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The privilege of pressure

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, March 21, 2007

“Pressure is a privilege.” Billie Jean King, a pioneer in women’s tennis, reportedly responded with this quotation when asked how it felt to be playing in her first U.S. Open. And it’s true. If you’ve got sweaty palms over an exam, a sporting event, a presentation, a concert or a project for which you’re responsible, just remember, you’ve gotten this far and people believe in you. Faced with the kind of pressure that interrupts my sleep, churns my stomach, becomes a constant distraction, my first desire is usually just to disappear, or at least take a really long nap until it’s all over and hope that someone else will pick up the slack for me. It takes a lot of extra effort and will to face that pressure and think of it as – of all things! – a privilege.

My 10-year-old son just competed this past weekend in a regional swim meet that brought swimmers with low enough times to Columbus, Ohio from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and West Virginia. He paced, he squirmed, he complained that we were late to meet his coach and teammates (we were half an hour early), he paced some more. From our seats up in the stands, we could see him on deck waiting for his events to start, still pacing and squirming. My first instinct was to try to protect him, to believe that it was all too much for him. Then it occurred to me that he had come to the meet because he was fast enough to get there. He had worked hard enough; he had developed his God-given athletic ability. The pressure he felt was a privilege.

You don’t have to be THE best. Chances are, unless you’re Albert Einstein or Leo Tolstoy or Michael Phelps, somebody else out there is better than you at whatever it is you do. You ought to try, however, to be YOUR best. Remember the parable of the talents from Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel? A master, going on a journey, gave considerable sums of money to three of his servants – five, two and one talents, each talent the equivalent of many years of wages – “to each according to his ability.” While the first two each doubled the amount the master gave them, the third simply buried his master’s money in the ground and waited for him to return. The master didn’t mind, Jesus tells us, that the servant with two talents made less than the one who started with five. Only the servant who did nothing at all, who took no initiative, angered the master. Do we take the risk, accept the challenge to make the most of the gifts God has given us, though the pressure may make us sweat, or pace or squirm?

You don’t have to be doing the most important thing in the world to feel some well-deserved pressure. Maybe you’re not discovering the cure for cancer or ending the war in Iraq or figuring out how no child will be left behind. OK, look at where you are and do something else that will help build up the Kingdom of God and better our world. Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said, “If life makes you a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be.”

Believe it or not, we’re coming to the end of Lent. Palm Sunday is a mere ten days away. Imagine the pressure Jesus must have felt, facing hostility, anger, brutality, undeserved accusations, mockery and ultimately certain death. Even as he cried out to God to “let this cup pass from me,” he recognized that his gift, his privilege, was to follow the will of his Father completely: “Yet not what I want but what you want.” Perhaps we too can find in Jesus’ experience, as we walk with him in these final days of Lent, the grace to follow the will of God in our own lives. And if exploring your own faith makes you squirm a little bit, if it makes you uncomfortable, remember that God has given you gifts you may not even know about yet. What a privilege. Make the most of it!

This week’s FaithPoint is written by Kate Barrett,

director of resources and special projects in the Office of Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.