There were a very fun, very fast, and honestly very painful two months of my life when I got to play rugby. I had just transferred to my university and wanted to try something new. I was drawn to rugby mainly because of the scale of it. Anything I had seen was intense, vicious, and constant. It looked like a brawl right there on the field and I wanted in. My dad helped me train over the summer and by the time the season started I was eager to go. However, as is the case with most sports, it’s a very different environment when you’re the one in the middle of it all.
Where rugby differs from a lot of sports is constancy. There’s not a lot of stoppages. There’s no slowing down the play to read the field and decide where to move or pass. There’s certainly not a lot of effort to stay out of harm’s way. I would sprint as fast as I could, launch myself into another human to drag them to the ground, throw my arms over my head as cleats stomped around my ears in a tussle for control, and when all that cleared the expectation was that I would immediately spring to my feet and look for where I could do that all again. The greatest opportunity for rest was when I was in that pile of people, trying to hold onto a ball and also not get kicked in the teeth, and even then it only lasted for a few seconds. And what was all that effort for? Sometimes it was just to move the ball a few more feet. And so I quickly learned that rugby is in many ways a lot like life itself.
1. Life is going to be hard.
Your life is going to be very hard. Full stop. It may not be hard in the same way that others’ lives are hard, but it will be hard nonetheless. To hope for anything else is to waste your own all too precious time. That’s time you can’t afford to lose.
What’s more, as Christians, we shouldn’t even be surprised when life is hard. Struggle and suffering are two items on a very short list of guarantees. These won’t even be mild struggles and hardships. One of the first things Jesus often pointed out to people who came to him with stars in their eyes was how hard it was going to be to follow him. He didn’t mince his words either. Time and time again people came to Jesus eager to follow him and time and time again they were checked when they realized just how hard it might be. Just like we see in Matthew 8: 19-20 “Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to even lay his head.”
If you’re looking for an easy life and an easy win, Christianity is not the place for you. The world can give you that, but not much else.
2. Life is not glamorous.
Life is not as glamorous as we'd like it to be. There are no well-timed breaks (or at least, they're not common). There will be many times and seasons in your life that are not about a big, cinematic victory. The majority will be about just moving the ball a little further down the pitch. Bruised, battered, and entirely exhausted, but still moving. Just move to the next ruck. That's all you can do and all you need to worry about. Just move to the next ruck and the next and the next. It's not glamorous. It's gritty. And gritty tends to get better results.
And what do we get for winning that tussle and making it out of a ruck? Sometimes the great reward for winning the fight is to be launched headlong into the next one. No breather, no pat on the back. Just an immediate need for you to sprint to the next fight as though you aren’t even remotely tired. Back into the fight you go to move it just a little more.
I’d argue that the vast majority of your life isn't going to be pretty. The victorious, picturesque finish is only the tiniest percentage of your time and to live with that as the expectation is madness. If you think of it in terms of a sport like rugby, the feel-good, big, cinematic moment doesn’t even factor into the game. It comes after the final whistle, when the game is over. So what on earth are we doing wasting our time looking for the final whistle feeling when we haven’t even made it to halftime yet?
We all like the scriptures that tell us we will be gloriously rewarded for our faithfulness but I think all too often we insert our own ideas into when we think those rewards will arrive. The majority of those rewards are slated to arrive after the final whistle of life. Not a moment before. If we were meant to be rewarded this side of earth, it would stand to reason that the apostles all lead horrible, faithless and inconsequential lives considering most lived the majority of their lives in squalor. But we know that that’s not the case so I’m forced to conclude that glamorous, easy living is more often than not a myth designed to convince us that we have come up short if we do not have it.
The presence of hardship in your life does not preclude accomplishment.
Of course the disciples' lives looked like horrifying struggles. They were still in the game. They were not calling for a sub or allowing themselves to be carried off the field injured. They were not calling for time outs or taking long water breaks to cool down. They were popping up after each hit and launching themselves back into the fray to move the ball just a little further down the field.
Their lives were not glamorous or peaceful because they were not meant to be.
Why would yours be any different?
3. It is all still worth it
And for all that struggle and toil and hardship and hurt, the ball still moves forward. That’s the point. God is so completely and thoroughly in control we have the distinct advantage of knowing the outcome of the game before it’s actually over. That’s what makes the hardship and the sweat and the aches and the blood and the tears worth it.
Your life is still going somewhere. Your life is still part of the big picture. Your life is more than the struggles you face. Your life is still worth it. And that’s enough.
We are not promised that life will be easy, just worth it.
The hardest, nastiest parts in the game of life are not going to last forever and you’re not playing it alone. God sees you in every part of the struggle and has his eye on the clock too. He gives us teammates to support us in the toughest battles on the field. He has a plan and he’s sticking to it.
This isn’t a game where you fight your hardest just to wonder if you might still lose it all anyway. This is a game where if you keep pushing and keep fighting the ball will eventually move across the try line. Bit by bit and then again and again, the ball will move across the try line. It is worth it to stay. The final whistle will come.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Let’s find some joy,