Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Embracing Suffering

“Pay me now, or pay me later!”

This was a common expression heard on the practice field when I played football back in my High School days.  I’d always hear it just about the time that I’d be ready to hurl whatever was left in my stomach from pure exhaustion.  My legs and arms burned like they were on fire and I could hardly think straight as I struggled to get back in line for the next drill.  The smell of newly cut grass was always so thick on those days as I deeply inhaled that sweet life giving oxygen just to stay conscious.  My forehead pounded from the pressure of my helmet while the heat from the summer sun made conditioning almost unbearable.  I was generally a mess.  The thought of actually playing a game was far from our minds as we practiced in those hot August summer afternoons.

Then I’d hear that phrase again - ringing in my ears.

“Pay me now - or pay me later!”

And my coach meant it.  If we tried to go easy, he’d know it.  He had a sort of 6th sense about those kinds of things.  If we didn’t give our all, we’d keep going - and going - and going.  We either gave 100% now, or we’d repeat the same drills until we did.  “Bear Crawls” were his favorite drill - hands in front, body up, legs moving forward - crawling across the field.  It was hell. 

In the beginning of the season, we’d always try to slack.  And - we’d always pay for it later.  The practice would stretch on and on until we pushed ourselves to the limit.  Our coach always knew when we were slacking.  It only took one of us to “take it easy” for the rest of us to feel the consequence of that player taking the drill off.  This was infuriating as a player because many of us understood that we had to give everything we had on every drill in order to move closer to completion.  So, if I gave 100%, and my buddy gave 80%, I’d have to repeat the drill because of HIS slacking.  

We all felt the consequence from one player slacking because we were a team - we were learning a teamwork principle: the whole team feels the consequence of an opponent’s score if one player takes a play off in a game.  Players that continually messed up were often harassed by their peers after practice, and this always seemed to change their attitude in the following practices.  

We payed a price at every practice.  And - to be honest - it was a price that some couldn’t pay.  Some would just flat out quit.  Others did as much as they could just to get by - but they wouldn't play on game-day because of their lack of effort throughout the week.  Things never fully worked out for those that slacked.  But some of us committed.  Some of us believed, even though we couldn't see what was waiting for us in the end.   

We payed a price - day in and day out - and for what seemed like forever.   None of us really understood why we were paying such a high price.  Our lives were filled with pain and exhaustion - day in and day out - and it became our new normal. It sucked.  There were times when I wanted to quit.  I hated practice…

until we started winning.

That year, we went 9-0-1.  We were undefeated champions - we had no losses.   

I think my coach’s statement was true.  “Pay me now - or pay me later!”  If we had slacked, or he had let us slack - our reward would not have been an undefeated season - let alone a championship.  Our temporary reprieve from hell during practice would have been our reward, and our lack of a championship would be the cost.    

We truly suffered in practice to win it all.  We went through hell in order to experience the joy of becoming undefeated champions.

We chose to suffer in the present in order to achieve a future glory that far eclipsed any pain we had gone through in those hot August summer days.  Looking back, the price we payed was well worth it.


When I think of all the great things that I’ve accomplished in my past, there’s always an element of suffering coupled with an element of reward.  When I learned to play guitar - I spent long hours of practice getting callouses on my fingers, building finger muscles that weren’t there, and listening over and over to music so that I might figure out how to imitate songs - all so I might be able to play that instrument with relative ease.  Today, I can pick up the guitar and learn almost any song pretty easily because of those long hours of practice.  The suffering of yesterday (practice) produced the reward of today (playing).

I could have chosen my “reward” years ago and not practiced - not endured the pain and frustration.  I could have chosen my “reward” early.  But - the suffering aspect would have come later by not being able to play whatever song I wanted to play today.  

I’m wondering if I’m making any sense.

In almost any endeavor I want to pursue - I can choose my reward or my suffering first.  If I want to get in shape - I can suffer through exercise.  Eventually - through hard work, I’ll reap the reward of good health.  Or, I can choose to be lazy now (present reward) and suffer later in a multitude of ways (future suffering).

“Pay me now, or pay me later”

This principle plays out in the scriptures too:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.(Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus paid a heavy price for a future glory (a glory that He shares with us!).   Suffering coupled with reward.  As someone once said, “The crown of thorns always proceeds the crown of glory.”  

The scriptures also point towards us participating with God in His suffering:  

“I want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” Philipians 3:10

Participation in the suffering of Christ.  What a mystery…

There are many other scriptures along those same lines too.

Christ entered into suffering and endured it for a greater good - a greater reward.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  This isn’t a discussion about random suffering - like from a disease, poverty, earthquake, flood, or famine.  That’s a different topic and a whole other kind of suffering - I don’t have eyes to see all the “why”s behind that (although this principle might play out there as well…).

I think I’m more talking about discipline.  Discipline has an element of suffering that proceeds a future reward.

Lack of discipline has an element of reward that is followed by a future suffering.

The reward that follows suffering is always better than the reward a person gets from “taking a play off.”  Our championship was better than being lazy and losing games.

Having just coached a group of kids who hadn’t won a football game in 6 years, this principle was clearly displayed in front of me.  Our team went 1-9 this year.  You might think that is a bad year for a football team - but you’d be wrong.  We won our last game - and for some of these students - it their first game they had EVER won.  About halfway through the season, most of the players finally bought into the idea that hard work would pay off in the end.  They never gave up and slowly got better.

When I joined the team at the beginning of the season, on my second day coaching, we took the kids to our first scrimmage.  We got scored on 20 times!  And - we didn’t score once.  I literally thought, “what have I gotten myself into?”  

I’ve been a part of 5 different championship teams as a coach (out of 9 years coaching), and two as a player.  In all my years of playing and coaching - only three games stand out as exceptional.  One - as a player - we came back and won a game with 12 seconds left in the game against our biggest rival to remain undefeated.  Two, as an asst. coach in a championship game against an undefeated team that was ahead 32-6 at one point in the game where we won 39-38 from a field goal with 4 seconds left in a game.  And - this prior season - winning our first game with a goal line stand in the last minute of the game - our opposing team having a first down and goal on the 5 yard line.  

It’s funny, but the one win at the end of the season from a winless team was just as good as the championship wins in those prior seasons.  It’s partly because the kids continued to trust us through our practices.  They never gave up and worked as hard as any championship team before them.  Their attitudes literally changed throughout the year.  They paid a price - and it payed off.

"Pay me now, or pay me later!"

I think this principle plays out in a lot of areas in life (suffering that proceeds reward).  Here’s a few areas in life that I can think of off the top of my head:

School - getting a degree
Healthy living
Learning a language
Playing a Sport
Developing good relationships (serving and valuing others above self)
Walking with Jesus
Learning and understanding the Bible
Developing a new skill
Building a new positive habit
Stopping a bad habit
Loving people and loving God.

There’s a ton more, I’m sure.  But - I think ya get the idea.

“Pay me now, or pay me later.” 

It took me 20 years to understand what my coach was trying to say.  I think I'm only now starting to get it (even though I still have a hard time living it!)

May this principle sink in much more quickly for you!

Have a great day!


Friday, November 22, 2013

A New Kind of Mourning

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  Matthew 13:13


Horns blare.  Cheers explode.  Laughter erupts.  Smiles are seen all around.  Tears of joy fill the eyes of the crowd. 

The leader of the processional yells at the top of his lungs: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

The bride waits in stunned amazement - awakened to a brand new life to come.  She witnesses the scene - the feelings of fear, amazement, and excitement combine to create a burgeoning joy inside of her heart that she’d never experienced prior to this moment.  And this wonderful moment seems to last an eternity.  She takes a deep breath and feels the blood coursing through her veins - every part of her body holds an almost hyper-sensitivity that allows her to really feel everything around her.  It’s as if she’d never lived until this very moment.  She feels so alive.  Tears of joy fill her eyes, and she isn’t even sure if she knows exactly why.  

“I didn’t think it’d be like this.” she thinks.  “This is beyond imagination.”

She reflects back to her prior life.  It seems that what she remembers of her past is just a dream - as if she was living in a dark fog until moments ago.  And there was a lot of darkness in those memories - and lots of confusion.  Of course, those moments were interspersed with wonderful moments of clarity and light.  But the darkness she remembers is so heavy in her memories because of the contrast to her surroundings in this very moment.  She begins to fear that her past will be her ruin.  She begins to fear that she’ll be rejected because of it.  She knows she is far from perfect.  And yet, this moment - it seems so perfect.  Her fear of rejection is like a memory brought on by a familiar smell or a favorite song.  She's fears rejection.

But as she looks around, she sees only light.  As she stands and waits, wonder and awe fill her soul - in spite of her fear.   

The Love of her life approaches.  She catches her first glimpse as He moves into view.  She sees Him!  All fear disappears from her mind at His first glance.  She knows He is good - her true love has arrived.  From that strangely familiar look in his eyes - she knows she’s completely accepted.  Perfect love casts out all fear - and she understands.  All of life’s fulfillment is here in her presence.

He has come to take her home.  It’s her time.  Her day.  The wedding party is about to begin…  


RIP Coach Fernandez.  May you enjoy the wedding banquet that is far better than anything I could ever put into words!!