Last week, I took my 13 year old son and some friends to a paintball field. We had never been before. As we drove out, we shared about how some of us were a little nervous, but the overall emotion was excited anticipation. Like race horses trembling before the gate opens, we were ready to rock.
The way it works, they put everyone who happens to be there at the same time into a big group until there are about thirty people. Then they split you into teams and a referee establishes what game you are going to play and enforces rules. The games were basic — capture the flag, shoot everyone until there is no one left standing, defend the fort.
I imagine we all had similar inner fantasies on the way out. My son plays a lot of first-person shooter games on Xbox with his friends, and I am into them a bit too. So we were pretty much all imagining ourselves as awesome little soldier-dudes.
The reality slapped me in the face immediately. We got split up into teams and the game began. I snuck through the woods, my sights on this enemy fellow crouching behind a tree. I popped out from behind my tree to shoot. The moment I revealed myself, I got hit. Game over. I was the first casualty.
What’s worse, as I walked back to the staging area where the dead people wait, I realized I had no clue where the shot that did me in had come from. None.
The game finally ended, and we were briefed on the next game. We basically switched sides, with one team uphill and the other downhill. The ref called “go.” We started playing. I snuck forward toward a woodpile. This time I would be cagey, and be a bit more careful of my surroundings.
Again, I got shot quickly. Again, I had no idea where it came from.
Over the course of the day, I improved and I stopped being the first to go. But one element was constant: I never knew where the shot that took me out came from.
This morning, as I was talking to friends about life in general, I realized that my paintball excursion (which I enjoyed immensely and which I plan to repeat) taught me a very important lesson:
You never know what direction challenges will come from.
In most cases out on the paintball field, there was some threat (or target) I was focusing on, and the killer shot came from some other place. I was totally blindsided. Over and over.
Try as we might to prepare, the unexpected will present itself to us, and we will have to deal with it. On the paintball field, it means a walk back to the staging area. In life, it means a chance to respond with grace to something new.
The quality I need to cultivate in myself is not so much strength to withstand an onslaught, or even a more sensitive internal radar. Because there is always a better shot, and the paintball with my name on it will always come from where I am not looking.
No, the quality I need to cultivate is grace in response.
That is what is going to serve me best, as life continues to present surprises.