My first heart break didn’t involve a girl. No, it had to do with a bunch of sweaty guys.
One day I was choke slammed by the truth: Wrestling is fake. Go ahead and laugh. You just don’t realize how serious I was about becoming a professional wrestler! My career was to include every championship title, a smooth entrance song and a killer finishing move. I could never decide for sure what kind of wrestler I wanted to be, but leaned a bit toward the heel side. And I am not sure what kind of name I would have chosen, but I do know it would have been the Ultimate something.
That’s because of one guy, the Ultimate Warrior. He was a high-energy entertainer with the right blend of attitude, mystery and power. Yesterday, he died at the age of 54. I’m sure many of us are unable to distinguish the Ultimate Warrior from James Hellwig (Which almost sounds like a good ring name). I think he even had trouble with it. A few years back he legally changed his name to Warrior. Still, hopefully, we learn to mourn the passing of a human being and not just an entertainment figure.
I first read of his passing on a post by a Facebook friend. I left a comment about him being one of my favorites and asked the question, “What’s up with all these wrestling personalities dying so young?” You may not know, but there have been a lot of professional wrestlers who have died at an early age. Some have even committed suicide. I can’t pretend to know the percentages and statistics about them all, but for some time there has been a dark side to this sport. It seems like the day in the life of a professional wrestler is like the stereotypical day in the life of a rock star, on steroids. Literally. On steroids.
Wrestling may be fake, but the demons many of those who are associated with it are very real.
Don’t use my ignorance to paint a broad picture of every wrestler you see on TV, but I can appreciate what my Facebook friend had to say in response to my question. He compared a wrestler’s career to that of a bodybuilder. Many body builders, he suggested, probably use certain drugs temporarily. Their use may be related to an upcoming competition or they’re trying to reach a particular goal. It’s probably appropriate to point out that the drugs he mentioned are probably not the kind athletes get tested for and that you hear about on SportsCenter. Wrestlers, on the other hand, are expected to maintain a certain image all the time. When people turn on their favorite wrestling event, they expect a perfect image of their hero, or even their favorite bad guy.
So, the need to keep up the perfect image can drive many wrestlers to use drugs in a more negligent way. Also, that often leads to other drug and alcohol addictions. Again, I can’t verify how accurate that is, but it makes sense. And not just for wrestlers. I’m sure that must be true for models, actors and others who are constantly in the spotlight of other people.
It might even be true for you.
Sure, you don’t wear tights to work (Do you?), but chances are high you know what it feels like to keep up a perfect image. It’s not really a perfect image, but it’s one you feel you have to keep up for someone else, and it’s killing you. What is it? A perfect employee? Spouse? Parent? Christian? We all have expectations from others that can drive us to things that slowly tear away our true identities and keep us from experiencing complete joy. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of living up to the expectations of others.
The result, for many of the wrestlers we know, is death. For many of us, it’s debt. It’s depression. It’s self pity. The desire to maintain a perfect image can also stem from a deep sense of selfishness and greed, and that can be related to a warped ideal we have for ourselves. Whether it’s keeping up with the Joneses or living out someone else’s dream for your life, though, you cannot know the true grace and love of God until you can see yourself as God sees you: worthy to be loved. The love of God is not dependent on how we look. I suspect God sees more of the image we were first created in than anything else. As part of God’s Creation, we were thought of as “very good.”
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
Perpetuating the perfect image for someone other than God comes with a great cost. It’s one we don’t need to bear. That cost comes with great heart ache. Maybe we need to begin to understand that God’s image of ourselves is good enough.
Now, maybe I can still come up with a pulpit name. The Ultimate……