I have vivid childhood memories from years spent in Kansas City during my parents’ seminary days. The family budget was tight so my parents were very frugal and very inventive in making ends meet.
On one occasion, my mother purchased an old sofa from a thrift store. The sofa’s wood trim was in fairly good condition, but the fabric had long since faded and mother couldn’t afford to have the couch upholstered by a professional. A solution came when she decided to take advantage of a free “how to recover furniture” class at the downtown YMCA.
So once a week, mother packed a sack lunch and brought my sister Susie and me downtown to the YMCA, where we entertained ourselves while her class was in session.
The enormous gym where the class met made it easy for a variety of activities to run concurrently. The upholstery class was tucked away in one corner. In another area, people sat at tables, played dominoes and sipped Cokes they had purchased from the upright nickel Coke machine. On the far end people played shuffleboard games and badminton.
The most intriguing activity was young aspiring boxers who came to train with other boxers. With helmets protecting their faces, laced up shoes and gloved fists, the young boxers would jump up into the ring, prance around and start going through the boxing motions.
They jabbed at make-believe opponents. Many times they would spend 10 to 15 minutes just swinging and punching at nothing. But the young boxers took this seriously, as if they were fighting a real opponent. Their energy level was intense, and their boxing movements caused them to work up a sweat as if their opponents were real and threatening. I thought this amazing and unusual, this striking the air, wasting all that energy on a pretend opponent. What good did it do?
I still have the couch that mother upholstered over 40 years ago. It sits in my living room. But when I see it, I remember those boxers. As a child, I thought they were wasting all that energy by striking out at nothing.
Now I know those boxers were in training. But the memory of them prancing in the ring striking at nothing has reminded me of times in my life when my activities and energies were spent on matters that were meaningless. I exerted my strength on affairs that did not matter. Sometimes I have capitalized on activities or trivial projects that made no difference. Many times in my life I have spent my best efforts on fighting something that was just not worth it.
Paul warned the Christians at Corinth not to get caught in that trap. He said, “I do not fight like a man beating the air.” (1 Cor. 9:26) Paul meant that he didn’t waste his time on things that did not count. We spend our time on nothing and energy is squandered on outcomes that make no difference in the kingdom of God.
Those boxers in training did spend time on activities that counted for something — they were training for the big event. I can’t imagine coming to the end and realizing at life’s midnight hour that my life’s energies had been spent “beating the air.” I must train now and use my best energies on those activities that further the kingdom of God — doing good, sharing and telling the good news of the Gospel. After all, the really big event is still to come.
Judy Brandon is an instructor at Clovis Community College. Contact her at: