The girls on my basketball team know very well that their coach is “allergic to complaints.” Last year, our first year together as a team, the girls would often complain of sore muscles or voice their disagreement with difficult drills, push-up competitions and the like. I responded — rather dramatically — by telling them that I have been diagnosed with a severe complaint allergy, so if they want their coach to stay in good health, they’d better maintain their comments to themselves.
This year the veterans on my team of 4th-6th grade girls know that if they complain I will only make the drill longer, increase the number of push-ups, or count slower as they do wall-sits. Recently during our weekly practice one of the girls who is prone to complaining opened her mouth to voice her opinion, and another girl hushed her, saying, “Shh. Coach is allergic to complaints.”
At the end of each practice I have the girls do a series of wind sprints on the school’s old asphalt basketball court. As they run, sometimes up to ten or twelve sprints total, I declare, “I’m testing your character. Let’s see who complains.” They pant and bend over between sprints, but they have finally arrived at the understanding that it is not worth complaining because I will only make it harder — Oh, I do remember the day when my own high school basketball coach yelled, “Run until I get tired!”
As the girls run, one sprint at a time, I say, “Don’t tell me it’s hard. I know this is difficult. Most people in life choose the easiest thing, the path of least resistance, but God’s way, as we are learning, is indeed difficult. Christ says that most people choose the wide, easy road, but the path that reaches His Kingdom is narrow and difficult, and it is the only path that leads to true joy, freedom, and eternal life. Choose the difficult path. Go!” And the girls do another sprint.
Frequently with my basketball girls, gifted and talented classroom students, my own children — really anyone who will listen — I read the following text from the Gospel of Matthew: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Recently I had each of my basketball players complete a written evaluation of their experiences on the team, what they have learned, how I can support them personally in this stage of their lives, what their view of God is and if they have the desire to know and follow Him. As I read each evaluation, some written with large letters in pink marker, others with small scribbles in pen, some in broken English, others in Spanish, I almost began weeping and rejoicing as I sat there alone on the empty court after practice, all of the girls having already been picked up by their family members, as literally every evaluation that I read revealed — in their own words — that each girl is truly interested in knowing God more and following Him, that they really are listening when we read Christ’s words each practice and that they are hungry for a deeper understanding. Two of the girls even explicitly mentioned how they want me to guide them so that they may enter through the “narrow, difficult gate” and accomplish hard things for God’s glory.
As you read this, I ask that you would sincerely pray for my basketball girls and for the way that God is using me as an instrument of truth in their lives. Ask that I may be given wisdom in guiding them and that as we study the Bible together before each basketball practice that it is not just me reading dead words from an ancient book, but words of life-giving Truth that touch their spirits. Pray that Christ may call each one of these precious girls into a life of humble service to Him, that they may joyfully enter through the narrow, difficult gate that leads to abundant, eternal life.