Effortless Grace

I vividly remember my first football practice in 7th grade. I had played a ton of sports up to that point - basketball, baseball, soccer and more. Yet, none of them prepared me for football. It’s August 1986 and it’s Houston, TX. Do the math on the weather, if you will. I was drenched before I hit the field, with the helmet, pads and the most uncomfortable pair of polyester pants filled with more pads. This is also back when every portion of your hips, butt and thighs were covered in them. No longer these days.

I get out on the crappy junior high field, summoned by a seemingly angry 40 year old man in those classic 80’s coaches shorts, aka nut-huggers, and a bulky collared golf polo. His flat-brimmed hat was perfectly level above his eyes, which I could not see behind his mirrored aviators. Holding his whistle to his grimaced face, he barked at all of us to line up. Heck if I knew what he meant by that or where to do it. “Line up” in basketball meant get ready for suicides, that dreaded drill where you cover every square foot of the court, ready to puke after five minutes. So, I lined up at the sideline with the rest of my fellow zit-faced 12 year old teammates. Sure enough, we began with running 40’s. Puking ensued by many, but I survived okay…barely.

Just when I thought the worst would end, we circled up mid-field for Oklahoma Drill. Being a the Texican I am and having no clue what this meant, I lined up next to coach, eager to participate. Reading my masking tape labeled forehead and having no clue who I was, coach yells “Tig-he…get in there”. He then selected an equal sized and very likely much stronger opponent to line up a few yards in front of me. I am pretty much regretting my enthusiastic voluntary offer to stand close enough to coach to get noticed and within seconds hear a whistle blow , my shoulder pads crunch and the back of my head firmly embrace the barely grass-covered Texas dirt. If that were not enough humiliation, I open my eyes to my 80’s clad coach screaming profanities in my face and instructing me to get my soft self off the ground.

Grace is not opposed to effort.

We have a saying at my place of worship, which often comes up in messages. It’s simple, yet profound. We saying grace is opposed to earning, but not opposed to effort. On many levels, I have found this phrase to land and land hard at times. Truth is, I grew up believing God only liked me when I earned it. I learned in college that was not the case, but it has taken me many years to stop trying. I cannot earn God’s favor. But, that does not mean he ain’t proud of my effort. And, the same applies in parenting, leadership, friendship, work relationships and more. In the workplace, I am working diligently to apply this discipline. I want my clients to know that I value them for who they are, not for what they produce. And, I deeply appreciate their effort toward their work at the same time. Grace is not effortless. There is always a cost and someone has to give it.

It prepared me to grow up…and grow a pair.

Our work environment is not unlike that junior-high football field. You know why it was roughed up, beaten down and barely covered in decent grass? Because it double as our practice and game field and was shared by all three 7th and 8th grade teams. That was six teams pounding dirt five days a week to toughen up, speed up and talent up for winning games. That was two years of me getting yelled at, knocked down, beaten down, humiliated, spit on and trash talked. When I went into high school, I had nothing but fond memories of those experiences, because it prepared me to grow up and grow a pair. And I’ll never feel regret for doing it.

Leaders go first in hard things and hard things demand effort. Effort demands discipline and discipline yields reward. Never place value on a human being for what they produce, but always appreciate them for the effort they give. You’ll get your return. Trust me.

In what ways might you appreciate effort today and show some grace?

Peter Tighe