Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thank you, Sir. May I have another?

“If you look closely at a tree you'll notice it's knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully.” - Matthew Fox

Seventh grade is never easy for any kid, but in my junior high it was especially hard for the guys. The seventh grade P.E. coach was a man named Coach Williams. (I don't know for sure, but I think his first name was "Mister"). Coach Williams was an NCAA collegiate sprinter turned marathon runner turned marine drill sergeant turned junior high gym coach and track and field coach. (O.K., I made up the "drill sergeant" part - but he would have been a good one.) Coach Williams knew two things about athletics - running until it hurt, and running through the hurt. Want to play dodgeball? What are you? A girl? Want to play kick ball? Go change your panties. There was no such thing as basketball, baseball, football or soccer, apparently none of which were invented until I was in eighth grade. Nope, Coach Williams knew running. And pain. And fear. And pain.

For a solid year, Boys P.E. consisted for us of dressing out in sprinter speed - you had three minutes from the time the bell rang to be lined up at the rally point. (God help you if you forgot your gym clothes - you would run in your tighty whities) This would be followed by exactly 8 minutes of stretching. This was the most peace you would have the entire fifty five minutes.

The next fifteen minutes would be followed by "two-twos" - two sets of two each sprints of 25 yards, 40 yards and 100 yards. The class was divided into 3 groups, as Coach Williams called them, the "slow", the "slower" and the "slowest" (sometimes referred to as "women", "ladies" and "girls"). The slow group would sprint 25 yards, followed 3 seconds later by the slower group, who was followed three seconds later by the slowest group. They would then turn around and sprint back in the same order. This would be followed by the 40 yard sprint, and finally the 100 yard sprint, each in the same grueling fashion. THEN would come the first "two" part - we did the entire circuit again. All of this in the space of fifteen minutes.

The next fifteen minutes was distance running. I say fifteen minutes, because that is what Coach Williams expected you to do. You had fifteen minutes to run two miles. That averages 7.5 minutes a mile. For two miles. Fifteen minutes. Now, this was not timed. Coach Williams didn't really care how long it took you to run two miles. You were going to run two miles. But considering there was only 25 minutes left in the class, and you still had to cool down, get to the locker room, clean up, change clothes, get your books, and get to your next class, fifteen minutes was what was allotted. (I am sure that the teachers who had us after him disliked him as much as we did - but they were too scared to say anything as well. At least if they were smart they didn't say anything.)

As clear as anything else in my life, I can still hear Coach Williams yelling at us, "No pain, no gain!" He taught us "ladies" his philosophy of life. You work hard. The harder you work, the better you are. The more you get. If you want something, you work hard for it. You dedicate yourself to it. You achieve it by your talents and sweat. If you are not willing to push yourself, you don't deserve anything. Run until it hurts. Then run through the hurt. Get what the runners call their "second wind". And run some more. You gotta work hard to be a man. No softies allowed.

But life has taught me that Coach Williams was wrong. Good things don't always come to those who work hard for them. The early bird does not always get the worm. And we don't always get what we deserve. One need only look around at the poverty of the world, at the poverty in America, at the poverty in Alabama to see that is not the case. The truth is that life is filled with disappointments and gratuitous offerings to the just and the unjust, the hard working and the lazy. Good hard work and talent does not insure success for anyone, including the Christian.

But in those disappointments and unexpected outcomes are some of Christ's greatest lessons.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Heb. 12:7-11

Coach Williams preached the worldly gospel of self-discipline, which only sometimes results in obtaining what on the surface appear to things of great value. We can train ourselves to be great. We can beat ourselves to work hard and gain whatever we want. We can gain the whole world, and in the process we can lose our soul. (Matt. 16:26). Like all deceptions, it is only half-true.

Now, make no mistake, hard work is necessary. A man who will not work, shall not eat. (2 Thess. 3:10). But what glory is there in knowing you have provided for yourself? What faith is shown when you have kneaded your daily bread? What blessing can exist, when what you have is the product of your own hands? But the blessing of God-discipline, that is discipline from God known through those lessons of hardship and disappointment, produces something that is not measured by bank accounts, 401(k)s, cars, and trophies. It is measured in peace and righteousness.

Like a master sculptor, Christ chips away those things about us that don't look like Him. It is only in our failures, our disappointments, our down right discipline from God that we find true meaning. That process is painful. It is hard. It is long. And it is worth it.

Our lives can show forth our glory, or it can show forth His glory. And when life is about showing off our abilities, our talents, our hard work, it ceases to point to Him. Perhaps that is why Christ strips away so much of us - because He loves us too much to let us glorify ourselves. We really are not that great when you boil it all down.

I can only pray that my age shows His face.



Laura said...

Hmmm, I've had similar thoughts today -- not exactly the same, but similar -- about how little blessing there is when we contrive to achieve something for ourselves, but how much greater blessing there is when God provides against all "odds" and we know it has to come from Him. I struggle to relinguish my whole self to Him, but even so, in his grace He reminds me of His presence.

Anonymous said...

yet another incredible post, I dont want to split hairs but coach williams was not half wrong he was only half right. he recognized the truism of "hard work pays off", he had learned that if you want something you cant expect it to fall in your lap b/c you want it. Obviously he was a bit over the top with the whole running bit, but if he had looked at the world through the gospel lens then he might have seen that natural talent has nothing to do with hard work and dedication. some people are very skilled with body movement and become dancers and athletes, others are blessed with fine motor skills and excel at x-box 360 or surgery. while still others are talented at use of words and become lawyers or writers and then most of us are just not very outstanding at all. what did wedo wrong?? have the wrong family tree, be born in the wrong country, in the wrong time?
we can effect our lives (in a crude and rudimentary sense) by working hard and cultivating skills/ talents but we are born with most of our lives laid out for us just cause of our genes and jeans (heritage and SES).

CS Lewis makes the point that the picture of God's love is shown to us in an unfailing way every day by someone who loves us more than any other human being... us (ourselves that is). we love our own self unconditionally. we give our selves unconditional grace when we make bad choices or err, we cover over the rough spots so that the bright spots gleam a little better and we forgive our continued hypocrisy. Lewis points out that this is how God loves us and how we should love others.

If Coach Williams had that knowledge then maybe he would still have y'all run till you puked, but he might have relented a bit and let you guys have a little fun while you got exercise.

Sooooo. how exactly did he have it half right? he saw truism, he valued good things and his actions were not wrong in and of themselves. it was his paradigm by which he metered success. as I have noticed with many philosophies of life and good manipulators they are often not even half off, but merely half a percent. but with that key bit missing the rest is mis-guided at best.

Humans share about 95% genetic structure with a fruit fly and better than 99.5% with a chimp, but what a difference that half % can make!