Wisdom from the Wrestling Mat: The “Dark Place”

When I was competing as a wrestler in college, I had a name for when you hit an extreme low point in the sport. I think it came from one of my coaches, but I knew it as the “dark place.” It was that point when everything I did was a struggle, a seemingly neverending stream of failures, one right after the other. I couldn’t score a single point, much less win a match. Even in practice, I seemed to get beat by everyone in the wrestling room – even the worst guys.

The “dark place” was this place of hopelessness and helplessness. Hopeless because there didn’t seem to be any end in sight and helpless because it seemed like nothing I did or could do could get me out of it. Everything seemed out of control, and every failure would drive me to despair. Because I wasn’t performing well, I’d make these huge changes in my wrestling approach and technique, thinking there was a major fix that needed to happen somewhere. Yet, my wrestling would continue to regress. With every failure, I would begin to think my coaches and teammates hated me, and even would begin to irrationally think my family didn’t believe in me, and that truly, I was not only worthless as a wrestler, but also as a human being. It was just this big snowball effect. And I felt so isolated, so alone in it.

I remember one day, sensing my frustration, one of my coaches said to me: “Just keep moving; keep handfighting.” That’s it. Just keep pushing forward, trying to escape. Just keep handfighting – just try to gain some sort of advantage in my ties and setups, win a small victory in the battle for position.

My competitive days in wrestling are long gone now, but those moments where I find myself in the “dark place” still happen. Whether it’s my work, my relationships, my wonderings about my future, I still have those moments where I feel so hopeless and so helpless. And the “dark place” looms so large in my life that nothing, no words of affirmation or assurance from others, and not even my faith in God, seem to be able to get me out of it. While I know in my head that there people who love and support me, and that God is always faithful and gracious with me, it’s not enough to bring me out of the “dark place.”

That’s when I hear my coach’s words: “Just keep moving; keep handfighting.” And you know what, I still have that mindset today. Just keep pushing, keep fighting. Even when I have so little faith in myself; when I feel so alone and isolated; and when my failures and feeling of worthlessness seem to snowball out of control. I guess I approach life like a wrestling match. The battle I can win, and perhaps the most important one of all, is that I can find the courage to step on the line, shake hands, and try to win some of those small battles, one at a time. While things don’t seem to be on a positive trend right now, life is still worth living in all its ebbs and flows. And while I can’t believe in anything or myself, I do hold in front of me the knowledge that those things and people are faithful and deal graciously with me anyway.

I wonder, and perhaps you are, “why am I writing this?” Well, I guess it’s because I’m feeling this way right now, and so I need these words for myself. But, I write them because I sense, if I’m feeling this way, there are quite a few others who are feeling the same way too. There are probably others who feel they’re in the “dark place” right now. My advice to you (if that’s you): Even if you can’t muster faith in anything or be gracious with yourself, know that doesn’t stop others or God from being faithful to you and dealing graciously with you. “Just keep moving; keep fighting.” Muster whatever courage you can for the day, and keep pushing in those small battles. It’s that simple action, perhaps you’ll get a glimpse of a small victory for the day, and that can be the start of something hopeful, something new.

And I think, whether your mind is athletically-inclined like mine is, or you’re a person who’s feeling especially helpless or hopeless right now, perhaps this will be a word of encouragement for you today. Keep pushing; never give in; never stop fighting.


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Filed under Wrestling Devotions & Reflections

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