Bowling is one of the few active indoor events we’ve gotten to enjoy as a family during the pandemic. For both Micah and Gabriel’s birthday this winter, the Wiles family has made our way up to the uncrowded lanes, in Cookeville, to knock down a few plastic-coated wooden pins. Maybe my past coaching of high school bowling teams has filled me with positive feelings toward maple board planks and crashing pins, but not everyone shares that love. One time, Ethan wasn’t too happy about the bowling prospect at all.
Walking up to the lane, I didn’t notice that the bumpers were down. Ethan carefully selected his 7-pound ball, while I tied my bowling shoes and dutifully put our initials into the electronic scorecard. I looked up from toweling my bowling ball, and Ethan’s orange polyurethane projectile was already making its way down the lane to find four pins. “Nice job big man; you did that without a bumper,” I offered as casual encouragement.
Immediately he froze and asked, “Dad can you put the bumpers up?” I could see his growing wide-eyed fear of throwing a gutterball once I pointed out that he wasn’t using a bumper.
It took several minutes to calm him down saying, “I think you’re fine without bumpers. I’ll teach you how to keep it in the middle of the lane. Try and roll another one straight, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Reluctantly, Ethan threw his next ball. To his surprise, my second-born picked up two more pins and a slowly big grin emerged on his face. For the rest of the hour, we worked on a consistent starting spot, a smooth approach, and a solid follow through while using no bumpers. While he only scored 74 with one spare in that game, I made sure to congratulate him on leaving no open frames, having knocked down at least 1 pin each of his 10 opportunities.
Later he thanked me, and to my surprise, Ethan shared, “I liked knocking over 74 pins without a bumper!” I was proud of Ethan, and it had nothing to do with the score. My pride swelled because of my son’s willingness to trust and his joy at overcoming a challenge.
I like bowling without the bumper’s, too. As a bowling coach, I purchased my own shoes, my own rolling bag, and my own bowling ball drilled perfectly to fit my hand. I learned to throw a nice hook that swung out wide to the edge of the lane and then broke back toward the right pocket of the headpin for a strike. My scores were great, averaging in the 180s… except when I went bowling with my young children and shared their lane with the bumpers. When the bumper was up, I struggled to break 100. Why was that? With a bumper up, I couldn’t throw my ball out wide across the boards for a hook, maximizing the potential of my game. It gets so bad that the bumper messes with my head, and I frequently jerk the ball left to avoid sliding against that guard rail. The bumpers hold me back.
What bumpers are holding you back from enjoying the best God has for you in life? For some of us, we have these imaginary bumper guardrails we put up in life to protect us from throwing a gutterball, but they end up holding us back instead.
Perhaps you struggle with the “perfectionism bumper.” This is the bumper that hinders us from enjoying some of the best people or the best moments in life. Waiting for the “perfect person” or the “perfect moment” with no imperfections causes us to miss out on the good things around us. American psychologist Ann Schaef said, “Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” Maybe it’s your time to grow by putting down the perfect bumper that’s been protecting you from the occasional gutterball so that you can throw more strikes in life.
Maybe you struggle with the “worry bumper.” Some people put this bumper up as a defense to protect from the uncertainties of money, relationships, and even faith experiences. For instance, some people struggle to step foot in a church because they worry what everyone will think. Don’t let the worry bumper cause decision paralysis where you fail to even roll a ball down the lane of life. Learn and grow as you put the worry bumper down, knowing that the occasional gutterball won’t sink your score.
Could you struggle with the “predictability bumper?” That is the bumper we put up whenever we fear changes in life. Some people avoid college, marriage, or a new job because they fear the unknown in the changes of life. They settle on the predictable even if it is uncomfortable. Maybe it’s time for you to put the predictability bumper down to enjoy the beautiful new and growing experiences God has to offer you in life.
Sometimes we need to put down the bumpers of perfectionism, worry, and predictability for our ball to cross the most and best boards that a life in Christ has to offer. Enjoy the abundant life promised in the Bible (John 10:10) by growing, learning, and embracing the joy of overcoming exciting challenges in life. I was proud of Ethan for meeting the challenge and growing from it when he allowed the bumpers to stay down. Your heavenly Father will be proud of you, too.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:18