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Freedom to Suffer

by Kevin Biese, former executive team member and missionary

On the sideline, the crowd noise was all-consuming in Lucas Oil Stadium. All around, the feeling of being in the center of a bee’s hive set in as managers, players, coaches, and staff were running around giving hugs, chest bumps, high fives, and the likes. No one could hear anyone, so big hand gestures and exaggerated lip movements were used to communicate the euphoria that had set in. One of our linebackers came up and hugged me and pointed to the Gatorade cooler. With big motions, he then pointed at our head coach. I nodded as I helped him prepare the jug of ice and liquid. He carried it over behind the coach and as the final seconds ticked off the clock you could almost, almost, hear the loud exclamation from the coach as he was drenched head to toe in ice and Gatorade. Everyone ran towards the center of the field. More hugging, more laughter, tears, prayers, and an absolute hoopla ensued.

Since the beginning of August to that cold, triumphant December day, I had the privilege to witness a victorious season in college football. From the two a day practices, stressful press conferences, unexpected injuries and weather, intense lifting sessions, to the specific dieting and sleeping routines, I witnessed the human spirit in all its glory. From day one of preseason training, the coaches wanted these players to visualize that win in December. They created a goal chart with the Big10 Championship and a Rose Bowl appearance as the crescendo of a successful season. It is what drove these players to enduring the sufferings of a hot and intense preseason, the sufferings of a hard-hitting regular season, and the sufferings of balancing school with their sport schedule. If you were to ask any of those players if they would trade away any of those sufferings for an okay season, they would probably laugh in your face…not a chance. I would even venture to guess that quite a few of them would still want the sufferings even if removing it still brought the same outcome. Why? Because overcoming all the trials and unexpected twists of a college football season made the win all the sweeter, and the rose smell that much better.

Therefore, I believe one of the main reasons we are so enthralled by sports is because of this triumph in the face of suffering. One of the most recent, and iconic, examples of this in the past 5 years was Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters win. Thousands of people on Augusta’s rolling fairways cheered at length as Tiger walked down the 18th hole while millions of viewers watched on TV to witness a man who was believed to never be able to play competitive golf again, let alone win a major, do the unthinkable. This unimaginable win would not have held so much weight if it were not for his perseverance through the injuries and sufferings. With that history in the background, the win just hit differently for every golf fan.

Drawing on my personal experience of working with a high-level football team and watching the events unfold at the 2019 Masters tournament, I believe this draw to watch individuals overcome immense, self-inflicted or unanticipated, suffering is because of the freedom it demonstrates. It is the freedom to suffer.

I do not know a better example of this than our Savior on Calvary. In Luke, as Jesus is hanging on the Cross, this is His interaction with the two thieves: “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23: 39-43. The first thief is perplexed, even outraged, by Christ’s response to human suffering because Christ lets Himself suffer. I would argue, this may be one of the major stumbling blocks of many in my generation: “Why, God, would You suffer and why would you let US suffer!?!” At least from my experiences the answer is simple, though nonetheless difficult to swallow: because love MUST be freely given. God could have overcome sin in any way imaginable, yet He chose the cross. This choice was not for Him; it was an example for US. We’ve been given the magnificent gift to love. To love, we have to have the freedom to choose to love God and love others. Yet, this freedom also includes the ability to reject God and to hurt others. The fall of Adam and Eve is the first example of this rejection, and, because of their sin, suffering entered the world. Satan is free to hurt us and to twist this world; so much so that Christ even identifies Satan as the ”prince of this world.” (John 12:31; 14:30, and 16:11) How does Christ overcome this “prince?” Exactly what we just read in Luke; He freely takes on the suffering Satan creates by loving through it all. He proved His unconditional love for us by openly taking on any suffering Satan could throw at Him. And by doing so, He demonstrated how we ourselves, through His grace, can overcome suffering and evil in this world. “Pick up your cross and follow me,” is exactly how we overcome suffering, by freely allowing ourselves to suffer for the sake of loving God and loving others. Then suffering has no power over us. We are free to love. When I put on this cloak of a “freedom to suffer” I can now love my wife no matter what the cost. I can be a loving father to my kids because I do not count the cost of loving them and weigh it against the suffering it may cause me – I just simply love. To me, this is the heart of Christianity.

To live this out is not simply turning on a switch. Therefore, I believe the sports we love so much truly veil this transcendent reality of the freedom to suffer. To carry the cross takes intentional actions and repetition of putting other’s needs before our own. First, most likely in small ways and then we progress to bigger and bigger ways until no suffering is “too much” for us to undertake in the name of love. And now, I come to the heart of why this blog is here on the Biking for Babies website. If you are reading this blog, I pray you are considering joining us for our 2023 National Ride. If you are, please take this reflection to prayer and let me make two things crystal clear about this ride: you will suffer AND through that suffering, if you allow it to, you will experience a freedom to love like you’ve never imagined possible. This freedom to suffer is exactly what the pro-life movements needs right now. The freedom to have tough conversations. The freedom to give the shirt, literally or figuratively, off your back to a woman in crisis. The freedom to do God’s will in loving and serving another person without counting the cost. This freedom will transform your heart and allow God’s grace to shine through you and transform the world in return. So, the only question left is: are you in? Because preseason starts tomorrow, and we’ve got one more spot on the roster with your name on it. Let’s go win that championship with Christ.