Last night I was on the phone with a good friend who was dealing with what turned out to be a relatively minor dilemma. To be fair, it seemed major at first because it involved good friends, emotions, and finances, and it only became minor once perspective had been reestablished.

But after he and I sorted out the issue at hand, we began talking about a series of situations we’d both encountered – as well as situations our friends have encountered – where we had truly overreacted to what turned out to be a very simple reality. Why did we do the things that we did? What motivated our actions? Why did we need to recruit a supporting cast for what ultimately was a very insignificant and uninspired drama?

It reminded me of a tennis lesson I had taken when I was 12. The instructor would hit the ball to wherever I wasn’t on the court. If I was on the left side, he’d hit it to the right. If I was at the back of the court, he’d hit a drop shot that landed at the front. And every time he’d hit me a ball, I would react in a dramatic and frenzied manner.

I would sprint at full throttle to wherever the ball landed, come to a screeching halt while over-crowding the ball, flail ridiculously to get my racquet back, and either return the ball directly to him or hit it into the net. Then, we’d repeat the same pattern over and over again. Always off-balance, I could never quite get myself back to my center court ready position.

Finally, he stopped playing and asked, “What’s really going on here?”

I had to think a moment. “We’re playing tennis,” I said, confused.

“No. I am playing tennis. I don’t know what you’re doing,” he fired back. “The game of tennis is very simple. I hit a ball over the net. It bounces on your side. You hit it back to my side, ideally where I am not standing. That’s the game of tennis.”

“Yeah. I get that,” I retorted, indignantly.

“No, you don’t. What you’re not getting is that all you have to do is put your racquet back, calmly move to the ball, and hit that single ball back over the net. There is nothing else going on there on your side of the court. The way you’re reacting, you’d think there was an army chasing you, trying to stop you at all costs from returning not just one ball, but a hundred of them. And then, after all the unnecessary gyrations you go through, you make my life easier by hitting the ball right to me.”

I had to stop for a moment and think about how I had been approaching what I believed to be a very complicated and intricate game. My flailing and sprinting about was really doing nothing other than making me look and feel like a crazy, flailing person. Once I had allowed the perspective of a very wise tennis instructor to sink in, the noise in my head began to quiet.

And so now, when I can remember that tennis lesson in the midst of what I believe to be a very complicated and involved situation, I ask myself, “What’s really going on here?” Nine times out of ten, I realize that I am about to act like a crazy, flailing person in the midst of a very simple reality.

I remember that the best thing I can do is calmly move to the single ball on my side of the court and hit it back over the net the best way I know how… and then wait for the next shot.

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