It was late October and I was playing a professional tennis tournament in Greece.
Since the age of eleven, my dream has been to play professionally, and there I was living it. I knew I probably wasn’t going to be Serena Williams and that my pro career might not last more than a few years, but that was okay. As my dad kept reminding me, “Just enjoy the journey.”
And I was having the time of my life doing it.
But there was something off. It didn’t feel right.
There I was in Greece, living my dream, playing a sport I love with an amazing support system behind me. Yet I still felt a sinking feeling in my heart when I came back to my hotel room at night.
“Is this all there is?”
If we back up a few years, we’ll see it all started as a tiny whisper in my soul.
In college, I began discovering other talents and abilities I was passionate about- writing, communications, and sharing my faith with others. While the spontaneous adventurer in me loved the travel of pro tennis, my inclination toward stability, family, and relationships also tugged at my heartstrings.
After graduation, I set out on the pro tennis circuit well aware of the stirring in my soul. But I didn’t know what else to do.
I kept asking God to show me the way if there was something else He wanted from me, but it’s a scary thought when you’ve only known one thing your whole life.
For the past twelve years, tennis has been such a huge part of my identity that it was hard to imagine who Josie could be without it. I put everything into the sport, making many daily sacrifices to pursue my dream.
But sitting there on a windy beach in Greece, I realized the desires of my heart didn’t match the career path I was on. I knew that feeling unfulfilled in playing professionally might be God trying to point me in a different direction…and it terrified me.
I wasn’t ready to face my fear: Being labeled a quitter.
The Stubborn Athlete
If you have any competitive bone in your body, you know exactly what I mean. If you tell people you’re going to do something, you follow through. If you have a goal, you go get it. When you get tired, you dig deeper. You’d rather die than quit! At least that’s the way I am (I am very competitive).
So even when my head recognized the call God placed on my heart to serve Him elsewhere – heck, even when I officially accepted a writing job for a Catholic institution- my heart and competitive nature still told me no.
“NO! I’m not quitting. I can do this. I don’t care what anyone says, I’m gonna show them.”
That stubbornness is exactly why I’m good on the tennis court, but also the reason why it was so hard to walk away.
What’s More Important?
My competitiveness and deep sense of pride in my identity as a tennis player directly conflicted with my desire to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. But through much prayer and many graces, I was able to recognize what was more important to me. It was not worth it to stubbornly pursue a longtime dream just to say I did it when I felt God rerouting me somewhere else.
As Christians, our primary purpose in this life should be to please the Lord and follow His will for us. 1 Corinthians 7:31 reminds us we must hold lightly to the things of this world and tightly to the things of heaven.
However, surrendering our dreams and desires to God’s plan for us is easier said than done because it means letting go of something we love.
It’s Okay To Let Your Dreams Change
I literally had to give myself permission to let go of tennis. I had to be honest with myself and acknowledge that while I still have a desire to play professionally, while I still love playing and competing just as much as anyone, there are other things more important to me- like following where God leads me.
Thankfully, God sent me a subtle sign during my transition in the form of a Delta safety information video (what are the odds, right?!). Flying home from my first job interview, I heard the Delta spokesperson say,
“The first step of connection is departure.”
As cheesy as it sounds, I totally needed to hear it. I desperately wanted to hold onto the familiarity that my life of tennis brought me. However, Delta reminded me that I have to let go.
To connect, we must depart. Depart from comfort, familiarity, routine. Sometimes God asks us to let go in order to give us something better. To allow room for us to grow, change, evolve.
But in order to get to that point, we have to step out in faith. We have to be courageous and adaptable. We can’t be afraid to leave behind familiarity.
What Sets Your Soul On Fire?
Maybe you have something you’re holding onto- a dream, career, relationship, or something else close to your heart. Maybe you don’t feel at peace and wonder why when everything is good on paper. That could be a sign that God is calling you elsewhere.
If you have those feelings, I encourage you to spend much time in prayer, sincerely asking Jesus what He thinks of that desire. See what pops up on your heart, sparks your interest, and lights your soul on fire.
Is it that dream, career, or relationship? Or is it something else?
Even if it’s a good thing you’re walking away from, it’s okay to let your dreams change. It’s okay to be scared and not know what the heck you’re doing. I sure don’t! The temptation of fear and doubt creeps in on me every day. But I won’t let that stop me.
I feel much more peace now letting go than I did holding on. Why? Because I don’t have control anymore. God does. He’s leading, and I’m following. And it’s beautiful.
So if there’s one truth I know it’s this: If God is leading you, He will see it through. He will never leave you hanging.
From the depths of my soul,
Josie Kuhlman played NCAA Division I Tennis at the University of Florida from 2014-2018, where she won a national championship. Since, she has spent time playing on a professional tennis circuit.
This story was originally published on Beautiful Depths.