‘Going out on your shield’ is a term commonly used in boxing and other combat sports. I have heard it used when a fight is stopped either by the referee or by a fighter’s own corner when it appears the boxer is in danger and no longer able to protect himself. The losing fighter often laments, “I wish they would have let me go out on my shield.”
The phrase has roots in ancient Spartan culture. Men going to war would be told to come back with their shield, or on it. Win the battle or die trying.
I have never fought in a boxing ring. My fighting resume does not extend past a couple of gym class skirmishes in high school. As a casual boxing fan, I can only imagine what it takes to step into the ring. To face the challenge of another fighter with the world watching.
To step into the ring, a fighter must have a warrior’s mentality. Knowing the punishment that is coming and face it with courage and confidence. A warrior has a cause. Something not only worth fighting for but worth going out on his shield for.
Most men will never enter a boxing ring, but I believe we are all designed with a warrior’s heart.
We are not all called to take up combat sports or go to war. But in our lives we will all face battles and that heart is what will carry us through.
Sadly, for many men, including myself at times in my life, the warrior goes missing. We lack a battle to engage in or embrace passivity and those we love are affected most.
Like many classic boxing matches, however, there is always time for a comeback.
In my youth, the sports field or gym was where my battles were fought. I was never being the biggest, fastest, or most technically gifted player on my teams. My biggest contribution was my willingness to take on tough tasks and battle, even when I was clearly overmatched. I loved this role and was happy to do my part to help the teams I was on. Sports gave me purpose in high school, and I lived for game days.
When I was in university and in the years immediately after it, the outlet that sports had provided to me was no longer present in a meaningful way. I became complacent and found other, less healthy, outlets. The warrior was benched.
As a young man, I lacked a sense of purpose. In retrospect, my time at university was a lot of going through the motions. I graduated, entered the workforce, and did not have any clear understanding of where my life was going. I lacked a battle.
Coming of age as a man has likely been a challenge in every generation. Today, many young men struggle with figuring out where they fit in. The world is dismissive and even hostile towards traits that are inherent. Men possess strengths that when offered well can face danger and provide security.
On the flip side, we need not look further than the daily news to see what happens when that strength lacks purpose and is abused.
To me, having direction and something to fight for is essential for men to live up to our calling, particularly as husbands and fathers.
When I married Katie, I was 25 years old. Marriage was the first time I ever had someone relying on me on a daily basis. This is a scary realization and immediately provides clarity of purpose. Marriage is not something that works with a ‘halfway’ effort.
One of the key lessons over the 13 years has been that while a marriage starts with vows on the wedding day, it requires a daily ‘yes’ and a willingness to fight for its health. An openness to go to the places that are hard or uncomfortable to be present and serve. It is the commitment to enter the ring knowing you are only leaving on your shield.
The Desires of the Heart
John Eldredge highlights ‘a battle to fight’ as one of the three key desires placed on every man’s heart. While images of boxing and war are evocative and striking, the reality is that we live in a world where battles are raging all around us.
It is easy to pretend this is not the case. I did for many years. I worked hard to live a life that was safe and secure. To avoid conflict or challenge that would impede progress on the building of a comfortable life. That may not seem like a bad thing, but it certainly does not make the heart come alive.
Think of the characters in books and movies that inspire us. Rocky movies have motivated me to get up at 4:30 in the morning and go for a run. Mr. Rogers, respectfully, does not elicit the same response.
A man wants to be the hero, the one who come through in the clutch. We may not all see ourselves as that guy, but given the choice, I’d rather be Rocky than Raffi.
Rediscovering the Warrior
As a child, I learned God the Father as a distant and inaccessible God. I saw Him as angry sometimes, but mostly at the ways I screwed up. I did not see God as a warrior, even though scripture explicitly tells us He is:
“The LORD is a Warrior; the LORD is his name.” (Exodus 15:3)
Learning more about the Old Testament, it is the story of a God who shows up and fights for His people, despite their constant turning away from Him.
Jesus, who is too often taught as a ‘nice man’, cleared the temple courtyard of those making it into a marketplace by flipping tables and chasing out people with a whip (John 2:13-25). When moved by injustice, Jesus reacted with fierceness and tenacity.
As I have come to experience a closer relationship with God, the notion of a quiet boring faith (something I used to associate with “holy people”) has been turfed. As I have grown nearer to Him, I feel called more than ever into battle.
The battle starts with my own heart. Against the pride, selfishness, and self-righteousness that have previously taken up residence there. It is only through relying on the grace of God that I can move towards wholeheartedness. This battle never ends. The only way to not lose ground is to continue to gain it.
The battle is for my marriage and my children. To fight for their hearts in a world that would take them and break them. To fight for their security and to create space for them to grow into the people they were created to be.
The battle is for other men who are experiencing, like I have in the past, the slow grind of sleepwalking through life. Those who do not know the joy of fighting for and regaining their heart. There is more available than what most of us experience in our day to day. For our ourselves, our spouses, and our children.
This is the fight worth stepping into the ring for. Leave on your shield.
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