It’s All In How You Play the Game . . .
Vol: 39 Issue: 30 Thursday, December 30, 2004
For Christmas this year, I got a pool table. It wasn’t the expensive slate-top kind, but it plays as nicely as if it were.
Instead of slate, my table bed is a cheaper, but excellent man-made material called Slatron. The only difference I noticed is that when the ball rolls across the Slatron bed, it sounds a bit like a ball rolling down the lane in a bowling alley.
The table came from Sears, and we set it up in an unused corner of the garage. (Actually, that is where my car used to live, but there was room for either a car or a pool table — and the car wouldn’t get soggy if it rained)
I love pool. I started to play when I was in the Marine Corps. At first, I didn’t much care for it, but, who wants to be the ONLY guy in the barracks who doesn’t like to shoot pool?
We had a pool table in our barracks’ communal room and I used to stay up into the wee hours of the morning practicing, until the duty NCO would kick me out for making too much noise.
By the time I got out of the Corps, I thought I was pretty good, and I’ve played pool whenever I got a chance since.
I love pool because you aren’t playing your opponent so much as you are playing yourself. It doesn’t make much difference to me whether I win or lose; in pool, it truly is how one plays the game that counts. Every game is a learning experience, and pool is the only game I know that is as much fun to play alone as it is to play an opponent.
Nothing is as relaxing as a game of pool. It is like a hot bath with Epsom salts for the mind. My pool table came with a book of instructions written by pool legend Steve Mizerak. It has a number of tips, but the most important one is this one: “When you are taking your shot, forget about everything else in the universe, except making that shot.”
Pool is a precise game — close doesn’t count. It is a game of strategy and planning. One doesn’t just shoot to pocket a ball — a good player will have his next four shots planned before he takes the one in front of him. In pool, pocketing a ball is only slightly more important than leaving the cue ball properly positioned for the next shot.
Sometimes, it is more important to miss a shot and leave the cue ball in a position where your opponent can’t make his than it is to pocket a ball yourself. If you do it right, you’ll get another shot.
Practice makes perfect and I practice whenever I get a chance. Practicing helps me to perfect my technique, and missing a shot teaches me what NOT to do as much as it teaches me what I should be doing.
In many ways, to me, shooting pool is a metaphor for life. Even if you miss the mark, there are second chances as long as the game is alive. And every shot you take affects the way your opponent plays his game. A single shot can change the layout of the table completely and undo all your opponent’s careful planning. Or it can undo all of yours.
Pool teaches you patience. If you miss a shot, you just remind yourself that if you made every shot you were aiming at, nobody else would play pool with you. Everybody misses, even the great ones. It happens when you remember something else in the universe except that shot. That tiny distraction is all it takes to turn your best-laid plans into a victory for your opponent.
Pool is something of a metaphor for our relationship with God, as well.
At first you aren’t very good at it, but as time goes on, you get better at it, get a bit more confidence, and after awhile, you understand that EVERYBODY misses sometimes. When you miss, you take it in stride, learn from your mistakes, and try and do better with your next shot.
In pool, you aren’t judged a good player or a bad player based on one or two shots, you are judged by how consistently you win the game.
The Christian life is like that. Sometimes, we miss the mark, but God doesn’t judge our whole lives by a bad shot here and there.
EVERYBODY misses from time to time, but until our lives are over, the full measure of our game has not been taken. There is always another ‘shot’ until the 8 ball is pocketed. And as long as there is another shot, there is still a chance to win.
As Christians, it’s our job to win others to Christ. Sometimes, we make a ‘bad shot’ that changes the whole layout of the table. In our earnestness to personally lead somebody to Christ, we overdo it. We shoot too hard and miss. We get discouraged, and worry that we’ve done more harm than good.
In pool, pocketing the ball is only slightly more important than positioning the cue for the next shot. Sometimes, it isn’t our job to lead that person to Christ. Instead, we are just setting up cue ball for the next guy. We are just planting the seed. The Holy Spirit will water that seed, but sometimes, He gives the job of harvesting to somebody else.
The point is, once you’ve planted that seed, there is always another shot, that lost person still has a chance to win, as long as the game is alive.
But to win, you have to play.