Wrestling With the Tough Stuff

May 01, 2007 | Fresh Start | Karl Haffner

Rulon Gardner keeps defying the odds. Earlier this year he survived a plane crash in Utah. He swam for more than an hour in 44-degree water before reaching shore and then spent the night without shelter. In February 2002, he had a snowmobile accident. After falling in a Wyoming lake, Gardner was stranded for 17 hours in temperatures of 25 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. In March 2004, Gardner, who wasn't wearing a helmet, suffered cuts and bruises after he was tossed off his motorcycle.

Perhaps Gardner's greatest feat of defying the odds came on September 27, 2000. That's when the "Miracle on the Mat" happened. He pocketed a gold medal after defeating the world's greatest wrestler of all time, Russian Alexandre Karelin, at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

Mind you, this Russian had never lost in international competition. He'd never even been scored on in 10 years! He pummeled opponents despite broken ribs, torn muscles and opposing coaches who would spend years designing strategies just to beat him. Karelin was considered the most intimidating athlete in Olympic history, so feared by opponents that two prior finalists essentially quit on the mat rather than keep absorbing the pounding. And, according to legend, the Russian once carried a refrigerator home from the store and up seven flights of stairs.

So no one expected the American to win. In fact, the International Olympic Committee chairman even showed up at the match in order to present the Russian his fourth gold medal—the medal he wouldn't get.

After the historic match, reporters swarmed around Gardner. "When did you think you could beat him?" they asked.

"When did I think I could beat him? About 10 minutes ago," Gardner replied. "I kept saying, ‘I think I can. I think I can.' But it wasn't until it was over that I knew I could."

Turns out that Gardner used a simple strategy to counter Karelin's dreaded lifts and relentless pressure. He said he approached the match with only two things on his mind: to stay focused and hang on. And for nine excruciating minutes, that's exactly what he did.

When you think about it, Gardner's strategy is a good one that extends beyond the wrestling mat. After all, it's easy to lose our focus in the spiritual battle that we all must fight. In the end, "staying focused" and "hanging on" is the stuff of which spiritual legends are made.

Abraham comes to mind. Scripture records this about him: "By faith Abraham…made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:8-10).

Notice what Abraham focused on: "the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." That's a good thing to remember the next time you get beat up in life. When cancer strikes, when your co-worker leaks a nasty secret about you on the Internet, when you flunk the final—don't despair.

Stay focused. Hang on. The day is coming when the brutal battle will be over. Jesus will explode in the eastern sky and He will wipe away every tear from your eye. He will put an end to death, crying and pain (read Revelation 21). And we will ascend to heaven—victorious in Christ Jesus!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!