Keith Wishum: An unnatural act

Published 11:05 am Saturday, December 22, 2018

“‘Boxing is an unnatural act,’ whispered the voice.”

F.X. Toole, author of Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner, on which the movie Million Dollar Baby was based, penned those words about boxing. He continues, “Everything in boxing is backwards to life. You want to move to the left, you don’t step left; you push off the right toe, like this. To move right, you use the left toe, see?’ … `Instead of running from pain, which is the natural thing in life, in boxing you step to it, get me?”
In the movie, Maggie, an aspiring young boxer, learns to trust her trainer. As unnatural as it is, she learns to step into the pain. And she becomes a champion.
Not everyone does. Training in the same gym is a kid called Danger. He is not a contender, just a pretender. He has the gloves. He throws the punches. But he boxes only the air, never an opponent. He makes loud claims about his abilities, but he avoids getting hit. Nice kid, but is he really a boxer?
The apostle Paul used boxing as a metaphor for Christian life. “I do not fight like a man beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:25). He knew what it was to step toward pain. He understood that to be the way of Christ: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).
Paul embraced the suffering. He stepped to it rather than away from it. And he won the crown. It was how his Trainer taught him to fight. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross” (Luke 9:23), Jesus said. Paul took it to heart.
If we hope to win, so must we. We cannot be like Danger, liking the idea of being a winner, but disliking the concept of suffering as a requirement of winning. We can’t stay comfortable and still win.
We cannot stay away from church because it’s not fun to us. We must not avoid reading our Bibles because “it’s hard to understand.” We dare not duck service in the church because “I’m not comfortable with that.”
Toole is right. Stepping toward pain is unnatural. So is following a man who voluntarily left heaven to be executed on a cross. But it’s the only way to win.

Keith Wishum is minister, Williams Road Church, Americus.