November 22, 2014

Another Look: A Very Real Fight

[This originally appeared in May of 2010. I feel like I am still in the ring fighting this battle, so I thought we would have another look at this topicJD]

It stood to reason that a struggle with the Devil meant a spiritual struggle … the notion of a physical combat was fit only for a savage. If only it were as simple as that. (Perelandra by C.S. Lewis)

I have been watching a lot of boxing on TV lately. I’ve always liked boxing–”the sweet science”–but had not really watched much in the past few years. Not much has changed though. You still have two men (I have yet to watch two women square off in the ring) who are nearly equal in weight spend three minutes at a time trying their best to hit the other in just the right way to knock him to the ground, hopefully to stay. While it can look brutish and needlessly violent, there really is a lot more science and math involved in boxing than there is raw strength. A skilled fighter can take down a stronger but unskilled fighter every time.

I have been watching a lot of boxing, but I feel like I have been in the ring myself much of this week. The past several weeks, in fact. Maybe the last couple of months. And I feel neither skilled nor strong. I have been battered and beaten, and right now am struggling to make it to my feet before the referee counts to ten. Who knew that when Paul wrote to Timothy about fighting the good fight of faith he meant it would be a real fight?

I am not talking about “spiritual warfare” here, or at least not in the way those words have been misused over the last couple of decades. This is not about hunting demons in your laundry basket or anything like that. As Lewis says, if only it were as simple as that. Smith Wigglesworth supposedly was awakened one night to sense a demon at the foot of his bed. His response? “Oh, it’s just you.” Then he rolled over and went back to sleep.

This is a spiritual battle I am in, no doubt about it. But it affects all areas of the “me” that is, well, me. When I am fighting with my emotions, it affects my body. My back aches so badly I cannot sleep. And without sleep, my emotions are a wreck the next day. And both the physical and emotional pain keeps me from being sensitive of spirit in listening for the still, small voice of the Lord. So this is a “whole man” fight, if you will. I cannot just say it is affecting me mentally or emotionally and the rest of me is fine. No, it is a battle that affects all of me.

I am not going to go into details as to what my battle is about. Does it matter? Not to you, I’m sure. You have your own battles. What I find amazing is the number of Christians who seem to waltz through life always “living in victory,” celebrating the fact they are “overcomers” and never, ever suffering defeat. I see their faces on books telling me that they have the secret for the victorious life, that my miracle is just around the corner, that the breakthrough God wants to give me is just about here. If I watched religious TV–which, other than EWTN, I never do–I would hear them sharing their stories of how they walk in abundance and prosperity 24/7.

It makes me want to take them into the ring for a three-minute dance.

We all face battles. If you are not in a fight for your life right now, you soon will be. Anyone who says differently than that is a liar, a fool, or dead. Biologists will tell you that struggle is the only sign of life in living organisms. And just because one trusts Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and enters into a life of following Jesus as a disciple does not excuse that one from life’s struggles. Life is hell much of the time, for the Christian or the non-Christian. It is an endless boxing match, wearing us down to where we think we cannot go on.

When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding, kidding ‘Cuz my ribs are bruised And it’s just round two

Sara Groves wrote these words for her song, The Boxer. It is from the heart of a believer crying out to God. Walking in this life is hard. It feels like I am in an awful fight. Just round two and already I am having trouble breathing from these bruised ribs.

When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding When you said this was a fight You were not kidding ‘Cuz there’s a cut on my eye And it’s just round five

Now I have a cut over my eye. This is the worst possible place for a boxer to take a cut. The nose, the ear, the cheek–yes, there is a lot of blood, but that is just cosmetic. When there is a cut over the eye, blood streams into the eye so the boxer can’t see. And if he can’t see, how will he defend himself from the next punch about to be thrown?

And I used to be quick I used to see it coming I used to know how to move my feet Now I can’t duck And I can’t land nothin’ And I forgot how to bob and weave, bob and weave

The boxer who lives to fight another day is one who keeps his feet and shoulders and head moving. He ducks punches, he weaves with his feet and bobs with his torso. But when his stamina and strength give out, he stands still like a statue and takes punch after punch. It is brutal to watch. A fight I saw this weekend had a fighter wearing black trunks and a fighter wearing black with a white stripe. They were fairly evenly matched through the first five rounds. In round six, you could see that white stripe was flagging—he was not as fast as he had been, spent more time trying to clinch with black trunks just to keep the round going. Soon black trunks had white stripe against the ropes and landed a left jab to the head. The only thing that kept white stripe from falling over were the ropes. Black trunks reared back and hit him again with another hard left. And again. The fight should have been stopped right there. Three, four, five more punches. Why is the ref not stopping this thing? Six, seven. Even black trunks was wondering why he was still punching. Eight. Where is the ref? Nine. White stripes slipped down the ropes and fell out toward the floor. If the referee had not caught his feet, he would have fallen all the way out of the ring. A brutal beat-down.

I feel like white stripe right about now.

When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding When you said this was a fight You weren’t kidding, kidding, kidding ‘Cuz this room’s in a spin And it’s just round ten

Just round ten? There are more to go? How much longer, Lord—how much longer?

If you care at all Take that towel from your neck ‘Cuz I’ve reached down deep And there is nothing left I’ve got nothing I’ve got nothing I’ve got nothing

I am ready for God to toss in the towel. I have had about all I can take. Why won’t he throw the towel?

And I was talkin’ big I was talkin’ But now, now what?

Greater is He who is in me Greater is He who is in me Okay, okay, okay Greater is He who is in me Greater is He who is in me Greater, greater, okay

Oh, I can talk the talk all right. I have been around long enough to be able to wear the Christian mask and say all the right things about how God is my victory and all that. And I can make you believe it as I say it. Greater is he, etc. etc. But it ain’t the truth. And if I let you get close enough to me, you would see the bruises and cuts and know I am lying. So I don’t let you get close. I isolate myself and say I am “praying about it.” But I want, long for, something real. Something that will help me to keep my hands up, to get my feet to move again.

And I can’t just know it I’ve got to feel it And I can’t just feel it I’ve got to believe it And I can’t just believe it I’ve got to live it And I can’t just live it (You’ve got, you’ve got to believe it)

Obedience comes easily for me. I can obey God without too much trouble. I obey out of my will. And I can be pretty strong-willed at times. It’s trust that is so much harder for me. Trusting God is a lot more difficult than pleasing God. Trusting means standing on something I can’t see and that I have no control over. It means staggering in the ring with a blindfold on, trusting the Spirit to guide my hands and feet. (Imagine Luke donning the blaster shield helmet while practicing with his light saber. Or don’t, if you don’t like Star Wars illustrations.)

I’m not going to end this on a happy note, I’m sorry to say. I don’t have any nice answers. If I did, I would apply them to myself and get out of the ring. I am tired of being hit, tired of being knocked down and told to get back on my feet, tired of the blood and the cuts. I’m tired. The enemy I am fighting is not so much the enemy of our souls as it is garbage and junk and anger and frustrations I have let build up in my soul over the years. These are principalities and powers just as much as demons are. Or maybe these emotions are demons. I don’t really know, and to tell the truth, I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter to me. A punch thrown is a punch thrown. But to give up now means to climb out of the ring, bloodied and bruised and broken, but with nothing to show for it. So I stay and fight another round.

I don’t have the victory. I don’t really feel much like an overcomer. I have landed a few good jabs, and once a solid uppercut, but my opponent is still standing. I have a great Corner Man–the Holy Spirit–and I have heard encouragement once or twice from the crowd. I have ignored those who are hawking their wares in the isle (Get your red hot Seven Secrets To A Victorious Life book! Get your His Pain, Your Gain t-shirt! Get your I’m Walking In Abundance CD!) and concentrated on standing until the bell sounds. I think I have given up trying to win this fight. Right now, I just want to survive.

Does anyone else ever feel like this?

(The Boxer lyrics used by permission from Sara and Troy Groves. You can hear it on her album The Other Side Of Something. Sara is one of the very few Christian musicians and songwriters I listen to. Why? She is real, that’s why.)

Comments

  1. I’m right there with you, Jeff.

    Sometimes I don’t know if I can make it.

    We’re pretty much all very weak. We really aren’t up to it.

    But as you said. He is up to it. He is saving us. He has saved us. He will save us.

  2. ‘Anyone else feel like this?’ Actually my analogy is closer to MMA cage fighting than the the boxing ring. Currently I am reeling from being king hit this morning. The 2 worse things are I didn’t even see it coming and more so I still haven’t worked out how I brought it on myself (though this can be a bit difficult when punch drunk). I’ve the read the Seven Secrets to Successful Relationships so why is my life more akin to pugalism than the other relationship metaphors glibly served up?

    But you are right, we have a good corner- must listen to them more often

  3. Robert F says:

    My own life is a failure from any secular or conventional standpoint. I have been defeated by myself even more times than by life. I’m no longer in the fight, I’m out of it. My only hope is Jesus Christ. I don’t look for victory or success, I only look for salvation.

    • Robert, sounds like Brennan Manning is the man for you. I just started re-reading his The Ragamuffin Gospel. I see that youtube has a lot of his sermons/talks, so I am going to listen to some of them.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, as I missed it the first time around.

    For me, it is not the huge blows that take me down, but the daily small blows….to the body, to the soul, to the mind…..that make me ready to find a corner to curl up in, with the towel OVER my head to block out the world.

    From a much older song about boxing….

    In the clearing stands a boxer
    and a fighter by his trade
    he has squandered his resistance
    for a pocket full of mumbles
    such are promises
    all lies and jest
    still a man hears what he wants to hear
    and disregards the rest……

    • And he carries the reminders
      Of ev’ry glove that layed him down
      Or cut him till he cried out
      In his anger and his shame
      “I am leaving, I am leaving”
      But the fighter still remains…

      Jeff, I understand and I’m praying for you. Sorry I can’t buy you a beer too.

  5. Adrienne says:

    Jeff ~ please don’t make this spiritual. It has taken a long time for you to get into a state of exhaustion. It will take a long time to recover. Fibromyalgia is a nasty disease with which to live. It causes constant, grinding pain and fatigue. Anxiety, depression, INSOMNIA etc. are all symptoms of Fibro. Now the medical community is believing that Fibro and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may be one and the same. With Fibro you never know. I pushed myself that past few days and last night – I began to pay for it. The next few days will have to be total rest. When we get so physically exhausted it effects our outlook on everything and we lose our way. Our thinking, our spirits everything is impacted. I used to be able to study Scripture for hours and just loved it. No longer, I used to be able to read, devour “heavy” books. No longer. It is a frustrating, humbling, frightening, life altering illness. Please, get medical help. Get on one of the good meds that addresses the depression, anxiety and sleep issues. The protocol treatment is Elavil at night to help with insomnia and an antidepressant that addresses both the depression and the physical pain/sleeping issue. I am on Cymbalta and it has been like a miracle drug for me. I will never be Fibro -free unless a cure is found. But the helps are amazing. Please, please don’t over-spiritualize this battle. Once you get some rest and pain relief you will get some perspective back and your thinking will begin to clear. Right now as much as possible REST in every area of your life. I am praying for you – I know the battle is brutal.

    • Jeff~Adrienne is 101% correct……and I feel the pain along with both of you. When I am exhausted (which is 99% of the time since July) I cannot pray beyond a “PleaseGodhelpmenow”.

      I would like to second the effectiveness of Cymbalta with the pain and insomnia, even though it is frightfully expensive. Adrienne, could you add me to your prayers??? By the end of June this first year at a new job AND the graduate program should both be history, and then I am going to sleep for a week!

      • Done ~ just added you to my ever growing list Pattie. Do you have Fibro? If so I am including a link for a Christian Website for women suffering from Fibro. Plus their is also a group for men and women who suffer from CFS/ME. http://www.restministriessunroom.com/group/fibrosplashes

        You do have a lot on your plate and I hope you can get some much needed rest. Yes the Cymbalta is expensive no doubt. Hopefully once the contract is complete there can be a generic available. The Elavil I take is such an old medication that is incredibly inexpensive thankfully.

        • Thanks for the link Adrienne,

          I have been in the “ring” with this disease for 25+ years…still continue to fight with God’s help even though their are days when I want to throw in the towel!

          Thanks also to Jeff for being so transparent.

          • Thanks from here, too, Adrienne. While I have not gotten an official diagnosis of fibromyalgia, it is because I never suggested it or had a comprehensive workup. I am a nurse (in fact, a nursing instructor) and I can tell you that 85% of the health care community think these types of diseases are a crock o’ crap. (Hardly news to you, right?) If I had this as a formal diagnosis, I would be ridiculed and have trouble finding work…it is still believed to be psychological and/or malingering, and a “label” I can’t afford.

            But yes, this is an issue for me, but I am blessed to have an excellent PCP who is also a pharmacist and is up to date on his drugs to an exceptional level. I also know that once I finish my masters (in about 2 months) I will be less stressed and time to exercise and cook healthy. I am slugging through this BECAUSE I know it is likely that I will eventually have to work from home, and in my field that REQUIRES a masters. Once I have it, I have it forever, and can work with my brains when my body is checking out of the equation!

            Appreciate the prayers…..He is the only thing getting me through this!

  6. You are closer to Christ in His sufferings and His divine Loserhood than I am. I don’t envy your sufferings, but I do envy your conformity to Christ.

    Maybe you are bearing some of my burdens. It kinda sounds like it. I’m a little too resilient and far too self-absorbed for my own good. I don’t suffer well, or better stated, I don’t improve my sufferings well.

  7. There is a kind of perverse comfort in knowing that the truth of the matter (any matter) lies outside yourself. It will exist and persist despite your best efforts to believe, alter or ignore it. Your problem is that you’ve learned that once you know the truth you become responsible for it and you are finding the weight of that is crushing you. God loves you anyway and you can’t do anything about that. Stop trying to understand it. Oh …and I love you, too.

    Sometimes the best therapy is simply a good laugh, Jeff. I recommend the Newhart Institute of Analytical Psychotherapeutics: http://vimeo.com/10880189

    • “Your problem is that you’ve learned that once you know the truth you become responsible for it and you are finding the weight of that is crushing you. God loves you anyway and you can’t do anything about that.”

      Great observation.

  8. Randy Thompson says:

    A book I’ve returned to again and again is “Unseen Warfare,” by Theophan the Recluse and Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. The gist of it can be summed up in the now famous words from the (very) old Pogo cartoon: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

    I too get tired of being knocked down. But, the fight is worth it, and if it does nothing else, it’s God’s grace that gets us back on our feet and back in the fight.

  9. Damn. I’m right there with you.

  10. I only feel like this all the time.
    Jeff, your posts like this are the greatest encouragement for me. I’m no longer the only one I know of who is like this.

  11. My vision is blurred, probably from the swelling in my right eye, due to an illegal thumb while in a clinch. The cut in my left eyebrow refuses to respond to the adrenaline my corner is applying and the “End-swell” device has little affect. My arms can only stand so many brutal punches before they fall to my sides and I fear that I won’t make it out of the ninth round without kissing the canvas. I know that all I have to do is to make it to the bell in the tenth but, God help me, I want to quit, if only to stop the punishment.

    That’s how I feel today. right now as I type this. 62 years old and underwater financially with no prospects of increasing my income, if I weren’t married I’d just chuck it all and disappear with my sleeping bag and camp stove and find some isolated place to lick my wounds. Depressing. You are not alone, there are others who feel that the western, feel-good, prosperity, cliche quoting circus has little to offer. Instead of telling me that my predicament is do to my unfaithfulness in tithing I would like a patient hand and an encouraging voice…

    • Oscar……here, take one of my hands and we’ll drag each other along, OK? We know the final destination is incredible, but getting there is a royal pain in the butt!

    • Keep hanging in there Oscar. Not very encouraging, I know. If it wasn’t for my wife and kids I’d like to find a nice secluded place in the mountains or desert. Maybe tend to some sheep… far away from the hamster wheel we have to keep on turning.

  12. I keep thinking about a line from Dorothy Day: “It is the crushed heart that is the tender heart.” Not the bruised heart, not even the broken one: crushed. And I see over and over how you, Jeff, have a tender heart for those who are in pain, who are lost and suffering, and who feel so alone.

  13. I no doubt read this back in May 2010. And I no doubt love it then, like I do now. Jeff, your candor and courage in the face of so many Christian masks feeds my spirit. Thank you. I just wrote the following on Facebook last week. It was so scary to be so honest I almost deleted it. But the thought kept creeping in, “It’s either true and you stand by it, or you continue on crafting a mask that works for whoever you have around you, watching.” And so I left it and I share it with you and other Imonkers today……

    I love Jesus. He is my Lord and Savior by the grace of God and not by any means of my own doing or effort. But I’m rougher than most. My edges are frayed and I’d have to say I like it that way. I like others who are the same way. I’m drawn to the messy fray. But then someone points out how smooth my edges are supposed to be or how God will smooth me in time by trying to calm and quiet the edges because what I think, feel, or believe doesn’t jive with them and what they think, feel, or believe.

    Sometimes life is hard as hell and I can’t make sense of it. Sometimes I’m asked to face something – in myself or someone else – that is super ugly and hard and not nice. Sometimes I hear stories of what people have gone through or are going through and it’s messy and shitty and I can’t wrap it all up with a nice Jesus bow on top. Sometimes I prefer to say the real thing than the fake Christianese thing because I want to offer those who, like me, are rougher than most something substantial; okay that one is most of the time. Sometimes I listen to Jesus music and weep and wail from my toes. And sometimes it just takes a good Metallica song to jump start my attitude adjustment. Sometimes we are trudging through and wondering how long we can make it another day; Jesus or not. Sometimes we do vent and cuss and ask big questions that have no answers. Sometimes we cry and don’t know why, or maybe we do, and we hope that doesn’t scare you away because we’re feeling something for the first time (or the millionth.) Sometimes we’ve made so many bad choices that our life is falling down around us and we reach out for a hand only to find that everyone has run away. And sometimes life just falls down around us with no particular reason at all and we ask even bigger questions that also have no answers and someone pops up with their Jesus and wants to polish it all up instead of just sit with us and let us move through what we’re going through. We’re not going to camp out there, all of us are aching for beauty to rise from the ashes. Sometimes people are so afraid of the undefined mess that they try to box it up all nice and tidy. To be quite honest, Jesus has not made anything neat and tidy in my life! He has done a lot of things that didn’t have anything to do with what I thought this life of faith was all about (I’m still surprised about that!) He has given me a freedom I never imagined was possible, but neat and tidy it is not.

    But even in all of my roughness this ol’ rebel heart stands firmly on (okay it’s more like wobbly most days) the truth that in the end and the middle and strewn throughout this life transformation and forgiveness and redemption and love and hope are real and tangible and offered daily to the worst person you can think of (and yes, that even means yourself.) It is because of those things that I can bear the weight of the things I see and hear and know, otherwise I’m crushed beneath it and am on the hunt for my next drink.

  14. George C says:

    I came across this on a day where part of me would like to throw in the towel, both in regards to my faith (if you can call it that) and life altogether. I can very much relate to the ability to “obey”, but not trust as of late. I won’t get into to much detail, but knowing you’re a big music fan I thought I’d pass along a couple of songs that have been summing up my state of mind lately:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHuS3-OaLKw
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRV311zdpwo

    Peace.

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