One of the first memories I have of my father was seeing him preach in the pulpit on a Sunday morning and an hour later coaching on the side of the mat at my brothers’ wrestling matches. With two older brothers who both loved sports and a father who was a national wrestler in college, it was no surprise that I would become familiar with a sport of sheer strength and undeniable determination. I wanted to wrestle so badly, but I was a girl.
I would go to every practice, every match and every tournament cheering with my mother as we watched my brothers win and lose countless matches. Though my father was a stern disciplinarian as both a coach and a preacher, he also showed his sons unconditional love even while pushing them to work harder and not give up. Feeling defeated after getting pinned on the mat, my brothers would hang their heads in discouragement and my father would say, “Hold your heads high! You may be down, but you’re not done.”
He would then sit down with my brothers after each match and ask them, “What did you learn today? Each defeat is a valuable lesson to bring you closer to victory.”
My father said those same powerful words to me fifteen years later when I called him in tears telling him how my husband had cheated on me and ran away with another woman. At first he was silent and I could hear him sniff back the tears knowing that he could do nothing to protect his daughter from the pain of divorce, but after a few seconds he calmly said, “Sweetheart, hold your head high. You may be down, but you’re not done.”
It was not a cure-all remedy for my pain or my problems, but my father’s words were like soothing, invigorating medicine to my aching heart and troubled soul. He didn’t have all the answers, but he did remind me that every situation in life, whether good or bad, holds a powerful lesson to be learned. I could either drown in my despair of defeat or get back up and make better choices for my life going forward.
We all experience set-backs in life—whether it’s a divorce, bankruptcy, loss of loved ones, cancer or unemployment—there will always be a new hurdle and new lesson to be learned. But, it’s not how or what pins us on the mat; it’s how we get up and what we learn to improve ourselves for the future.
Just as my earthly father continued to cheer my brothers and me on towards greatness in sports and in life, so God also cheers each of us on towards greatness and a life full of hope, joy and courage. He doesn’t want bad things to happen to us, but He will allow us to endure our struggles so that we will develop the strength and godly character we need to face tomorrow. He is more concerned about our character than even our comfort in life.
The Apostle Paul told the Christians of the Early Church who were facing tremendous persecution even in the face of death to not give up in their faith: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5 NLT).
My character needed to improve so that I would be ready when God brought a wonderful man into my life to be my new husband. My brothers needed to continue improving as athletes and in their character so that when they did win matches and experience victories, they would continue to be humble and grateful. God wants His children to be victorious and humble.
Trials will continue to come knocking at your door, but remember that God is molding your character and cheering you on saying, “You may be down, but you’re not done!”