The coach gave his team one last reminder before sending them out: “Just shoot. For now, don’t worry about how close you come. Just get that ball and shoot.”
Those eight-year old boys took his pep talk seriously. They charged up and down the court with wide eyes and tongues poking out of corners of mouths as they fought to get their hands on that basketball. Once a teammate had a hold of it, the others waved their skinny arms and set up a chorus of “Gimmee!” and “Over here!” and “I’m open!”
Those who managed to grab the ball did just what the coach had asked: they shot--regardless of how close they were to the basket. Regardless of their aim. It was a shooting frenzy out there. Most had figured out that the only chance to make it was to try.
Except for one small boy. He loitered near the edge of the court, watching the action and trying hard to keep out of the fray. His little toothpick arms never lifted--not once. I never heard him yell for the ball or beg for a pass or try in any way to remind the others that he was still there, still wearing that too-big jersey, still part of the team. He just stood and watched.
About halfway through the game, the boy backed into one corner of the court, directly in front of me, and I heard him muttering in a string of all-together words: “Don’tgivemetheball … don’tgivemetheball … don’tgivemetheball.”
My heart went out to him. He looked terrified, but of what? I wondered. What’s the worse that could happen--he’d miss? The other boys were missing shots all around him. He’d be in good company.
I wanted to encourage him, but before I could say a word, a teammate sidled up next to him and did it for me. “You can do it. You can do it--don’t be scared.”
Those few words made a difference. A mere minute later, someone tossed the ball toward that small boy. He looked down at the orange orb in his hands, chucked it at the basket … missed by a mile … and grinned at his own courage.
We're all just a bunch of skinny, eight-year old kids on some level. Our tasks sometimes back us into a corner. Our legs sometimes struggle to keep us standing. We're afraid of trying because we're afraid of failing. And like all frightened kids everywhere, we need a nudge to get us past our fear. Life can be lonely, frightening, and downright difficult if we don’t have loving nudgers walking alongside us, whispering words of encouragement. As Paul reminded us in Philippians 1:30a, “We are in this fight together.” (NLT) Maybe today you need to be a cheerleader for someone. Or maybe today, you need a cheer.
Don't be afraid. Keep trying. You can do it!