Relentless in Pursuit ofThe Good Life
By Audrey Stallsmith
I recently picked up a book called Relentless by Tim Grover, who counsels sports stars. I figured it might help me become more disciplined in my own life. After reading it, though, I’m beginning to see why many sports stars think they can get away with domestic abuse and other forms of misbehavior. They are encouraged to believe they are superior beings and thus above the moral constraints that bind everyone else.
That sort of attitude may win games but it alienates those stars from almost everyone around them, not to mention wreaking havoc on their souls. I couldn’t help noticing the contrast between it and another book I’ve been reading: Charles Colson’s The Good Life.
Colson had power near the beginning of his life too, being Special Consul to President Nixon. He and many of the others with whom he worked apparently considered themselves above the civil and moral law too, because they were protecting the public from itself, so to speak.
They shortly found out differently when many of them went to prison Colson repented of his earlier arrogance, became a Christian, and wound up at the head of a prison ministry called Prison Fellowship. He gained power again before his death in 2012, becoming highly respected in evangelical circles and the author of many books.
He knew more the second time around, though, about what was really important and what wasn’t. He spoke at my college graduation in 1983, ten years after his conversion and ten years before he won the million-dollar Templeton prize for progress in religion. That prize wasn’t as important to him, though, as a letter he received from grateful convicts in a Russia prison camp who had read his book Loving God.
I can’t remember much about my college commencement. I have a vague recollection – which could be mistaken -- that Colson spoke about Prison Fellowship rather than giving the usual success-based commencement speech, thus offending some of the parents present. If so, I suspect he was trying to tell us that there were more important things than material success. He became an example for me of Christianity’s power to change a person’s life.
On the other hand, about the only advice in the sports counselor’s book I liked was the admonition to stop thinking. Of course, some thinking is necessary. We need to figure out why we believe what we believe, and be able to justify those beliefs if necessary. But some of us tend to do too much thinking and not enough acting.
Most sports stars practice enough that their bodies instinctively know how to win. It’s when their brains get in the way, introducing doubts and worries, that they mess up.
Many of we well-read Christians, however, never get the truths of Christianity from our brains to our instincts because we haven’t practiced those truths enough. We know, theoretically, that money and success can’t make us happy, but we continue what seems an almost absent-minded pursuit of them anyway because it’s what everybody else is doing.
If I want to pick up a new good habit—washing my hands before dinner, say—I must remember to soap and rinse then often enough that to do so becomes automatic. In the same way, we must force ourselves to practice Christian virtues for quite some time before they become our default setting. One way to stop being so self-centered, for example, is to focus on our own happiness less and on other people’s more.
Colson fell into that habit out of necessity. After his arrest and disbarment, he resigned himself to the idea that the best part of his life was over. He had reached the pinnacle of success, after all, and fallen from it. So he turned his attention to helping other prisoners and discovered the power to make a real difference in the world doesn’t come from elevating self but from forgetting it.
Such power can even come from death, what some may see as the ultimate weakness. That is how Christ saved the world, after all, by declining to use the supernatural forces available to Him to save His own life. At times, Christians too may be called upon to sacrifice their lives for others. In a World War II movie we recently watched, called Saints and Soldiers, five Allied soldiers are trying to get an important message through enemy lines.
Deac, the religious guy in the group—the one who had been most sensitive to and traumatized by all the killing—chooses to fight a rearguard action for his two remaining buddies. Probably because he is the best shot and the most ready for heaven, while the irreligious medic in the group needs time to make his peace with God and to keep the injured message bearer alive. Deac does end up dying for them, and for those who will be saved by delivery of the message.
For most of us, though, the sacrifice will come down to living for others instead. The good life, then, apparently begins when we stop obsessing about attaining it. I expect that, at the judgement, Colson will be among those whom Christ calls blessed because “[I was] in prison, and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36b)
Meanwhile, what will all those sports stars have to boast of at the ends of their lives? That they won a few rings and made lots of money? Somehow, I don’t think such baubles are going to be consoling on their deathbeds when all of the glitz must be left behind anyway.