Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

When you drop the ball

GIVEN THAT MANY folks greet the New Year with plans to improve their lives one way or another in the coming months, it seems a little ironic that we mark the stroke of midnight on December 31 by dropping the ball.

I’m referring to the traditional ball drop in New York’s Time Square. The event that usually draws a large crowd—this year’s will be virtual, thanks to COVID-19—has inspired copycat celebrations around the country, including coastal “beachball drops.” One of those has been in Panama City Beach, just down the road a ways from me.

However, there’s something actually quite appropriate about the seemingly contradictory observance. Because if there’s one thing I can guarantee about next year for you and me, it’s that at some stage we are going to drop the ball. Our good intentions aren’t going to be enough. After all, if it were that easy to make positive change, the world would be in much better shape.

The question is not how can we avoid failing (unless we decide to not even try to achieve something). It’s how do we respond when we do? For too long, I’d go in one of two equally dead-end directions. Either I’d try to dodge the awkward reality of my failure by denying, defending or deflecting, or allow myself to be submerged by the shame and self-recrimination.

Neither response was life-giving, for me or the people I may have hurt or let down, because I would pull away from them, if for different reasons. There are times when I still have to fight the urge to duck, dive, or drown, but I am learning to face down the uncomfortable feelings and do the right thing.

That can mean owning my mistakes, apologizing appropriately, and seeking to make some kind of amends if necessary. But it isn’t only about doing right by others. It also means being kinder to myself than I have a tendency to be, refusing to listen to my own inner critic. Because all of us are more than our worst day.

Rather than being a mark of failure, dropping the ball can be a measure of progress if we choose to learn from our mistake. But it means not holding on to pride or self-preservation. Because that’s the thing about a ball; when you drop one, it usually bounces and you have another chance to catch it if you have open hands.

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