The law reveals our need, and we all need a box full of supportive faces.



T he U.S. Open Tennis Championships conclude this weekend in Flushing Meadows, New York—my second favorite grand slam. I have played tennis my entire life, and although this explains why I watch the Grand Slams or (ahem) hours of YouTube clips, it is more than a happy rabbit hole of binge watching. I watch tennis to feel like civilization isn’t doomed after all. Tennis kindles hope that we can not only rise to a high level in achievement but also in decency. Tennis reminds us of the power, beauty and necessity of community and championing each other.

L iturgies of decorum and respect define tennis culture. The bar is high. If you fail to adhere to set standards of decency and sportsmanship (looking at you, John McEnroe and Serena Williams) consequences are enforced: loss of point, loss of game, disqualification from tournaments (e.g., Fabio Fognini from this year’s U.S. Open), fines and censure.

Trash-talking, swearing and temper tantrums are not tolerated. A player can yell at themselves but not at their competitor. They can talk to their racquets but cannot abuse them. Racquet abuse is real. A player must respect the officials, each other and shake hands at the end of the match. During trophy presentations, the runner-up is required to stay on court. Even the fans have etiquette guidelines. Arthur Ashe Stadium (center court at the U.S. Open) holds 23,771 spectators; silence is required and expected during every rally. AND IT HAPPENS.

I wish this kind of standard of conduct applied to Twitter and Facebook.

Code violation: keyboard abuse. Lose ten friends.

Code violation: verbal abuse, intimidating strangers with rabid posts. Banned from the internet for one day.

Code violation: unsportsmanlike conduct, swearing, slandering ad nauseum. Banned from the internet for one week.

Code violation: threatening and abusing friends and acquaintances alike. Social media accounts will be deleted.

 

...but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:8-10)

 

Examine the marked difference between tennis and hockey. (Sorry, hockey. My dad always said that he went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.) Brawls are expected, celebrated. In tennis, the sin and failings of fans and players stand in stark contrast against the landscape of respect and sportsmanship.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

In high school, I played the top doubles team in the state during regionals. We played hard but we were losing badly. Each doubles team is responsible for calling shots in or out. The worse the game went, the stronger the temptation to call a ball out that wasn’t. And then I did it. For one point. The high bar in tennis keeps much in check but it couldn’t transform my heart in that frustrated moment. The law reveals our weakness. It is a protection, sets a standard but ultimately shows us the difference between a mask of decorum that lasts until we step off court and a kindness and integrity that bubbles from a heart made fresh by Jesus.

On our own we’re all more likely to be racquet smashers and self-centered sasses. We should want our YouTube montage to have moments like when Jack Sock played Lleyton Hewitt, moments like this and this. Moments showered with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

If it’s really all about Jesus, does it really matter that players wear all white at Wimbledon? Yes. Choosing to submit shows humility. Choosing to submit allows civilized expression of competitive spirit and sportsmanship. A high standard of conduct draws gracious boundaries that benefit all.

“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).

M ore than any other sport, tennis shows the inextricable connection between the player and his people. Tennis on the surface seems a solitary sport—two players on a court with thousands to millions watching, each in their own mental and physical fight to be victor, the battle spanning hours upon hours.

Every player has a box where their coach, trainers, family and friends all sit together. Each and every match, the cameras pan between the players and the faces in their respective boxes. When a player struggles, he or she will look toward their box to receive encouragement and strength for a weary mind and body. The faces in the box exhibit thrill and pain, joy and heartache—they are united in love and purpose. They win and lose together.

When Rafael Nadal won Wimbledon the first time, beating Roger Federer, he flopped spread eagle on his back as is his custom and then he climbed to his box. (One of my my favorite “box climbs.”) He was not the lone victor.

When Andy Murray (finally) won Wimbledon in 2013, the first British tennis player to win the tournament since 1936, he offered his victory not only to his box but to England and Scotland as well. (I watch YouTube clips of this moment when I want a pick-me-up. Yes, really.) Andy Murray doesn’t win without a whole lot of people being awesome in the background and he knows it.

I think about what it might be like if we championed each other like this. Wholehearted. Without reservation. Free from jealousy. Wanting the best, wanting success for those we know and love, “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-26).

I wanted with all my heart for Andy Murray to win Wimbledon (as did millions of others). I cried when he won. But I don’t know Andy. It feels weird just to write his first name. He’s not one of my people. He’s thankful for fan support, but my offerings really are nothing. But for my friends, my family, it could be everything. I have my own box. I take my place in the boxes of others. Life is often fierce, but better when we’re all in this together.

The battle is real, and we need a box.

 

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts...This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)