"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift...is encouraging, let him encourage." Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)
Marty had the squash court booked and was looking forward to a workout when at the last minute his opponent cancelled. Desperate to play, he asked me. For the love of him, I said, “Yes.” That's basically how inexperienced, uncoordinated I got into a squash court with a seasoned tournament player.
On the court which looks to me like a prison cell with a high ceiling and no furniture, Marty pointed out the red boundary lines running along the walls and the black boundary lines on the parquet floor.
He produced a little black ball with a yellow dot on it and explained, “The rules are simple. You stand in your square and serve off the front wall to my square. After that you may hit the ball from and to anywhere but the ball must hit the front wall between the red lines before it hits the floor. I'll warm up the ball.”
He whacked the ball at the front wall about 20 times. Wham, thwack, thwack, thwush, thwack, thwush. When he was done, the ball was definitely warm. We began to play.
Every time Marty served, my racquet swooshed the air, scraped the wall, or hit the floor but rarely touched the ball. I never seemed to know where the ball was heading until it was too late. When I served, I was lucky if the ball made it to the front wall and if it did get to Marty's square, he returned it easily to some place out of my reach.
“You're swinging wrong.” Marty shook his head. I could feel his disgust growing. “Move into the swing.”
I warned him to be nice. “Pretend I'm not your wife. Pretend you are young and single and you just met beautiful gorgeous me.” He was nicer after that.
Later in the hour when my arm was so tired it felt as if it might fall off, Marty checked the clock. “Time's almost up. We must be having fun,” he noted unenthusiastically.
He wondered if I would let him hit the ball around by himself for those last few minutes. “I want at least to work up a sweat,” he pleaded. I stood in the corner dejected. Thwack, thwush, thwack, thwush...the ball was warm again.
I slouched off to the women's dressing room where I met a couple of college students who had been using another court. “How did it go?” they asked.
“I'm probably the worst player, ever.”
“You'll get better.”
I told them exactly how awful I was.
“What colour was the dot on your ball?”
They showed me a blue-dot ball. “It's for beginners. There's more bounce; it's easier to hit.”
I tried hitting it off the dressing room wall. “You're right. It is easier.”
They told me about how they got started and progressed over the weeks and how I would be seeing improvement in each consecutive game.
After a shower I met Marty in the hall. I felt unbelievably encouraged. I told him about the college kids and the blue dot ball.
He apologized. He had forgotten about beginner balls and how he himself had worked up to the yellow dot from a red.
For a week my arm ached from fingertips to shoulder. Would I ever return to the squash court? Thanks to the encouragement from those college students, I just might–without Marty of course. I love him more than that.