The Boxing Ring
Disclaimer: Although this purports to be a “sports” entry, author does not know sports. However, she loves competition—she tries to swing for the fences (a phrase she uses liberally and marginally understands). Please grant her creative license, and bear in mind that playing with words could also be considered a sport. To understand the exact extent of author’s sports knowledge, please watch this video with SNL actor Kyle Mooney.
In a recent Sunday sermon, Pastor Ryan related the parable of the persistent widow’s grit to a boxing technique of “wearing someone out.” I perked up immediately—not because I love boxing, but because I recognized the tactic. Worn down by an opponent, pummeled relentlessly until you struggle to see through the swelling? Been there, boxed that, got the scars to prove it. I’ve eaten my share of life’s peach clobbering. These battles, cliché though it be, made me stronger; I learned not only how to take a punch, but how to pack my own. Sometimes relentless opposition awakens a relentless fighter.
Funny thing about this idea of wearing out an opponent, though. Relentlessness runs through the Bible, and it’s not only attributed to the Destroyer. Relentless persistence not only characterizes God, but is also urged of those made in his image. God commands his people to “give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest” until Jerusalem is established in the earth; on a more personal level, please, pester him tirelessly until he answers your prayers, Persistent Widow-style. There are times we may even feel worn down by his discipline and training; there’s an energy in Scripture, even an aggression, in the high demands of sonship and spirituality. Life is compared to an endurance race, a vigorous fight, a call for gritty perseverance. Instead of being “worn down” in the ring, where many of us drop out, appalled, it seems we are called to develop our own brand of dogged tenacity, refusing to give up the match until “it is finished.”
I set out on the interweb to research this boxing technique of “wearing down one’s opponent.” I didn’t find it, per se, but I was all new levels of intrigued by a website reciting the fundamentals of boxing. I see life in metaphors, and here I reaped a fistful of pugilistic pictures. And now—Life As a Boxing Ring. Take it away, Internet.
“You can spar anywhere but a boxing ring is best…Having a ring helps limit the area so neither you or your opponent can run out of range. It also forces you to develop long range as well as close range fighting skills. On a more psychological level, being in a ring forces you to confront your opponent without any option to quit.”
Ah, life as a boxing ring. A playing field with limits. A bounded arena. No option to quit. Confront or cower. Even the earth’s orbit circumscribes this “ring” within which we fight, learn, love, and live. You learn the ropes while you’re here; you only leave the ropes when you die. But that’s not to say you’re forced to box. You could get knocked out and lie down in defeat for the rest of your time in the ring; you can play dead, hoping the struggle will sniff you and wander off. You can drug yourself countless ways until you swear the ring no longer exists. Or you can stay sober, stand up, and confront your opponent.
Which brings us to an important question: Who is my opponent?
- “Spar with someone who will help you LEARN how to fight better (not just beat you up).
- Do not spar with anyone who is TRYING to hurt you (save this for when you’re better trained).
- You will ALWAYS get tired. it’s better to get tired punching than get tired defending.”
We’ve all experienced pain. (“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”) But who or what is wearing us out down here? Should be an easy answer: sin of course, and Satan, right? That guy comes only to steal, kill and destroy. Well, yes. But not every pain comes along the same lines. Our enemy devours like a roaring lion, yet the Lord wrestled all night with Jacob and left him limping (and blessed). The yoke of sin and Satan is a heavy burden, but the weights of God’s discipline can also be hard to lift. (“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”) Job, God’s beloved, was so burdened by suffering that he cried out to God, not the devil, “Surely, O God, you have worn me out,” and demanded of his discouraging friends, “Why do you pursue me as God does?” So who’s on the hunt here, the devil or the Lord? Well, yes. Not one of us escapes pain (not even the sinless Son of Man); but there’s a difference between the surgeon’s scalpel and the madman’s knife. It helps to know if you’re fighting the devil or wrestling with the Lord. The Lord “spars” with us to train us for victory; the devil attacks us only to destroy us.
However, we don’t always know pain’s origin or purpose while we’re drowning in it. Sometimes the punches we take are below the belt, and we’re baffled that God doesn’t call a foul. The whistle may not always get blown, but God promises that, to those who love him, he will work good out of any pain that comes our way. He doesn’t order abuse, or take any pleasure in wickedness. We shouldn’t either. But in a fallen world, we can’t always avoid evil or the enemy’s right hook. We need our Shepherd to give us water in the corner and wisdom in the fight. If we train with the Lord, we can learn to get off defense and become a skilled fighter.
“TAKE YOUR REST. Don’t be a noob and train until you’re completely sore and injured. No intelligent athlete does that, only noobs (because they don’t know how to be productive other than to completely exhaust themselves).”
As they say, work smarter, not harder. Lean into discipline. Build muscle so the tiring tasks of staying alive become the arena in which you thrive. Operating at maxed-out levels of stress and injury is not good planning for the long game. Living “stressed out” does not necessarily mean we’re learning to fight well. We tend to waste grandiloquent energy using the same weak approach, instead of doing the harder work of building endurance. Flailing and railing and swearing can be showy, but it doesn’t count as a great “fighting style.”
“Here’s the thing, there really is no such thing as a “fighting style” or even “the best style”. The only style that has ever mattered is YOUR NATURAL STYLE. Which is to do things the most natural and easy way for you. In fact you don’t even have to think about style. Just keep improving your boxing technique, training, and strategy over time—and your “style” will be a result of that. What matters is that you win, not the way you look.”
Remember when they tried to strap Saul’s armor onto David for his fight with Goliath? David finally shuffled it off and ran to the battle line as a shepherd boy with a slingshot. And he won. The royals’ equipment didn’t fit because it wasn’t their battle. If it’s your battle, if your number has been called, you can only go as you. It doesn’t matter that you don’t “look the part.” Moses, Gideon, David, Paul—they all thought, “Surely God can’t mean me.” Yes, he means you. God’s peppered the earth with all kinds of fighting styles. (And how boss is God that he can win cosmic battles with grinning slobberhuts like us? Sometimes I think he’s just showing off.) I can’t wait for the End of All Things, to hear tales of hidden battles and see the true champions revealed. Go ahead, look around, but I don’t think we can recognize them just yet.
It doesn’t matter how we look. It matters that we win.