Living in the Arena
My interest in President Theodore Roosevelt began as a child. It was on our trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota when I really learned to appreciate the man and his mission. Roosevelt wanted a chance to hunt buffalo before they were gone and traveled to the beautiful but very rugged state of North Dakota to do so. Although most of the buffalo were already gone, he stayed for a while (if you visit, you can see his small cabin that he lived in). A hard life with drastic weather conditions, but with the most beautiful rock formations you have ever seen. The landscape, and Teddy Roosevelt himself, teach us that the beauty of life, is found in the midst of challenges, struggles and victories.
Roosevelt’s passion to keep creation just as God created it untouched by man is a good reason to highlight his mission on the week of Earth Day. He not only spent time in North Dakota but all over the western United States, Africa, and several other continents. He even visited the Grand Canyon, describing it as “a natural wonder which is absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world…The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.” He is right. The Grand Canyon’s beauty is untouchable. During his government service Roosevelt founded five national parks and many national monuments in order to preserve the beauty God created.
But what has brought Teddy Roosevelt back to my attention recently is a quote I found of his from a speech given in Paris, France on April 23, 1910, titled “Citizenship in a Republic.” This passage is what made the speech in Paris so famous:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
The quote has stuck in my mind as we walked through Holy Week and begun the season of Easter. I kept seeing Jesus as the man in the arena being criticized, judged, and marred by those hanging him on the cross. Then there is the crowd watching without any other response. I wonder where we might find ourselves, criticizing Jesus, watching or deep down being grateful that it isn’t us in the arena on that day.
And yet, this is the invitation of living with Jesus. It means not standing in background, not watching as others point and laugh, nor hoping that no one notices the mistakes we make. It doesn’t mean standing timidly in the corner afraid to stand up for what we believe in or what we think won’t match up with those around us. And it doesn’t mean that only success, achievements and accolades are recognized in the arena and the rest is hidden.
Going into the arena (which we will call life) with Jesus means being willing to be ourselves just the way we are—beloved and chosen by God. Living with Jesus doesn’t mean there is some sort of invisible wall that protects us from things not going our way, or that we always do exactly as God asks of us (because we have all gone rogue before). Instead, it means being vulnerable to the mistakes and celebrations, surprises and fears, the failures and hopes that enter into our lives. The difference is that we know that we don’t go through any of it alone. We are invited by Jesus to live life with all the possibilities, challenges and exciting adventures that come our way. We won’t get everything right, but we will walk into arena with Jesus by our side. Thanks be to God!