Muhammad Ali, is widely recognized as, pound for pound, one of the greatest Boxing Champions in history. He defeated every great boxer of his day. Ali was the first boxer in history to win the Heavyweight Championship three times. He combined the speed of a lightweight, incredible boxing skill, and devastating punching power. Combined he stoped formidable champions as Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, Jimmy Ellis, George Foreman, and Leon Spinks. He amassed a record of 56 wins (37 by knockout). He had only 5 losses – all of which occurred well past his prime.
In 1967 Ali was stripped of his Championship Title when he refused induction into the military during the Vietnam War. Nearly every state in America revoked his license to box. He was not defeated in the ring, but in the courts.
Although he was undefeated as a professional boxer many had doubts about one essential component of a great champion. Many questioned Ali’s ability to take a punch.
The simple fact was that Ali was so fast that he never gave opponents the chance to hit him hard. He didn’t have to block punches, he simply moved out of their way. So his “pretty” and unmarked facial features, made many boxing enthusiasts wonder if the “untested” Ali had a glass jaw.
Not until March, 1970 – after a 3-year-ban from boxing, was Ali granted permission to fight again. Unfortunately, the long, forced layoff had robbed him of much of his earlier speed and maneuverability. No longer could he so easily move away from punches. He now had to take the hard blows. But as a result Muhammad Ali quickly dispelled any notion that he had a glass jaw. He survived the hardest hits from some of the most devastating punchers in boxing history. And he went on to defeat them all. This only added to his sense of greatness and invulnerability. He had proven his ruggedness and durability.
Tragically, however, Ali did not factor the long-term effects of trading blows with so many heavy hitters. By 1984 Ali was diagnosed with “Parkinsonism” and later with full blown Parkinson Disease. The public was shocked to see the hands that once flashed with blinding speed now only move in slow motion. Ali’s gifted and rapid-fire tongue could now only produce a slow and slurred speech. He proved he could take a punch and survive. However, not for such a long time without suffering extensive neurological damage.
In the military, I’ve seen many young leaders drive themselves way past their previously perceived breaking points. They make the discovery that they can take it. They realize they can live on almost no sleep and push themselves again and again to accomplish the mission. Then they gain new confidence in their own strength and invulnerability. All that’s necessary to get the job done, they think, is to “gut it out. Ignoring the pain and fatigue. “There is nothing I cannot do if I only push myself harder and harder” is the philosophy they adopt. At first they may find such toil exhilarating. Accomplishing the mission under such adversity may give them a sense that they are indestructible. But it becomes a practice, even a habit, without consideration of the long-term consequences.
All of us who travel this path will eventually discover the tragic, long-term effects of obsession with our work. As well as the neglect of our health, family, and spirituality. We will suffer burnout and self-destruction!
Ali was first emboldened by his ability to absorb the hardest punches of Boxing’s giants. But he later reaped the terrible, long-term consequences of continually trading blows, again and again. And, inevitably, we will suffer the long-term consequences of our lifestyle. We will crash and burn if we don’t give our families, ourselves, and our souls time and attention they require. Soldiers typically score high marks for pulling maintenance on their weapons, vehicles, and equipment. But they are outright derelict in their duties of getting adequate rest. Derelict in nurturing their family relationships, and caring for their souls.
Jesus once warned, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul; or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul” (Matthew 16:26). Don’t neglect your soul which thirsts for God. Nor your family which yearns for your love. Nor your body and mind which crave adequate rest and recreation.
Dear Father in heaven, show me that I cannot keep this insane pace without terrible long-term consequences. Please give me the good sense and wisdom to take time for prayer, Bible reading and meditation. Help me to invest time and love in my family relationships as well. And, please Lord, grant me the rest of body and mind I need for the long haul. Amen.