What Is In The Way?
It's a warm August afternoon in South Park in 2015. I am exhausted, on two hours of sleep after a long and stressful day. I am angry and have a migraine and not in a good mood. Some good friends of mine burst through the door, walk into the room I am standing in and knock me out of their way holding a long, rolled-up carpet. I am now ready to throw down. And out of nowhere, that small voice from just off the right side of my shoulder says "There is your mat."
Growing up, I never saw a wrestling match. No, not the WWE kind of wrestling. The real stuff. I was out of college and living in middle of nowhere Nebraska the first time I saw one. Sitting in an impressively nice gymnasium in the sticks, I found myself staring at two huge circles on the basketball wood floor. The refs are wearing grey, pin-striped jerseys and look like football players. They have on red and green wrist bands, one for each hand. I sit there confused and intrigued. For the next two hours, I watched young men battle, through exhaustion, through wounds, and through constant adversity, to claim victory for themselves and their team. I left my first wrestling match inspired that someone could take so much abuse to their body, some leaving blood on the mat, only to be given a few points on the scoreboard and hopefully earn a spot for themselves at the state tournament.
Another reason cut more deep. I knew what was in the way...
Back to 2015. A short time before standing in that room in South Park, I angrily listened to my pastor share his story with our church about learning to let himself off the mat. He shared it with such a sense of freedom. Like a man with no burdens. As his story went on, I only became more angry. I was angry for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons being I had no idea how to answer what I consider the most powerful question one can ask. Another reason cut more deeply. I knew what was in the way and not doing anything about it. Even worse, I was ashamed for the reason. A deeply held conviction of mine is that leaders go first in hard things, last in the easy things. I wanted to be last in this very hard thing of looking at what I wanted and removing the things that were in my way. Listening to a man share how he went first, found what he wanted and removed his obstacles made me feel scared and alone. But, there was a voice telling me to go first for once in my life and let myself off the mat.
Shortly after hearing that message, I am standing in a crowded room of men who, through my own lens, looked angry. I am obediently waiting silently for the next teaching session of the retreat I just shelled out good money for, the same retreat that failed to mention my accommodations would not meet the equivalent standards for my cost and heavily contribute to my lack of sleep. Standing there silently, the door swings open and it happens. I am pushed aside, left standing there with no apology. I feel my fists ball up, my migraine only getting worse, my lips pursed tightly. I want to fight. And then that voice..."There is your mat. Go first."
Beneath all of it is a man who is empowered to choose his life...
I'm saving the details of that session for another time, another audience. What I will share here is what I learned that day. How I learned that most days, when life punches me on the chin or I feel too tired or others do not seem to believe in me, the one thing in my way from getting what I want is me. I am the one in the way. I can certainly do my best work to assign blame, make excuses or wallow in my own pity, but all of it is fruitless. Beneath all of it is a man who is empowered to choose his life - who he lives with, what he does for work, how he spends his money, what he does for fun, and what he will create in this life. When this world knocks me down, like a wrestler on his back with blood on the mat beneath him, I can certainly look to my coach for guidance (my earthly mentors) and my team for encouragement (my trusted family and friends), but only I can choose to overcome my opponent in that moment and pursue what I want.
I stopped waiting for someone to choose for me back in 2015. I stopped blaming my circumstances for not pursuing what I want. On that day in South Park, when faced with one of the hardest things in my life, I went first. It's not always a perfect journey, but it is a good one.
How are you in your own way? What choices will you make to let yourself off the mat?
Will you go first?