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Childhood reflections with a touch of grace: The fight is on

Fighting is not permitted at school but pencils are. So, since most boys in junior high are aspiring gladiators, it made sense for us to create a means of fighting to the death, making our classrooms the grand colosseums they were meant to be.

Of course, I am speaking of the age-old tradition of pencil fighting. For those of you who have resigned yourselves to the mummification of smartphones, pencil fighting is riveting fun, especially if girls are watching. The objective is pretty simple. You create tension on your pencil much like you would with a slingshot. Meanwhile, the opponent holds their pencil out, using both hands to hold the pencil in position to receive a good pop from your pencil.

This process is repeated, with each person getting a turn until a pencil breaks like a twig. Now, because most teachers were not enlightened to the priority of these majestic games over mundane things, like learning, the game had to be quick to escape the notice of instructors who felt infringed upon by our war games.

We facilitated the need for speed by gently chewing on the metal casing that held the eraser, creating jagged edges that helped our weapons cut into other pencils like a knife through hot butter. The strongest of pencils would eventually succumb to repeated strikes in the same spot, after being whittled away by the precise blows of the expert gladiators among us.

I briefly ascended to the top of pencil annihilation by bringing a jumbo pencil to school, which was roughly the circumference of a cypress tree. This was like bringing a chainsaw to a Lincoln log fight. My superiority lasted about a day, until my fellow warriors came to school with equally large lead-bearing weapons.

I'm surprised that pencil companies didn't sponsor some type of pencil fighting olympics due to the quantity of pencils we could break in a week. We were good for business.

In my repeated ponderings over the years concerning the origins of human weakness, I have returned to my pencil fighting days for better understanding. The pencils we used were of the highest quality and standards, but they all broke eventually. We do the same and perhaps for the same reason. Repeated temptations or negative thought patterns are like those pencils striking the same spot, over and over.

Their patterns soon turn to ever deepening ruts that will cause a break if the game is not ended. Likewise, the longer a mindset or sin pattern is allowed to remain unchallenged in our lives, the stronger the grip it will have and the more convinced we will be that things can never change.

Like a battered pencil, we repeat the cycle over and over, knowing the break is coming and we return to habits that bring shame and remorse. But, like any good school kid, we have more pencils, so we start over, with the belief that if we try harder, things will get better. They never do. Trying harder doesn't change our inclination towards self-destruction or give us a genuine heart for change.

That transformation has to come from the inside and only Jesus can reach that deep into who we are and make it happen. He is the great jumbo pencil who has no rival and he can break any chain that we may have entangled ourselves in. Just as easily as you can believe that there is no hope, you can trust Him to give you hope.

He doesn't need your performance of good deeds to find you worthy of such hope. He made you worthy with his death on the cross. That was the day we all died for the things we couldn't fix and three days later, Jesus was resurrected on our behalf, so we could be assured of both His hope, acceptance and victory over what enslaves us.

So, put down your pencil, oh mighty gladiator. Jesus has taken up your battle and equipped you with armor that will never see defeat. This doesn't mean that you won't lose future rounds as you continue fighting in your own strength, but such losses are meant to remind you that sufficient strength is found in God, alone. The battle belongs to the Lord. The victory belongs to you.

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