Depending upon your age, you, like me, may recall the angst Laura Ingles of Little House on the Prairie experienced dealing with Nellie, the incorrigibly nasty girl with the sugary blond curls who made life on the prairie feel more like life in the flaming pit of hades. (Even if you didn’t see the original episodes, maybe you caught the reruns?)
Well, I have a Nasty Nellie of my own to deal with, and I’ll bet a dozen chocolate glazed that you do too.
My Nellie (name changed to protect the lawsuitcrazy) first appeared at my weekly tennis clinics about two months ago. Okay, it isn’t really my tennis clinic – it’s run by a real tennis pro at a private club and is officially open to anybody willing to cough up the required moola – but since I’ve faithfully attended for the past year, I consider it my terrain.
Didn’t lift my leg to mark my territory or anything, but still … my turf. Right?
We usually have the same comfortable 5-6 repeat attenders with an additional 5-6 who rotate in and out as their schedules allow. We’ve all pretty much gotten along and have a fine time whacking that little yellow ball around a court for two hours each Monday evening.
Enter Nellie. Nasty Nellie.
She’s young, cocky, stocky (built like a linebacker), slams the stuffin’ outa the ball like Babe Ruth, and yells scorching obscenities enough to make your ears sizzle. Gone are the days of tennis being considered “the gentleman’s sport.”
Nellie is an example of our entitled times. She’s not that good but she thinks she is. So you must yield. It’s all about her. And. She’s. Just. Nasty.
She’s stomped repeatedly on my sensibilities since the first day she arrived, but there’s absolutely nothing I could do about it but try to ignore her. Hard to do as she’s about as subtle as a freight train and thinks nothing of throwing her weight around, right in your face, if she disagrees about a point or call. The fact that I’m two skill levels higher than her in ranking makes no difference. The girl seems to have an ax to grind with everyone and needs badly to prove something.
Like might is right. Or obscene gets results. Or I’m the only one who matters, chump.
Or … maybe something else entirely.
Anyway, last Monday night, something weird happened.
It was uncharacteristically cold out yonder (for Fla) in the 40 degree eve, so not many people showed up … only four. After the 45-minute pro lesson, one left so we were one player short to play our usual doubles, so it ended up with me on one side of the net hitting practice shots against Nasty Nellie and another gal about her same skill level.
Things went along as expected – Nellie displaying her usual hyper-competitive nastiness and me on a low burn (lots of hidden eye rolls) – for the first twenty minutes or so. But then something changed. I decided to help Nasty Nellie, like her or not. I would stop practicing my shots and no longer hit the ball BY her. I’d hit it TO her. Hey, I didn’t have anything else to do. Might as well do something productive.
She didn’t ask me to, or even seem to notice at first. But as I kept going out of my way feeding her balls that I knew would make her a better player, she caught on that I was doing it to benefit her. She gradually softened up and became more and more appreciative.
When I praised her for hitting shots she wasn’t able to when we started, she beamed. When I complimented her court speed, she ran even faster. Comradery begat humility. A different Nellie emerged. She dropped her know-it-all façade and began asking for how-to tips and strategy pointers. She was funny and earnest. Snarkiness had morphed into, well … almost-friendliness.
Suddenly, I realized I truly wanted her to improve. I – [gulp] – was starting to like her.
And an hour later when I finally pooped out (hey, it was one against two, remember?) and called it a day, Nellie said, “Oh, man, do we have to stop? This was so much fun! I’ve gotten more out of this than any lesson I’ve ever had.”
So Nellie and I laughed about some silly thing all the way to our cars and I drove home smiling about a budding NO-WAY relationship that had received a barrel of unexpected fertilizer that night.
Would you believe that when I crawled into bed that night, this verse was front and center in my daily devotion:
“Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good” (Romans 12: 20-21 MSG).
I wanted to holler, “WOW!!!! I GET IT! I GET IT!”
And that, my friend, is how to turn a Nasty Nellie into a Nicer Nellie: help her in a way that is meaningful to her. She may not understand why you’re doing it (nor might you!), but the supernatural love working within you will seep through.
I just love it when Papa God drives home an ace.
Won’t you share a spiritual ace with us that you’ve been served this week?