I recently shared my athletic background to a group of highschoolers I am Bible-studying with. I am not sure how the conversation got stirred towards that direction but I think it was because we were talking about career development concerns (e.g., which Senior High School strand should they take, which school should they consider studying at next year).
After I shared with them that memorable part of my life, I was asked, “Ate Trudy, don’t you miss playing tennis and competing in different countries?”
For someone whose teenage life (even early-twenties life) revolved around playing tennis, answering this question brings so much nostalgia. However, it also made me reflect as to why a life with Jesus cannot be compared to anything that this world can offer.
By the time I was 16 (almost 17), we already projected that my tennis career won’t get me anywhere except a college scholarship in the Philippines or the United States. Although I was constantly competing internationally, my ranking at the time was not meeting the expectations. It would be a wrong investment if private and company sponsors continued to shell out money for my training and trips since my tennis performance was already in a state of limbo that time.
Plan A was to get ranked on the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Professional tour before I turn 18. But I barely moved past rank 500 in the ITF (International Tennis Federation) Junior Tennis between the age of 15 and 17.
I was 17 when my coach of over 7 years told us that we should move on to Plan B which is to get a college scholarship. Long story short, I wasn’t able to land on a full-scholarship package in the US. Instead, I was given the opportunity to play for the DLSU Lawn Tennis Team.
It was so hard to let go of my tennis player identity. Being a competitive tennis player meant people-pleasing achievements, high-profile connections and a self-fulfilling status. After college, I was torn to whether or not I should pursue a career in tennis again.
Plan A was to train full-time and then compete to the biggest national tournaments. I still wanted to play tennis but the odds were not in my favor. I was redirected to another Plan B which is to get into a career path based on the academic degree I attained. I still wanted to identify myself as a tennis player because it was my security of doing something that’s special. However, when I had gotten to know Jesus, it could no longer satisfy no matter how hard I try.
Sure, I still play for a corporate team today. My next competition will be on the first quarter of 2020. I also tried to do coaching on the side but it was put on hold due to my pursuit of graduate studies. But I no longer identify myself as a tennis player not because it’s wrong but because (personally speaking) it’s not where I am supposed to be. It’s no longer who I am.
My identity is now eternal. I am a child of God and nothing can separate me from His love.
I can be a professor, a graduate school student or a corporate employee, I can even choose to go back and play tennis again… but that is not who I am; that’s just what I do. And what I do doesn’t matter when it is not done through Jesus, with Jesus and for Jesus.
I am not saying that you cannot be an athlete and still follow Jesus. I know of disciples who happened to be great athletes, too! Imagine athletes who share the gospel to their fellow athletes and coaches from different countries! That would be awesome.
I am also in no way saying that we should only have a personal relationship with God when Plan As don’t work. The Lord is not an option. He knows where to put us and when to put us there. In my case, He knows I can’t fulfil the Great Commission as a professional tennis player or a national athlete. Many are the plans in the mind of a man but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
I am also not saying that I do not want to play tennis anymore. I still enjoy playing tennis whenever I get a chance to. I am still praying that I can coach tennis again in the future (if the Lord wills it) but not/never for the purpose of earning money, merely teaching on-court skills or gaining “connections”.
I am also not saying that being an athlete/tennis player is so wrong that being one can’t make an impact on the lives of people. The Lord has definitely used this background for me to be able to relate to college students or student-athletes and transitioning high school students today. He even led me to do ministry with student-athletes! He even used it so that I can return and be a part-time teacher in DLSU and oftentimes be a speaker to college students and student-athletes!
The Lord used such background so I can be able to do mentorship in discipleship as well. God can indeed use our past (no matter how messed-up or uncertain it is) to shape our future for His glory. Whenever I connect the dots, I get a confirmation from the verse in Psalm 139:
“For you created my inmost being; Your knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
From the time God knitted me together in my mother’s womb up until today and the rest of my life here on earth, He remains sovereign. He created me, held on to me and directed my steps. He delighted in every detail of my life.
My identity is now anchored on who God is and who He wants me to be. I am called and chosen; no longer condemned and in chaos.
This God-given and short life that I have is not meant for me. I used to live a life separated from the Lord. Having no God or a God that is only head-knowledge, I was the boss of my life.
I surrendered my tennis player identity and many other identities to the Lord because no identity apart from Him can truly secure and satisfy.