When Asahi Azumane is first introduced in Haikyuu, it’s not as a volleyball player. Formerly their ace, the player most responsible for making the big spikes which ignite the team’s offense, Asahi stopped attending Karusuno’s practices after being thoroughly denied, over and over, in a recent loss to Date Tech. And thus freshman Tobio and Shōyō have no idea he even exists when they first join. Asahi has effectively quit the team.
The former ace’s exit reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a friend. He had spent considerable time over recent years learning new musical instruments and practicing ones he’d mastered long ago. But during the last couple of months, my friend sold all his instruments, and he felt all the better for it, like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. I knew how he felt. After seven years of service, my wife and I stopped leading a specific ministry at my church this past year—it was a tough decision, but one that like band-aid being ripped off, only hurt at first. We felt freedom and relief in the months following our leave.
That’s how it’s supposed to go when you relinquish a role or responsibility. But Asahi doesn’t feel that way. He frequently looks nervous. He randomly walks by the practice facility, as if drawn there and unable to walk away. And he can’t quite look Tobio and Shōyō in the eyes when they finally discover that they had an ace and try to convince him to return. Instead of feeling better, Asahi feels burden by leaving. Why? Because everything about his decision was wrong—Asahi left the wrong way for the wrong reasons, hurting himself and the team.
The loss to Date Tech was one that Asahi shouldered himself. That’s no surprise—many points were loss due to him being ineffective, and he feels even worse because he’s the ace, the one the team depends on for offense. Emotionally broken, Asahi goes somewhere he shouldn’t—not just to self-pity but to a place of untruth, telling himself others lies. He’s not intentionally lying—Asahi decides that he just doesn’t like volleyball as a way to deal with the pain he’s feeling. Maybe if he convinces himself this is true, he can get past the pain. While that might work for at least a little while, it’s like cutting off a wart’s surface but leaving the root—the condition will return again. And the problem for Asahi is that he’s too timid, more willing to run away from fears than face them, and that’s exactly what he’s doing in this instance. How can Asahi solve that problem? How can he possibly grow when he’s running away from the one place where he can grow?
Of my many vices, perhaps my greatest is a lack of graciousness. The place I need to be is church, because it’s through community that grace is both given and received. But late last year, I missed a number of Sundays for various reasons, including serving: I led a church project which required me to stay out of the sanctuary area during service. To add to whit, I stopped praying as much and read scripture less that month as my daily routine was shaken up by my holiday schedule. It’s no wonder that bitterness started creeping into my heart against the church and that I gave very little grace to those around me. Like Asahi, I left the place I needed to be most, and also like him, I regressed. The answer for me was simple, but being out of the practices I needed, I failed to see it:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)
When I look at scripture, and particularly these verses about remaining in the vine, I notice something. While Jesus tells us that what we wish “will be done” for us, the ultimate purpose is never for my own glory or goodness. The blessings come, yes, but the reason is God. Verse eight from the above passage mentions that staying in the vine will show us to be Jesus’ disciples. It’s for him, and yet we receive blessing as well. If I’m in the vine, if I’m seeking God and loving him, I’ll be blessed. I’ll grow. And I’ll be able to give that grace that the church needs, and receive the grace that I need. By doing his work, by plugging into him, I also win.
Asahi is as blind as I am. For him to grow, he must be with the team—he can’t become stronger apart from it. And meanwhile, the team counts on him as well. Like the church giving and receiving grace, setter and guardian are hurting without Asahi there, and the team is incomplete without their ace. When he returns—it’s then that Karasuno finally has a full team.