“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
It's true, Jesus taught his followers how to have a happy life. Perhaps one of the most notable places where Jesus did this is in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The famous passage is often referred to as "The Beatitudes." The question is, at least in part, what kind of happiness does Jesus want for you and how do you get it?
Let me get through a little nitty gritty and then I'll get to the good stuff (actually the nitty gritty is what makes it good). The Greek word (μακάριος) translated "blessed" in the beatitudes (you can read the beatitudes in Mt. 5:1-12) has a meaning that is much closer to the word "happiness" or even "flourishing." In other words, Jesus is not pronouncing some kind of divine blessing in this text. The beatitudes are more like proverbial sayings that are talking about general truths or realities. As you read the beatitudes you will also see that they have a eschatological focus. In other words, there is a way of being that leads to happiness and a flourishing life both in the here and now as well as in the life to come. We ought to ask, at least for a moment, how we should understand happiness or flourishing.
I train mixed martial arts (this is why). I frequently show up to my office limping and I almost always have bruises somewhere on my body. At the age of 44 you would think I would be over doing this kind of thing...well, I'm not. The truth is in several ways it feeds me and teaches me lessons that are important for life, leadership, and more. Over the last few weeks I have been helping some of my Muay Thai friends get ready for a promotion test that is often referred to as 60-40. In short it means doing 60 kicks and 40 knees in 3 minutes. Doesn't sound bad and if that is all there was to it, it wouldn't be. Just the other day we were doing around 120 or 130 kicks and 80 or 90 knees in 3 minutes. From a strictly cardio perspective 60-40 would be pretty easy. The test is hard because the holder is also the punisher. In other words this is done in a ring with a holder who is also kicking and punching you. You cannot retaliate with punches and sweeps. Furthermore, some forms of defense are frowned upon and should you use one of those, you will pay the price. Trust me, the test is grueling and painful. The past few weeks I have been helping some of my friends prepare for this test (I have done one and won't have another one for a while). I have been relearning a lesson as I have helped in this process
One of the things Muah Thai fighter does, perhaps more than most other sports, is body hardening. A lot of attention is given to hardening shins. Videos of Muay Thai practitioners kicking trees, concrete posts, and rolling their shins are real. Literally what happens is micro fractures are created and the leg heals stronger and more sturdy than before. It's a lot like getting calluses on your finger from playing guitar or calluses from working in construction, just on a larger and often more painful scale. It's not only the shins though, it is the legs overall, the abs, and even the ribs. My friends and I have been doing some leg conditioning where we basically kick each other in the legs, stomach, and ribs repeatedly. We did it in Muay Thai class last night. I'm walking a little awkward today. So, what's the lesson for life from something some might consider to be a brutal practice?
The lesson is both a cultural critique and an encouragement for parents and culture in general. Body hardening equips the body and the mind to be able to absorb much harder blows in an actual fight. The 60-40 simulates an actual fight; blows must be absorbed and dealt out. Without working on hardening the body, the ability to take the punishment necessary would more often then not result in failure on the part of the fighter. Life is often like a fight. We must be able to absorb blows and failure throughout life if we are also to experience success and victory. Too often we spend so much time protecting our kids that they are not prepared when they are required to absorb the blows life brings us. No amount of effort will result in absolute protection of our children. This is not to say we intentionally harm them in any way, but it is reasonable to put them in situations that have a certain amount of risk involved and it is smart to help them develop mental, spiritual, and physical toughness by pushing them to "play hurt".
If you talk to fighters you will find out quickly that they more often then not go into a fight less than 100% percent physically. They are fighting in spite of injury and pain. It's just part of the game. Likewise, in the world of leadership and life in general, we often have to "play hurt." The question is whether or not enough "body conditioning" has taken place to prepare us to do so. The apostle Paul uses this same metaphor in his letter to Corinth, "Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize" (1 Cor. 9:26-27). Obviously Paul isn't talking about his own fight career, but about his spiritual life. The principle holds true across all aspects of life. Toughness and grit have become undervalued in our society. We should do our part to reverse the trend.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.