For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. – 2 Corinthians 4:17
As a child, it was rare to have an opportunity to sit down in front of the television and watch anything with my dad. He never really watched much television, choosing instead to spend the majority of his home time working on some project around the house. When he did sit down in front of the TV, it was usually to watch a western or the professional bowling tour. These weren’t exactly my faves, so they usually prompted me to find something else to do in another room.
That just dawned on me – Dad was smarter than I gave him credit for…
The one thing he’d stop to watch and we could enjoy together were boxing matches. Back when boxing was still a sport that you could see on regular TV and long before MMA was the rage, dad and I would sit and watch boxing matches together, picking who we’d think would win the fight, marveling at the speed and power of the men in the ring. We weren’t barbaric about it, nor did we ever place bets; it was just a fun diversion and something we could enjoy as a father and a son.
As I watched, I remember struggling to understand how the two fighters could stand in the ring for so long taking so many hits without giving up. Having grown up with an older sister, I knew what it was like to get hit, and these guys were punching much harder than she ever did. So I asked my dad about it and he told me something strange. He said that one of the ways the boxers get ready to be hit by getting hit. In preparation for a fight, boxers will get slapped in face or hit in the stomach with a medicine ball. The point of this is to build up the muscle and thicken the skin by pounding it until it hardens. The thicker skin will allow the boxer to endure the punishment to come in a prize fight.
Of course boxing isn’t the only place where we hear the term “thick-skinned,” nor is it the most common. Usually we use the phrase when referring to a person’s ability to put up with situations in life. Sometimes these are physical confrontation, but most often they are in the form of emotional reactions from verbal attacks. The world gives us simple solutions when it comes to dealing with such things. How young were you when you first heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me”? Similar forms of the same concept can encourage us to consider the source of the words and determine their validity, or to ignore the words, denying the speaker the satisfaction of knowing he’s hurt us. Of course all of these things are limited in their effectiveness. Try as we might, it is impossible to completely ignore what someone says to us. We may not give an outward response, but we heard it, it’s entered our thoughts and it will stay in our minds for as long as we give it room. And once it’s in, it is very hard to remove.
Ah! But that’s why thick skin is so important! It gives us the ability to be truly unaffected by such things. Again, I disagree. God made us with hearts designed to feel a full range of emotional stimuli. To deny ourselves the ability to feel everything limits us and leaves us less than what God created us to be. Furthermore, to continually thicken and harden the skin will lead to callousing and ultimately deaden the skin to any stimuli. This might be uncomfortable on our fingers or toes, but a calloused heart is far more dangerous. But for many, that becomes the coping mechanism. They fight the pain through desensitizing their emotions, eliminating hurt by simply choosing to feel nothing at all.
Where do we draw the line? How tough do we want that skin to be? On one side I believe we need to be strong enough to stand up to the trials that come with life, but we can’t become so calloused that we go through life separated from the things God designed for us to feel. To this end, the Bible guides us for both situations. The Bible is clear in telling us that we will experience hard times, temptations and direct attacks from the enemy. I Peter 4:12-13 provides a straightforward reminder, but a promised blessing as it tells us to, “…not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” But as we endure we don’t give up. In Romans 12:2 Paul instructs us to avoid succumbing to the world and its way of doing things, directing us to seek God ‘s will for our lives and enjoy the blessings that come from aligning ourselves to Him. By balancing our lives to face struggles without deadening ourselves to life, we grow more aligned with God’s will and in that place we find unimaginable peace, joy and blessings.
Place your trust in the Lord. He will be with you always – through thick or thin!