Saturday, January 23, 2010

Submission, Circles, and Judo

Today, I took a rather fitful nap and had a waking dream in which certain things became compellingly clear. I don’t know how this will sound on paper, but in my slight fever dream, here is what came to me:

I have been grappling with the concept of absolute submission to authority, specifically God’s authority, for some time. While I know what it means, there is still a maniacal part of me who simply must have a tangible, experiential, relational way to feel and communicate it. Knowing this, my Father chose to honor me with many opportunities to explore the idea of submission on varying levels, in varying amounts, and in a number of ways. My initial reaction to this amazing honor was that I complained.



Nearly incessantly.

I was not pleased and did not like it. I do not want to submit, so I rebel in my heart and stick my stubborn chin out like the sulky child I am. Truly there is no greater picture of my relationship to God than the wise, patient, loving Father firmly guiding the infinitely mulish and ignorant toddler out of harm’s way. That, however, is a tangent to this circle that I will not explore at the moment. . .

The second reaction to this Fatherly trust was that I began to mull over the whole of submission; meditating on it, examining its surface, dissecting it to see what was inside, and trying to piece it back together again. During this process, a misconception that I did not even realize I carried became clear to me. As it turns out, I have always thought that bringing myself into submission to God’s authority in my life was, in essence, making His will my will.

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

Submission to His will means that I have a will of my own apart from what His is and yet I do not act on it. I act on His will, leaving my will very much alive and pulsing. The difference is that I ignore mine. I do His will anyway, quite despite my own. I let my will remain but I do not touch it. I fully embrace His even when the core of my being screams in protest at what it does not want to do. I submit, not because it blesses me to submit, but because the love of Christ compels me beyond myself. I do not submit because it ultimately brings me pleasure. I am not in the pleasure-seeking business although I frankly admit that would love to be. I submit because I must.

This brings me to judo.

What is commonly called a “submission” in judo is a bit of a different thing, but not entirely. The art of judo lies in the dual concepts of “mutual welfare and benefit” and “maximum efficient use of force.” I have heard the term ‘submission’ frequently applied to such techniques as chokes and armbars. Both of these techniques are applied during a grappling phase of the contest in which neither opponent was able to achieve a decisively winning throw and now must attempt to overcome the other competitor with a 25-second pin or one of the previously mentioned submissions. In either a choke or armbar, the person to whom the technique is applied is left with two choices: tap out and end the match or take a gamble and try to escape, thus risking losing either consciousness or a functional joint (depending on the technique applied). To the bystander, the wise choice seems obvious. Not so to the judoka who may feel that there is some wiggle room or some chance of still winning the match.

This brings me to circles.

I find it interesting to see that, just as a nicely-applied armbar or choke may seem, to the spectator, to leave the compromised judoka no wise choice other than to submit, it similarly seems to me that, given a broader perspective, my own decisions not to submit to the will of God would be equally obvious and I would look quite the fool for choosing to continue to fight.

You see, for whatever reason it surfaces—be it a drive to succeed, machismo, or desire not to let his sensei or his club down--it is often the judoka’s pride whispering, “I can do this! He can’t beat me,” that may cause him to leave the mat in a rather less comfortable state then when he bowed on, very often with a stunning realization that perhaps he should have submitted to superior skill and tapped out.

The spectator, however, sees the match from a less emotionally garbled perspective and so the decision is broken down into more easily manageable terms: pain or submit. In the former choice, the contestant loses the match with some discomfort; in the latter he loses a match and perhaps loses a bit of face, but he gains the comfort of a correctly-fitted elbow and possibly a valuable learning experience. After all, the sole purpose of a submission technique is to end the match and, in the spirit of judo, grants one player the opportunity to end the match with elbow or consciousness intact to the mutual welfare and benefit of both players. Sure, one person loses the match, but no one is damaged and life can continue as usual, practice and all.

This is applicable when I think of times my will is opposed to God’s will. To the angelic host, who are possible spectators to my silly little match with my own flesh, the choice to submit is probably equally obvious. Submitting to God’s will effectively ends the match. I may not like what He has told me to do, but when I honestly submit, the match is over. When I struggle against Him, however, it is as senseless as willingly taking a dislocation. I gain nothing, the match still ends, and I find I am less capable of doing the task that I still must do. When I continue to struggle when I clearly should submit, it is a near-equivalent of losing and continuing to fight with a dislocated elbow. It is much less efficient and far less pleasant than if I simply submit. In submission, I retain consciousness and joint function and am able to perform the task I’m given, figuratively speaking. When I submit, there is no longer a battle between the new man and the old man. The match is over and God has won. I lose my will (or submit it), but I am able to get up and go on.

And so, in my odd little dreamstate, I saw match after match where I was, for reasons unknown, expected to fight with every ounce of strength, skill, and energy that I have. I found myself first up against C. My throw is missed, we grapple, and I find that I am in a place where I must choose to submit. Next on the mat is J. Unsurprisingly, I am put into another submission and struggle a bit but eventually tap out. Panting and ready for a break, I find that M. takes his place and I find myself again going all out on what seems a losing battle. It is, and a lesson is learned but now D., lower rank but with youth and fierce strength, is facing me and bowing. Again, after fighting with all I have, I am brought to submission and another lesson learned. Exhausted, I am ready to leave the mat… but now it is Sensei. I find myself embarrassingly quickly in another uncomfortable position and perhaps submitting is a little easier this time. Perhaps not. Hopefully, I am learning how quickly it behooves me to submit. For now, I cannot quite make out the face but an enormous shape looms… it couldn’t be that they expect me to fight D. M.?!?

Or is it my Goliath?

These are not real matches, of course, but they symbolize the increasingly large and difficult areas in which I am asked to submit in life. Each time, I am expected to submit more fully. Each time the task before me seems more monumental and difficult, and yet I am, again and again, compelled by Christ to submit to His will and give it my all. Each time, I feel a little more weary and a little less able. And yet, I am still compelled. Somehow, in some way, I must learn that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

“… apart from Me, you can do nothing,” comes His whispered reminder.

And so I stand and fight again. . .

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.