Just a quick thought this morning that grew in my brain while turning rough boards into smooth boards yesterday. Really, it grew out of the joy I derive from beautifying ugly lumber into something that takes up a place of prominence in someone’s home. It does not pay millions and I go home at the end of the day smelling like the result of a tree fart. But I’m happy.
I just want to be sure to lay that foundation as the place from which my mind launched into this thought.
Two weeks ago the air cooled to something beyond what I was used to in Hawaii. It reminded me of times when I used to sit in metal bleachers, feeling awkward and old and young, too old for the teenage crowd, too young for the parents section. In the best days, I was joined by Phil who would whoop and holler beside me. We would watch for our boys to charge onto a grass field to prepare themselves for three hours of mental and physical anguish. They would prepare their minds for all things.
Why are we shaming the kids who quote the “all things” thought from Paul to the Philippians? Mostly you see it quoted by student athletes who are about to go into a tough game, and you see it used by students who are about to go into a tough series of classes and tests.
You see it quoted by people who are trying to make better lives for themselves in adulthood; men who work hard for promotions, women climbing ladders, parents trying their best to not screw their children up.
And then along comes Francis Beth Chan Moore Priscilla Trendy Preach Shirer who challenges people to see deeper into the verses surrounding “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and we suddenly have contempt for people who we perceive as using scripture as a magical incantation. And I have nothing against all of the people who have made their way to massive public attention for their apologetics and compassionate attention to scripture. Theirs is a hard life. What I dislike is how we use what they teach to hold some sort of superiority over other people. I have most definitely participated in this ritual and I hate the bitterness I spread with this method. I hate the hurts I have created in people I have cut off with this thought process. I loathe that some people followed me.
First of all, let’s acknowledge that there are surrounding ideas that qualify the “all things.” Paul was most definitely talking about the contentment that comes from God so that in success or failure, feast or famine, we can be happy moving toward God.
Now, look at the football player who has “I can do all things through God who strengthens me,” on his helmet, written on his socks, stitched into his underwear, or whatever. Ok… don’t look at his underwear… But understand that dude is not asking God for supernatural strength. He’s asking for rudimentary strength to focus on a task that is way beyond himself. You see a bunch of hulking masses of humans running around a field and ignore that these are still just boys. Absent the pads and war faces, they look like babies more and more when I meet them. They have barely begun life, know little of the harsher edges of reality, and most definitely don’t know how badly life can sting.
Some of them do know, I’ll own.
And here is this boy trying with all of his might to do something Herculean that we take for granted because some muscle bound millionaire who has put more hours into this craft than I have put into anything in life besides sleep makes it look easy on television.
I once cared for a high school’s football team. I wasn’t officially their chaplain, but I knew so many of the boys who played that I got to work with the hearts of the young men who went out to do man’s work on the field. Their team was a tiny fish in a huge pond and they lost often. It was hard on them because the football team often carries the heart and soul of a school. They are the mighty gladiators of the school.
And their gladiators carried the shame of many losses.
Week after week, many of them acknowledged “can” did not always equal a guaranteed “will.” They fought, they strove, they learned, they bled, they picked themselves up, watched film, and fought again.
And in their striving, they knew more about what it meant to believe in God’s provision of happiness in the struggle than any person snarking their quotes on the sidelines. Ok, if you’ve ever seen an athlete interviewed right after a win, I get it. It’s not ever poetic. It’s occasionally unintelligible. But I mean COME ON! They just fought their opponents, coaches, fears, and their own doggone bodies for three straight hours and then you put a microphone in their face? You’re lucky they don’t eat the darn thing.
They are the man in the arena who in defeat is a better person and happier than someone who will only stand by and judge them for not putting five verses from Philippians onto their twitter than just the one that they focus on when fear comes stalking their strength in the fourth quarter.
The early morning wind blows my memory back to those times and I thank God and my boys for teaching me something of the heart of a champion who has more losses than wins. They are all men in their own rights now. Some are soldiers, husbands, fathers… One has defeated cancer, and his brother, another 100 yard warrior walked alongside of him. Another marries the girl of his dreams when he comes home from an isolated tour of leading a bunch of rowdy armor drivers. One of them has born children with the girl who he loved since he met, and fostered children with her as well. They honor their parents with their strength. They evidence their God with their courage. They can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.
And I cheer when I hear them say it.
Categories: Dear Us,