Baseline Weekly - Wherever You're At
“Start where you’re at and give it what you got.” Those were the words of my high school swim coach. His name was Mason Parrish and when I first met him, he was 79 years old. No joke. I actually remember his 80th birthday because he was boasting about being able to do 80 push-ups on his birthday. He was a lover of Jesus, an incredible coach, and had a wonderful sense of humor. The pool at my high school was even named after him (“Parrish Pool”) but he would never tell you that. He’s that kind of guy. When Mr. Parrish would teach us something about stroke techniques or breathing methods, he’d often say that phrase, “Just start where you’re at and give it what you got.” If you’ve ever sat under a good coach, you’ve probably heard something similar before. His point was that the thing that matters is simply starting. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you just have to begin. This phrase was particularly meaningful to me when I first started on the swim team as a freshman in high school. I had never swum competitively so I really didn’t know much technique. In my mind, I just thought competitive swimming was basically "get to the other side as fast as you can." That’s it. I remember feeling intimidated at first because there were plenty of kids who had been swimming for club teams since elementary school. I was not at their level. When I first heard Mr. Parrish say that phrase, “Start where you’re at and give it what you got,” I remember it felt like a balm. Something about those words and even the way he said it with his gentle, soft voice was so comforting. I felt accepted even if I wasn’t the fastest on the team. I felt seen as a new swimmer who really didn’t know much. And I also felt challenged to just start practicing. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel so concerned with my performance, I was just focused on beginning exactly where I was. Swimming was hard. But over time, I found myself in a flow. Another thing that’s hard is prayer. At least for me. I love praying and I am so grateful that God hears our prayers and longs to speak to us. But it still is hard at times. It’s hard to be still enough to listen to God. Even if I force myself to sit and be still, my mind seems to wander. I get so distracted. Sometimes I feel like I need to be at a certain point in order to approach God or I feel like my prayers should sound a certain way. I subconsciously make distinctions between holy language and unholy language (as if there is such a thing). Sometimes I think that God maybe can’t handle what I’m really thinking. I can get fixated on doing it the right way. Sometimes that leads to not praying at all. What I’m learning is that I think Mr. Parrish’s encouragement also applies to prayer. I can imagine God saying, "Just pray where you’re at and pray with what you got." What matters is just getting started. What matters is settling into God’s presence. It doesn’t matter how you get there or what kind of shape you show up in. Our God is a loving father who is just thrilled to sit with you. Even if words aren’t exchanged, my hunch is that God is overjoyed that you are there. I love how Ronald Rolheiser describes the common struggle in prayer. He says this, “Prayer is lifting mind and heart to God, and that means lifting up, at any given moment, exactly what is there and not what, ideally, might be there. It would be nice if we always felt warm, reverent, altruistic, full of faith, chaste, hopeful, connected with others and nature, happy about who we are, and what life has dealt us. But that is not the case. We all have moments and even seasons of doubt, anger, alienation, pettiness, boredom, obsession, and tiredness. Our thoughts are not always holy, and our hearts are not always warm or pure. It is at times like this when we most need prayer and what we need to take to prayer is, precisely, those bitter thoughts and unholy feelings. All thoughts and feelings are valid material for prayer. Simply put: when you go to pray, lift up what is inside of you at that moment.” His reflection reminds me of so many of the Psalms that are so brutally honest. Some of them are shockingly honest (like, whoa that’s in the Bible?). I think the Psalms give us license to lift up to God anything and everything that is on our hearts. If you’re angry, lift that up to God. If you’re tired, tell God that you’re tired. If you’re bored or distracted, let God know. If you feel settled or at peace, thank God for that too. These honest reflections aren't just the onramps to prayer, they are prayers. Don't overthink it. Just pray where you’re at and pray with what you got.