I was on a bike ride a few weeks ago, and I stopped at a local park to take a quick break. Two women were playing tennis not far from where I was stretching. I’ll call them Sarah (the server) and Rachel (the receiver).
Sarah and Rachel were middle aged women, and they seemed to be in cheerful yet competitive spirits. As I watched, from about 15 feet away, Sarah had a very effective, mechanical serve, putting the ball into play on her first serve. Rachel seemed a little more fluid, but clearly not as controlled. At 40-30, Sarah seemed poised to take the game with another mechanical serve. But Rachel called the serve long.
“Really?” Sarah said.
“I think so, looked out to me” replied Rachel.
“Well, okay, it’s your call. Deuce.”
Okay, I am no tennis aficionado, but I did play in High School, and I know an “on the line” ball when I see one. That was a winning serve.
A few points back and forth to arrive at “Advantage in.” A mechanical serve. A few volleys. Then Sarah’s – also mechanical – cross court backhand to an outplayed Rachel for the winner.
“Out” shouted Rachel.
What? No that was in. Clearly in, but Sarah could not have possibly seen that from where she stood. Rachel you’re cheating her. Really? (Note: the younger me would have made some kind of taunting remark for all to hear.)
I wondered how long this had been going on.? The gaining of points on falsities. How many matches had been won or lost like this? Were they both playing like this, or was Rachel guilty and Sarah persevering?
What struck me is this: I was seeing the method of sin in our lives. They way it works. How it lives in the shadows. How it makes itself seem plausible. There are rules, and we know them. There are big serves or returns that are clearly out, and everybody knows it. Then there are the shots that are on the line. In big matches, there is someone else who makes the “in” or “out” judgment on a close call, but in daily life, it’s left up to us. Sin justifies itself with a little taunt, a little misstep or a little mistruth. Living on the lines almost feels normal. But, over time, living like that erodes friendships, warps the meaning of fairness or sportsmanship, and causes those “boundary” lines to get bigger. A lot bigger.
When you know how sin works, you see what you need to confess more and more.