The familiar pop and whack of tennis balls hitting the strings of a racquet filled the air, accompanied by the high-pitched squeak of tennis shoes abruptly starting and stopping on the asphalt tennis court. My daughter, sweating profusely and after missing the last eight shots in a row, put her hands on her knees to catch her breath.
The tennis pro approached the net with his racquet in hand, and my daughter asked, clearly exasperated, “What am I doing wrong?”
He took another step closer and asked, “How many times have you hit a forehand?”
“Thousands,” she replied. “Maybe millions.”
“Exactly,” the pro said. “You know how to hit a forehand. Your body knows how to do this. But every time you see the ball coming, you fill your mind with dozens of details about what you need to do to hit the perfect shot,” he instructed. “All you need to do is relax. Stop over-thinking it. Stop trying so hard. Just allow muscle memory to take over. You ready?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’ll try again,” she said doubtfully.
“Remember, relax. Don’t think. Just swing at the ball.”
And then, naturally, she hit dozens of perfectly placed, beautiful shots in succession, until they ran out of tennis balls in the basket.
I think of this tennis lesson often, partly because it reflects what I need to learn in my own tennis game, but also because it relates to my life generally. I am a classic over-thinker. A recovering perfectionist. A member of the “trying so hard it’s to my own detriment” club.
Just like a tennis ball, I see Christmas coming. This year, my family is recovering from illness, and work for myself and my husband has ramped up exponentially. Just like my daughter preparing to hit the approaching ball, my mind is filled daily with dozens of things I need to do — work tasks and “mom” tasks and tasks to accomplish my family’s perfect holiday.
But what if I just relaxed? What if I stopped striving and trying so hard? What if I allowed my body’s spiritual muscle memory to take over? Because the truth is, I already know what to do to have the best Christmas ever. We all know. God created us with this very thing in mind:
You see, all of creation groans to praise God in Heaven. We were created to worship Him. And that’s what Christmas is all about: worshiping the newborn King. Kneeling before the baby Messiah. Singing “Glory” and “Hallelujah” to honor the Savior of the world. We don’t need three different cholesterol-laden casseroles, or a tree bursting with presents, or a sparkly new party dress. We need to do what we instinctively know how to do already: worship Jesus.
Maybe this year, we will all rely a little more on our spiritual muscle memory, and less on our worldly plans. Maybe this year, we will assuage our aching hearts with what we truly long for: time spent worshipping the baby in the manger.