In 2018, we had an excellent chapel at BCS from Dr. Travis Coblentz who teaches in the UAB department of philosophy. His message was one that no one ever gives to teens.... why it is good that they embrace suffering. Suffering provides opportunities and direction to a life of meaning. When we spend our lives pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain, we end up with a rather uninspired existence. We do hard things and endure hard things for the cause of Christ and the pain is so worth the reward.
I'm not sure if it resonated.... we often waste the best literature and truths on the young- I hated these types of things as a 16 year old... if someone asked me "Why is there air?" my only answer was to "pump up footballs".
And speaking on suffering is dicey... there is so much HARD suffering around us and in the world that creates issues when we voice our 'problems' ... my suffering is nothing compared to the intense suffering around me.
So in God's good timing and providence, right after that chapel, He sent me to the emergency room one night with a bout of diverticulitis that comes my way every decade or so. I have enough experience with it to notice the symptoms and if I get the diagnosis and antibiotics quickly, it is painful, but I can endure.
A lot of pain in that ER... and my cold sweats and surges of pain (all of this 2 full years before the term Covid-19 even existed) did not give me much time to empathize or minister. I did however hear the voice of Christ... especially from the Book of Revelation...
 When I (John) saw him (Jesus in His exalted state), I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,  and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17–18 ESV)
Here is what is interesting to me about Jesus...he doesn't do relativistic comparisons.... He doesn't judge me that I am hurting but doesn't try to say, "But over there is real suffering"- at the same time , He is sovereignly in control of ALL issues- He has experienced them and He has a plan for them. I also need to be more aware of how I can minister to others in pain.... knowing that a student hurting because their parents are divorcing IS REAL PAIN.
At the same time, we waste a lot of energy trying to take all discomfort away from young people. I never want to inflict ANY hurt on anyone, but I also know a pain free life is a risk free life.
Pain WILL come though... and we all need to be trained to endure it.... even embrace it with a faith that says like Job "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face". (Job 13:15 ESV)- don't leave out part B to that verse...God can handle it.
The best training ground I have ever seen to train snowflakes into warriors is sports. Any discipline (work, fine arts, academic) works as well. But sports, especially those with contact, help train the muster it takes to make it.
Here is how Paul said it:
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25–27 ESV)
As many of you know.... I do have a lengthy philosophy on competition....
Where and how competition fits in within the Biblical guidelines for people has always intrigued me.
A competitor is enhanced or held back by those he surrounds himself with.
And this may sound simple, but a competitor competes with others….
The natural instinct of any competitor is to get the energy drainers out of their way.
Often these ‘energy vampires’ are those who don’t want anything…. they aren’t hungry, they aren’t dreaming, they aren’t striving. It isn’t that they are content, it is simply they have become too complacent.
Competitors grow by surrounding themselves with passionate, confident, and motivated people….people who are unstoppable… and,to be honest, they are often illogical and unreasonable in the passionate power of their pursuits.
True competitors are the kind who dare to battle the demons of the status-quo and get a lot of detractors from doing so.
Competitors exude a passion to either conquer or die- they are ones who will push back against all conventional wisdom….. and enjoy going against the grain.
and, competitors often achieve what was thought to be previously impossible.
When you read that kind of description- who could argue against that?… those are the winners of the world.
But the qualifying questions are: by what means and by what cost?
Ultimately, a Christ honoring life results in scars.... that is OK, Jesus kept His scars after the resurrection... think about that
I have always been intrigued by this statement from Paul:
" From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus". (Galatians 6:17ESV)
From the context, it is in part his reference, I believe, to his on going eye condition, being surrounded by detractors and imposters, and the nature of the glorious fight he was in.
He EMBRACED the aggravations and pain- and because of that, he lived in fear of no one.
As a head football coach in Nashville in 2006, David Cutcliffe- my high school head coach and now Duke Head Coach- visited us.
He looked at our football coaches and said, "I need men like you to push my son in ways that I can't do as a dad." We weren't coaching his son, he was speaking metaphorically, but the point was well made.
Coaches are part of God's strange ministers to push and prod... it is getting harder and harder to keep the parental protections out of the mix... I never hold that against a parent by the way- I know parents love their kids!
But if you are a parent, let the sports arena be tough- don't wish pain... but allow the process to shape a warrior. And please don't send an email to complain that your kid is going through hardship.... coach him on how to handle it like a man.
I firmly believe sports (especially football) is an important opportunity to develop a rugged disposition to fight. Putting on gear and experiencing fear, pain, exhaustion, victory, and defeat is an experience offered in few other places in society.
A coach pushes his players beyond where they think they can go and when they get there, they realize they could have even done more. These tough teachable moments can happen in the weight room, in the film room, on the practice field, and in games. It is not easy as a parent to allow that ‘push/pull’ type of coaching to take place…. But young men NEED that grind under caring mentors that our coaches are always intending to be.
That is why I call it a 'strange minister'.
I first penned these thoughts far removed from some of the struggles we are seeing today... but the need to compete is more needed... not less.
Competition is a rugged disposition to fight, even when the chips are down- ESPECIALLY when the chips are down. And we have to discipline ourselves to develop this ability to keep steady in the storms of crisis.
It will help us win in the 4th quarter of a tough game, BUT EVEN MORE SO WHEN THE TRIALS OF LIFE COME... be it a tough job, a struggling marriage, a divided culture....
The current strife we are in will melt snowflakes at an alarming rate... and it saddens me to see leaders who retreat when the heat gets hotter.
But I was inspired today to watch our athletes ache and strain through a really tough workout. One young man was a freshman who I have watched for two years now.... and he is so much tougher today that he was as a skinny 7th grader... he failed at times today... but he got back up and kept grinding, HE NEVER QUIT!
One of my daughters gave me a book for Father's Day called, The PUSH. It is the story of a rock climber named Tommy Caldwell.
He says this early in the book:
After all this time, I finally realize that these years of training, rehearsing, memorizing- they're as much, or maybe more about building belief as they are about getting stronger. (pg. 4)
As I close, competition without character and virtue can be misplaced and abusive....we always have to be careful about that.
But our cultural norm right now is to try and make life 'risk free' without any pain or disappointment.
And if we don't allow teachers, coaches, mentors to challenge this- the tragedy will be staggering and the misery will be overwhelming.
We need to open up, loosen up, and let these kids compete...... yes, we have to be smart, but raising a boy in a bubble is not preparing him for the reality of a world with hard issues that need bold, courageous leaders who are willing to stand on principle and face injustice without flinching!
I see a lot of fear right now:
fear of lawsuits
fear of the ire of the 'cancel culture'
fear of job security or finances
fear of the future
Hand wringing and anxiety are not going to get rid of these issues.... we need competitors for truth and righteousness right away and sadly, there isn't time to grow them up gently.... the time is now.
If you want to delve into more thoughts on competition... visit these posts: