Lessons from the mat

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Wrestling must be about the hardest sport to watch as a mom. My son is on the team, but it doesn't even matter whether I know either of the two kids tangled together on the mat. If one gets pinned by the other, I can't help feeling maternal tears welling up for the "loser."

It was hard for me to appreciate the larger lessons that were playing out in front of me. In fact, both wrestlers walk off as winners. One may carry some points for his team, but the other has gained experience, tested himself against what he has already practiced, and found there was more to learn and achieve. His is an inner score card accumulating points in courage, persistence, resilience, and poise.

And every loss is a lesson in what not to do the next time.

One afternoon I listened to the coaches' instructions during the match. As a boy was being overpowered by his opponent and losing his balance, the encouraging shout from the side was, "Find your base!"

With determination and effort, the boy would find his way down to his hands and knees - low, balanced - and would regroup himself. From that solid position, he would then try to make a move on his opponent.

If he just tried to wrestle his way out of an awkward, unbalanced position, he inevitably got pinned.

Find your base.

I couldn't help drawing some spiritual insights from that phrase.

Whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed by a situation, I know I need to "find my base" through prayer. Prayer gets me mentally down on my hands and knees, solidifying myself with basic concepts about God. I refresh my sense of God as infinite Love and unerring wisdom. I recall moments where I've felt strengthened and protected by God's eternal presence. I recount the blessings of being healed from the effects of accidents and illnesses by understanding God's unwavering care of me and all creation.

If I just keep wrestling with the situation on my own - off-balanced, emotional, and fatigued - I'm inevitably pinned down and a momentary "loser."

And that's one of the other lessons I've learned watching my son's matches. You may get pinned, and pinned, and pinned. But each time, you learn something more about how to respond to an attack. You learn balance. You learn to anticipate and deflect. You learn the importance of gritting out a difficult position until you can flip it and find yourself on top.

One night, a number of years ago, a convergence of untoward events nearly overwhelmed me. Both of my young children were ill, an unexpected and unbudgeted tax bill came in the mail, a close relative had been going through a rough period. And, to top it all off, as I was cooking dinner, I spilled a pot of boiling hot soup all over my bare foot. The pain - and injustice of it all - was excruciating, and the tears started to come.

At that very moment, I thought of the Apostle Paul. He had endured imprisonment, a rough sea journey, a shipwreck, and then, if that weren't enough, a deadly serpent came out of the fire he had just tended and bit him. Paul's response is arresting: "He shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm" (Acts 28:5).

He didn't let himself become overwhelmed.

He maintained his spiritual base in God. In a letter to the Romans, he wrote, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Rom. 8:37). Nothing, he assured his friends, can separate us from that all-powerful love of God. In it and with it, we are more than conquerors in every situation. We conquer our fears and doubts, and surmount the obstacles that would keep us from glorifying God's goodness.

I took heart in Paul's confidence and example - he was a seasoned spiritual wrestler - and one by one, the many opponents I faced fell away.

By the next morning, the skin on my foot was back to normal and was free of pain. I was even able to play tennis. The kids recovered quickly. The tax bill was paid from an unexpected source. And the family member's situation began to turn around, too.

While I still hold my breath during every wrestling match I watch, I'm finding new inspirations from both the wins and the losses - and the lessons that secure the bigger victories.

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