Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

-Teddy Roosevelt

I was ravaged last night by visions of what my life might have been, other choices I might have made.

Who am I really? Am I the composed and purposeful servant I intend to be, or am I like a wild thing running through the night with mysterious desires and unspeakable longings? There are blisters on my soul from the heat of it all.

I awoke to a storm this morning. Thunder rolled over the mountains under a lavender bowl. It suited me. Better to have the outside match the inside. I want wind and fire and thrashing. I am Beethoven composing his ninth symphony; I am Patrick Henry crying for liberty or death; I am Winston Churchill declaring he will fight anywhere; I am Juliet making foolish plans with Romeo.

I have been in a hard battle these recent weeks, and it's not over yet. The mystery of being human lies in our complexity. We don't always know what is within us, and we don't always understand ourselves. Maturing is, above all, a discovery process. I must be patient and let the truth unfold at its own pace. I must remember that understanding is not all that is required. I must become the sort of person who can understand.

In our walk with God, we tend to emphasize understanding. But we need more than that. What is irreplaceable is for us to become the sort of persons through whom God's love and power flow freely, so that we may love as Jesus loved and endure as Jesus endured. How do we become the sort of people for whom this is possible?

This is the essential foundation for personal freedom and maturity: As we live honestly with ourselves and God, understanding is given. For then we live close to the One who is light and truth to us. We should not be deceived into thinking that we must only understand and that understanding will make us right. This leads us to spend our days seeking to understand,
yet never coming to the understanding we seek, remaining at the threshold of the life we long for, catching glimpses of it, but seeing it as a man sees a dream after waking. This is what happens to us when we expect understanding to arrive independently of our other choices. Wisdom was never designed to be given to us in isolation. It becomes ours as we love, as we live honestly, as we endure.

Teddy Roosevelt's man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, is better for having tried with all his might, for having lived fully, for having fought earnestly, for having erred and come short again and again. He has lived honestly before God and men. He has given his all and held nothing back. Regardless of the outcome, he has been changed, and he will live a different life. He knows himself as he never did before. He does not live with the reproach upon his soul that he never accepted the challenge to engage the battle before him.

I want to live with all my might. I want to fight well. Whether I fight like a wild thing running through the night, or like a composed and purposeful servant, let it never be said of me that I didn't enter the battle.

Passivity, lack of discipline, cynicism, and the refusal to be involved are all defenses against being hurt or exposed. They are not good for me. I will never find the life I long for if I walk in them. In the long struggle to be real and to live rightly, I need to be regularly reminded to choose well. It is essential to love, to endure, to strive with all my might, and to be honest. As I go forth into the day, clothed in these things, understanding will be given to me.

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