I was a 88 pound weakling in the seventh grade, and then there was Bill. He was a 9th grade wrestler and an antagonist bully who never referred to me as Mike but usually as runt or some other four letter word. Bill inspired me to become a wrestler, not because I wanted to be like him but because I hoped to gain some respect. I started wrestling and I immediately fell in love with the sport. There are lessons I have learned in the sport of wrestling that I have stayed with me my entire life. The instruction I heard my coaches echo over and over were things like, “Stay off your back, get to your base, work to your feet, don’t reach back, keep your head up, don’t stop, keep moving!” My career is long since passed but I became a coach and said all the same things to my athletes and to my wrestler sons Jacob and Jared. Wrestling has instructed me in some very basic and essential lessons in life, one in particular has been very helpful.
There is a natural tendency that coaches try to break when teaching a new wrestler the basics of survival on the mat. Novices tend hang their heads, this bad habit always puts their opponent at an advantage to turn them to their back. A two count on your back and its lights out and game over, so we continually scream at the kids to, “KEEP YOUR HEAD UP!” Time and experience on the mat breaks the bad habit, wrestlers eventually learn that it is better to keep your head up than to fight off your back. I was 17-0 my senior season and I made the mistake of hanging my head too low in a match that I was dominating. My opponent locked on my head and arm, pulled me over and stuck me to the mat. It had been a long time since I made that mistake, I had also forgotten how to fight off my back and my unblemished record was gone.
Wrestling demands an incredible amount of endurance and strength. Superior conditioning has a distinct advantage in a match, you can visibly see a wrestler concede a loss when he is physically and mentally spent by the way he hangs his head. When your head drops all you see is mat and you are in danger of getting a view of the lights and rafters in the gym. A novice can last through a match with stamina and a heart that wills to survive if he does the most basic skill of keeping his head up. Isn’t this true in life? I have discovered that this most basic of principles has helped me endure the flurry that life has thrown my way. Endurance for life is essential but sometimes I get caught off guard, like my match, I hang my head and get thrown to my back for a loss. Lesson learned, now I go back to the practice room and focus again on the basics to avoid the mistake again.
Jacob was Jared’s biggest fan in the sport of wrestling. Jared’s success exceeded his brothers yet Jacob never had a envious bone in his spirit toward his little brother. Jared’s love for his big brother was demonstrated in a unique way after Jake died, he placed his all-state medal in his hand before they closed the casket. When Jared told me that he was going to do this it troubled me at first because of the years of work and toil that went into earning it. But those selfish feelings quickly turned to acceptance when I realized this was the deepest gesture of love for a brother that he could give. There was something ironic about what Jared did that day; something I will never forget and is connected to Jake and his music.
There is a hymn that Jacob played and sang at his granny’s funeral three months before he died, its called the Old Rugged Cross. The chorus sings, “So, I will cherish the old rugged cross. Till my trophies at last I lay down: I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.” That song and its chorus will forever remind me of Jacob and Jared’s bond. Trophies that rust and collect dust were buried that day, I realized that they mean nothing beyond the moment and have no eternal value. My son was buried with the accomplishments of his brother in his right hand. The vapor of life fades as quickly as it arrives and vain glory dies with it. Jake holds a trophy in his hand but now all that matters to me is that he laid his trophies down in exchange for a crown of life. Its a difficult and sometimes discouraging battle I am in, my enemy wants to pin me down, catch me hanging my head and destroy me. What is my Christian response to this? I keep my head up and cling to the old rugged cross.
Read Hebrews chapter 11 and you will discover the hero’s of my faith, they are people who endured terrible things for God based on a promised future hope. I observe their examples of faith and then I apply chapter 12 to my life by, “Laying aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary and fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:2-3 ESV)
For the Christian there is but one place to look to find our encouragement when life gets hard and faith is tested. I remind myself to stay with the basics, I look to Jesus; I KEEP MY HEAD UP! As I prepare for the wrestling matches against the many enemies of my soul I need to train with wisdom. I must set aside the sins that weigh me down, I must run my course with patient endurance until the day comes that I lay all my trophies down in exchange for a crown.When I get discouraged I consider Jesus my perfect example of endurance. Where is Jesus today? He is at the right hand of God, keep your head up and look to him for someday we will be in his presence where there is fullness of joy forever!