Rugby is a strange and fascinating sport. It actually reminds me a bit of the way Calvin and Hobbes play Calvinball in Bill Watterson’s comic strip–the set up structures and plays always shifting to what seems like a new sport. Saturday night, I found myself relaxing and since I had finished a book the night before, I wanted a change of atmosphere and decided to browse Netflix on my Nook instead. As I scanned some of the movies already pre-selected from earlier this summer, I found a few that seemed funny but ended switching three times until I found a movie that seemed a solid, not just a movie, sort of story. The movie: Forever Strong.
Forever Strong is a story based off true events. The main character, Rick Penning, is a 17-year old Rugby star on his father’s rugby team. Living a party and wild life off the field, Rick gets his second DUI and is sent to a juvenile detention center where his relationship with his father is scattered and Rick is anything but skeptical about life change. At first. A counselor at the detention center was the first to notice Rick teaching a group of other detention boys the fundamentals of the sport,
Rick: Now, if you get tackled and you go down, you must release the ball back to one of your own guys. Then he takes it and goes. We don’t stop. There’s no huddles, no time-outs.
Detention boy: So, it’s kinda like football and soccer?
Rick: It’s kinda like Rugby.
As time continues towards Rick’s 18th birthday, if he does not turn his life around, he could end in a state prison. But a rival rugby team’s head coach, Coach Larry Gelwix, sees potential for the better in Rick and offers him a chance and playing position on his team. It is not the field and wins that essentially matter to Coach Gelwix, but first, the player as a person off the field…the lives of his young men and who they become are what he puts as top priority. For Rick, this is a new philosophy. Over the course of his detention time, he learns life change…a better change. Tears, sweat, laughter, sacrifice, pain, hope…Rick’s once rival team, became more than just a rugby team on the field. They became brothers, bonded by a desire to be better in life, to get back on their feet even when they didn’t think it was possible.
As I watched the field action, the ruthlessness of the sport made me think of one thing: where on earth are the helmets and shoulder pads and protective gear? All they had was a mouth piece that looked much like a night retainer you wear when sleeping. Soccer can get crazy, but they don’t simultaneously tackle like football players either. I now have a greater respect for rugby, even if I don’t fully understand the rules and plays of the game.
Like Rick explained in his rugby fundamentals, life rarely gives time-outs. If any at all. It can be ruthless, being knocked down again and again. As I somewhat marveled at the players determination against the rivals and the pain, I thought of my own protective gear. In Ephesians 6:10-19, Paul urges the brothers and sisters in faith to put on the full armor of God, “ For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (v. 12). My own armor of God is always there, but lately, I have been living days where I don’t take time or effort to fully put it on, guarding myself…leaving myself prone to the “flaming darts of the evil one,” (v.16).
I have been given the strength to stand, again and again. And I will continue to be knocked down, again and again. Who would have known that a simple sport movie would remind me of what is important, what comes first as top priority in life…who I am in Jesus Christ. I still and will have my days, like the frustrations of the hands that I recently posted, but it is part of the getting up, continuing on, living life to the full.