-ounce ball hurtling at me at high velocity; I was much better at tracking down balls than gloving a scorcher right to me.
The first time I saw a curveball, I about jumped out of my pants. I was 12 years old and playing in a summer tournament in Jackson, Mississippi.
A pitch came right for head, so I hit the dirt (it was a beautifully executed tumble). The ump called it a strike. Oh, I thought. That must be a curveball.
I was never the same hitter again.
There have been times when I've overcome my fears to get the job done, especially in my chosen profession. I'm naturally a very, very, very, very, very introverted person. Talking physically wears me out, much to my wife's chagrin. I abhor small talk. If the topic is something I find interesting, then I can yap with the best of them, but only if I'm in the mood.
So I have to overcome that fear daily. I still have to talk myself into making phone calls to coaches, even if it's a coach I've talked to a hundred times. The prospect of approaching someone I don't know or haven't met in person often gives me pause.
As a green reporter in college, I was tasked to write a story on the classic 1969 Ole Miss-Alabama football game, a 33-32 Crimson Tide victory that featured the exploits of Rebel quarterback Archie Manning. I had to interview Archie, a man of legendary stature in my household, a man who had one son (Peyton) already in the NFL and another (Eli) who was an Ole Miss freshman at the time.
I caught up with Archie at the Ole Miss practice field, and I made it through the interview without sounding too stupid (I've still got the tape somewhere, but I'm afraid to go back and listen). By facing that fear, though, I ended up with a pretty good story.
My job has helped me come out of my shell and work through a lot of my fears, but not all of them, of course. I still fear life in general, worrying every day how close death might be. It's the process of dying itself I'm scared of, not what awaits me afterward. And thinking of Heaven helps me put my fears into perspective. They're often quite silly fears, when I think about it.
Like if I'm going to get all my bills paid, or if my kids will make it through the day without getting bullied at school, or if I'll get all my work done. Legitimate concerns, sure, but anxiety is a non-productive emotion that I'm supposed to replace with trust in God.
In the movie The Haunting, Liam Neeson's character, a psychologist, wonders why humans aren't able to use fear to their advantage. Fear can be good -- it has survival value, and it can actually give us a sense of control. That is, it forces us to be problem-solvers, and self-reliance is a natural human trait. But this is also where we tend to disconnect ourselves from God, because it's very hard to stop fearing something and let Someone else handle the situation. If there's a nine-foot-tall giant ready to thrash me, it's easier for me to run or defend myself than to just do nothing and say, OK, God, you're up.
Trusting God with your fears is all about giving Him complete control of the situation. Ah, but that doesn't render us useless. When we trust Him with our fears, He will enable us to combat that fear. He provided David with five smooth stones, didn't he? (Four more stones than David actually needed.) I'm a naturally paranoid, anxious person, on the field or on the job.
So I must entrust my fears to God and not let them keep me from doing my best. I know God will be with me; I've just got to learn not to always hit the dirt.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
More columns by Brad Locke