During my first two years in high school, I was on the wrestling team. My win/lose record freshman year was 50/50. I was what was commonly referred to in the wrestling world as a “fish” – someone who usually ended up on his back flopping around until his opponent finally completed the task of “pinning” him.
During my sophomore year, something happened to me that changed the course of my life. One evening during practice (prior to the beginning of the season), the wrestling coach picked me and my teammate, Denny Charvalli, to go out on the mat and wrestle. The coach’s nickname for Denny was “Little Butterball.” Denny was short and stocky. He was one of those guys who had perfectly formed abdominal muscles – so much so, that he could have easily been selected to appear in a TV commercial for a DVD or exercise gadget for washboard abs.
Denny was one weight class under me. I was going to be wrestling at the 126 lb weight class and Denny was going to be wrestling at the 119 lb weight class. The coach called Denny a little butterball because he thought Denny had enough extra fat on him that he could easily get down to the 112 lb weight class. But Denny liked eating too much and he wasn’t willing to go through the extra work and sacrifice required to cut his weight below 119 lbs.
Since we both needed to peel off some weight before the first wrestling match of the season, Denny and I were both wearing “plastic suits” during practice. Plastic suits were sweat suits that were made out of thin reinforced plastic. When we exercised or wrestled, the plastic barrier caused us to heat up and sweat at least three times more than usual, which burned off calories and fat at a faster pace.
Denny was a skilled wrestler and it didn’t take him very long to get me onto my back. As he maneuvered his body to hold me into place, part of his plastic suit covered my face. All of the sudden I couldn’t breathe. Realizing that I was suffocating, I started to panic. As I struggled to get out from under him, I completely blacked out. When I came to, I had reversed positions with him. He was on his back and I had him pinned to the mat. By the time I realized what was going on, the coach blew his whistle and told us to hit the locker room.
I was completely baffled by what had happened. I had no recollection of flipping Denny over onto his back. It had to have happened in a split second. Where did my sudden burst of strength and power come from? Why didn’t I ever realize I had it in me to overcome my opponent in such a manner? I knew I was strong because when I lifted weights with my teammates, I was always able to lift more than the guys who were two or three weight classes above me. But what I hadn’t realized was that I wasn’t performing at my full strength and capability.
From then on everything changed for me. Since I knew what I was capable of doing, each time I wrestled, I was able to use my wrestling skills along with my new-found strength to conquer my opponents. I knew how much power I had within me and I used it to my advantage. That year I only lost one match. I got beat by a farm boy from of all places, Farmington High School. He was tall and slim, and he didn’t look like he was very strong. When we weighed-in before the match, I looked at him and thought: “I can take this guy without any problems.”
As soon as the referee blew the whistle to start the match, the farm boy came at me like he had been shot out of a cannon. He immediately took me down to the mat and got behind me, scoring a two-point “takedown.” He was fast and strong and he knew the fundamentals. By the time I figured him out, it was too late to catch up. I lost the match by one point.
Last week when I wanted to give up on something I’ve been struggling with in my business, I thought of that night when I suddenly (and unknowingly) flipped over and subdued my opponent. I was reminded of the fact that it wasn’t until I thought I was going to die of suffocation that I discovered the untapped power that was lying dormant within me.
As I thought about that night on the mat with my teammate, I felt a renewed sense of hope and strength. Although I was mentally exhausted from wrestling with certain problems in my business (and felt as though I was suffocating), I knew I had the grace within me to overcome and conquer my problems. I just wasn’t utilizing the grace to my advantage.
I’m sharing my experience with you to drive home the point that there are times when we all feel as though we are suffocating. Times we feel pinned down and helpless. Times we feel as though we “can’t take it anymore.” It is during those times that we have to make a choice to fight for our life, or curl up in a corner and die to our hopes and dreams. It is only by persevering and refusing to give up that we are able to discover the true strength and power that lies within us.
Most people collapse and give-in at the first sign of struggle. The dictionary definition of “struggle” is “to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition.” Our journey through life is riddled with struggle, which can take on many forms: the complete breakdown of a relationship with a loved one, friend, or fellow employee; a financial crisis; the sudden death of a family member or friend; a catastrophic injury; a house that burns to the ground or is wiped out by a tornado; a personal crisis that no one seems to understand; a medical condition that no one can figure out.
It is during these times that we are called to “wake up” and discover the true power of God’s grace within us. Grace that for the devout Catholic is lying dormant waiting to be released by an act of faith and courage. If you are a devout Catholic, you have the grace within you to conquer every challenge you face – grace that has not yet been tapped into and utilized.
God sometimes allows us to struggle in order to bring us to the realization that there are things we are capable of doing that go far beyond what we previously thought possible. But we will never be able to get to the point where His true power is revealed, unless we are first pushed to mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual exhaustion.
The next time you feel like you’re ready to crack, resolve to persevere with “strenuous or violent efforts” to break through the barriers that you face. There’s a new world of discovery waiting for you on the other side of those barriers. You have been blessed with the grace and power to get there, so don’t let anything stop you.