When I was eight years old I played machine pitch baseball for the Southern Electrical youth team. I was a chubby kid with a bowl cut and a penchant for daydreaming about the free post game Capri Sun while playing center field. Sometimes I was relegated to the dreaded right field where MLB aspirations and souls of children die.
But I found myself kicking dirt in the center field the night of “the catch.”
I heard a metal pop and my eyes focused on the white comet approaching my little atmosphere. I started running full tilt, the fastest my Pony’s have ever run, towards the descending ball. It was about to touch down in no man’s land, the dubious region between the left fielder and I. A sure double for the batter.
But not tonight.
With the ball feet away from the ground I dove head first, full extension, glove outstretched Ken Griffey Jr style. My eyes were tightly shut as I heard the smack of leather and felt the grass and dirt rub past my cheek. I was so shocked I caught the ball I almost forgot to hit my cut off man to hold the bases. Blind dumb luck of a catch.
It was early in the season and it was one of those catches that wedged in the memories of my coaches and teammates. Every line drive or flyball within a mile of me was expected to be hunted down effortlessly with the skill of a trained assassin. My coach even gave me a nickname after the game: Bryan “Sure Hand” Daniels.
The moniker didn’t stick for long though. I could never replicate my amazing anomaly of a shoestring catch. Routine fly balls were routinely fumbled and line drives were misjudged enough to turn singles into triples. “What happened?!” my outfield teammate would ask, perplexed at my sudden lack of basic hand eye coordination. I still get a sense of anxiety catching practice pop balls to this day.
My short-lived identity as a circus catch artist took the wind out of my sails. My waning passion for baseball flatlined as my sports value before my coaches and peers plummeted. My performance didn’t live up to their expectations. And deep down I knew their expectations were built on a fluke catch.
I still struggle with this performance mentality.
The fight of our Western age may be the fight against this performance mentality.
Not the fight against hard work mind you.
We are hardwired to conflate what we do with who we are.
We earn “As” in school so we are bright. We earn a nice paycheck at work so we are succesful. We workout at the gym so we are fit. It doesn’t get much better than being the most athletic, rich, and smart person in the room.
What others have labeled us becomes our identity and soaks deep down into the soul level. And we’ve earned these labels. With sweat and ingenuity and talent. With our performance.
This ethos has seeped into the church under the pseudo name of “excellence.”
Nothing can be more lethal to our spiritual life than adopting this performance mentality into the gospel of grace. We’ve earned nothing and are given everything through Christ. We bring nothing to the table yet we are given a seat of honor at the Wedding Banquet table to eat of pleasures forever.
Performance is damned before the Son who perfectly performs our salvation for us.
Yet we try to impress people with our performance in religious matters. With our knowledge of Scriptures, church attendance, giving, serving, or even our children’s obedience. Or the fact that our family looks like a Stepford model of the American Dream. At least on Sunday mornings and important social functions we can pull off this tenous facade.
We’re not fooling anyone. Especially not the One that matters.
So my fellow right fielders can take heart:
We don’t have to keep despairing on the stage of human approval. We can quit acting out an identity we never truly believed. We’re broken, insecure, dense, weak, flat-out failures sometimes.
We may even be notorious for watching ground balls dribble between our legs.
But we’re loved no matter what. And we’re forever beneficiaries of the performance another. So sit back and drink that in. The Capri Sun will be worth it at the end of this treacherous game.