Discipline in a Long-Distance Race
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
(Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message)
Two-a-days. Remember those? One day of athletic practice containing a double-dose of drills, conditioning, listening, learning, yelling, spitting, sweating, grass, dirt, bruises, throwing-up and being thrown-up on. Oh, yeah! Only the dreams of a championship trophy could sooth such practice field horrors.
I’ve done my share of two-a-days. Spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours practicing. I loved playing the game. I craved the competition – still do. Yet, despite the thrills of victory and the rush of matching strengths with an opponent, the mid-point of each season brought with it feelings of dread. Dread for the routine. Dread for the monotony. Dread for the practicing. As the season wore on I would inevitably grow weary of the work.
Weary because I knew all the plays. I knew my responsibilities. I knew everyone else’s responsibilities, positions, check-downs, blocking schemes and audibles. Practicing became a painful trial of patience. (God must have been preparing me for children) The joy of playing kept me going, but the grind of the daily prep was brutal. The energy and excitement that carried me through early season two-a-days evaporated. All that remained was the mid-season doldrums.
Has your life ever felt like a never-ending string of two-a-days? How about a mid-season practice? Mine has. I feel pressure from a culture of always accessible, available and immediate. The media smorgasbord at my fingertips can be paralyzing. The pull toward bigger, better and more can feel oppressive. Some days are like mid-season practice with Friday night’s lights nowhere in sight.
Like athletic practice, life is work. At times, a slow plodding. As a man, what do I do? What are my options? I see two: get in the game, or ride the pine. Engage or retreat. The choices are simple; the choosing is not. Why? Because for men, this choice is core to the battle for true masculinity. A struggle that pits the curse of passivity against the call to courageous leadership. Passivity clings to men like grease under the finger nails. Add the exhaustion of a two-a-day kind of life and passive retreat becomes very alluring. To some degree, every man hears the whispers that say step-back, sit down, be quiet, play it safe, do it tomorrow, hide. I feel it. My boys feel it. My male friends and mentors feel it. Tragically, it’s part of who we are as sons of Adam.
Every man is strung in the tension between his propensity to be passive and the God-breathed call to work and keep (Genesis 2:15). The call to initiate, risk, lead and love. To protect, make safe and keep secure. To bring real manliness to marriage, parenting, vocation and relationships. This war against passivity is mythic in scope and eternal in affect. Stu Weber said, “The measure of a man is the spiritual and emotional health of his family. A real provider has a vision for a marriage that bonds deeply, for sons with character as strong as trees, and for daughters with confidence and deep inner beauty. Without that vision and leadership, a family struggles, gropes, and may lose its way.” (Tender Warrior, p.29) Biblically authentic, manly living is difficult day-after-day, mid-season work that leaves no room for passivity.
Seventeenth century New England pastor Jonathon Burr suggests, “It is better to wear out with work, than to be eaten out with rust.” Burr and Weber are right. Men must confront, fight and reject passivity. We can’t get rusty. There’s too much at stake. We’ve got a household to keep, a wife to love, children to teach and people to serve. We’ve been called to do the hard and thankless work of laying our lives down for those we love (1 John 3:16). To sacrifice so others might flourish. To put ourselves last.
Men, it’s a two-a-day kind of life. Accept it. Engage it. Embrace it. Don’t settle into a mid-season complacency. It’s our privilege to work and keep. So, let’s get off the bench, play the man, and show our sons – our men-in-training – how it’s done.