The first 75-episode season of Daiya no Ace (Ace of the Diamond) ended on a hopeful note, but I admit that Sawamura Eijun had me worried. For those of you who haven’t watched Daiya no Ace: Sawamura is the main character in this baseball anime. And yes, as usual, “main character” means pitcher. But he’s not the ace. Nope, even after seventy-five episodes, Sawamura is still just a talented, over-enthusiastic first year with a lot to prove.
It doesn’t help that he gets a the yips after a pitch-gone-wrong during the summer tournament. Sawamura can’t throw to the inside anymore. It’s devastating. He tries to pick himself up. But during a practice game, his new weakness becomes clear. He’s taken off the field. The coach doesn’t even let him practice with a ball for a while, regulating him to running instead.
Sawamura doesn’t protest the new regiment, because he knows: “I am so weak.”
It’s painful to watch, but necessary.
Some of Sawamura’s concerned classmates talk to Chris-senpai, a third-year catcher who has already taught Sawamura a lot. Chris tells them that he is sure Sawamura will not only overcome his pitching trouble, but become stronger because of it.
When I hear those words, I smile. Sawamura is the age I was when I realized how weak I am. In my early teen years, I was confident in myself, my mind, and my spiritual standing. I knew it was time for a challenge, so I had the nerve to ask God to humble me (oops). Sure, in my head, I knew I was weak compared to God and many of his servants, but I felt strong.
Then, when I was fifteen, depression hit, soon followed by anxiety. ADD symptoms, formerly minor and easy to compensate for, were exasperated. Homework became a battle—low focus, low motivation, and the elephant on my chest often interfered. At one point, I tried to doubt God (I’m pretty sure he raised a metaphoric eyebrow at my childish stomping). Then I started to doubt my end of the relationship.
Oh, I tried to be strong. Did you know that it’s possible to quote a Bible verse, grasp its truth, and still be lying to yourself? Truth: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Lie: So I’m fine. Truth: God is with me, so I am not alone. Lie: I’m not lonely, or at least I shouldn’t be. Lie: Since I have no good reason to be depressed, I should be able to just get over it.
Finally, I couldn’t use the Bible verses as a shield anymore. It wasn’t enough to simply know “I am weak, but God is strong.” I had to let myself feel my weakness, my brokenness, my failure. I had to acknowledge the hurt before I could be healed.
I am so weak.
For over two years, I clutched onto Romans 8:28 and the following verses, desperately believing that, even though it felt like I was making no progress, God would use my emotional and mental struggles for my good, to mold me more into Jesus’s image, to glorify him. I figured that when I was on the other side, I’d be able to encourage someone else who was struggling. In the meantime, I resigned myself to my version of running laps around the field: repetitive journal entries. I prayed the same things, confessed the same things… and wondered when I’d improve. My strongest point was my mind, and my mind was a disorganized mess. What use is a smart girl who can’t control her own mind?
When Coach forbids Sawamura from practicing with the ball for a while, it’s hard to see him making progress. People start to wonder why he’s still on the roster. What use is a pitcher who can’t pitch inside?
I am so weak.
He hasn’t given up. He’s broken and frustrated, and the fire is gone from his eyes. He feels like “the mound is getting further and further away,” but he keeps running.
When Coach does allow him to practice with a ball, he still can’t pitch to the inside. That just leaves the outside, and with Sawamura’s accuracy, that means a lot of foul balls.
Finally, at the end of the 71st episode, Chris-senpai walks in. Sawamura recognizes his strong footstep. The empty shelter gives Chris’s voice a heroic echo as he comments, “I see you’re throwing a lot. When you pitch, do you check your grip every time?” Then, “Why don’t you throw me some?” Sawamura, who despaired just a second ago, slowly smiles.
I don’t call all the upperclassmen in anime “senpai.” They’re not my senpai, after all. But Chris-senpai… wow. Everyone respects him, both in the anime and out. Some of the commenters on Crunchyroll compare him to Gandalf. He helped Sawamura before, and now he’s back. If Chris is there, there is hope.
In the next episode, Chris tells Sawamura about a new pitch. If he can accurately throw to the lower outside corner, batters will find it difficult to see. “You’ve only known to pitch offensively,” Chris explains, “but this was the pitch I actually wanted you to learn.”
Wow. After months of training his inside pitch because he “doesn’t have what it takes” to pitch low and away, and after weeks unable to pitch anything effective, Chris basically says, “If you can’t pitch inside, don’t. I’ve got something better for you anyway.”
Sawamura lost a good skill. Now, he can gain a better one. Hopefully, he’ll get the old pitch back eventually—but it won’t be the same old pitch, because it’ll be paired with the new one, and be much stronger because of it.
In early high school, I saw myself as a “smart girl” who had it all together. Then I lost my “pitch.” Still, I thought, If I keep pushing, just crawl along for now, then eventually, I might get it all back. But God had other plans. It’s like he said, “If you can’t be the perfect student, don’t. I’ve got something better for you anyway.”
He showed me repeated failure—and through that, humility and empathy. When I started binging on anime and internet, he redeemed that, too—through the anime community, he exposed me to precious people, many who did not share my beliefs (I needed that perspective), and many who did. Still, he didn’t pull me out of depression and anxiety for over two years. He gave me some reprieves (11th grade wasn’t nearly as bad as 10th or 12th), but he didn’t let me regain the “great student” image I used to have for myself. He had too much to teach me—much more than I realized.
It’s easier to see God’s strength when you know that whatever strength you have is fragile and easily lost. God renewed my emotional health, but he didn’t restore my old functioning abilities (even if he did, I’d graduated from high school; I needed a more mature set of skills than I thought I had as a younger teen). Even now, four years after my darkest days, he says, “Guess what? You still can’t be the perfect student, or daughter, or employee, or sister, or friend, or blogger. But I’ve got something better for you anyway. You’re mine, and I have a lot more to show you. It’ll be hard, and I’ll challenge you, but I’ll give you my strength, and I’ll counsel you through it. This is the next ‘pitch’ I actually wanted you to learn.”
Remember, at first, Sawamura didn’t know how he would get back on the mound. He ran like the coach instructed, but he didn’t know if that would get him anywhere, or when he’d hold the ball again. And me? After a while, I started to wonder if and when I’d be able to function like a “normal” person. By God’s grace, I kept going. I didn’t completely lose hope. I prepared myself for the possibility of chronic depression and figured that, worst case scenario, it would last until I died of old age, and even that would just be a short amount of time compared to eternity. Thankfully, God had other plans.
I am so weak.
The LORD is my strength.
Friends, if you are struggling, whether through temporary or chronic afflictions, I want to encourage you. I could give you some nice words about persevering through your troubles, finding your own strength, and striving for the goal (or pitching mound, or honors diploma, or whatever). But that kind of “growth” and “healing” would just mask the real problem. They are temporary solutions to symptoms. The only good answer I can give for your trouble is to seek Jesus Christ. Hold to him desperately, and rest in his promises. All other forms of healing are bandaids; He is the cure. If you’re weak, then you’re actually in the perfect place to put your faith in Jesus; you won’t confuse his strength with yours.
Let me speak specifically to my brothers and sisters in Christ: Keep running. It’s hard. It hurts. Acknowledge that. If you don’t see your brokenness, you won’t see God’s strength in your life (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 for some of Paul’s take on his own weakness). Have faith—and yes, even the weakest faith counts. You might not see your growth immediately, but God is working in you for his glory. He might have taken away one “pitch” (or several pitches) because he has something better to teach you, something you might not realize yet. You are not useless, and you are not a failure. God is working in your weakness.