Milk and Honey Magazine's take on how to handle being tested and stress in a Christ-like way.

Breaking Point (For Men)

Ross Toeller

Written by Ross, above, for M&H.

Nobody likes being tested, especially when being pushed to the limit. Yet these moments continually pop up out of nowhere ignoring our mood, energy level, and life status. As if standing in an ocean of discomfort we are continually blasted by these “breaking points.”

While these waves of intense stress or challenge seem unavoidable I have to believe I can avoid crashing at the end, that my ability to stand isn’t dictated by my circumstances.

I was sitting in the church library for a staff meeting. It was less of a library and more of a small room with some plastic tables, wooden chairs, and one wall lined with 3 bookshelves holding the “essential” church books: Bibles, concordances, end times novels, and the like.

As a youth director I facilitate and oversee weekly activities for teenagers. We were in a season of advising and critiquing different ministries as a church staff. One ministry in particular was the object of dissection that day: youth ministries.

I have yet to meet a person who is filled with joy at the thought of being the recipient of “constructive” criticism. I found myself a bit critical of having other people shine spotlights on the failures and oversights of my ministry. They might as well have been performing acupuncture on me hitting all the wrong nerves. While I love growing as a leader the process doesn’t always leave me feeling euphoric.

It didn’t help that everyone seemed to have something to say. The way students were using the church as their personal “do whatever you want” zone seemed to catch the attention of everyone. (Teenagers didn’t seem to think making out in front of my lead pastor was a big deal.) I’m not saying I was getting torn apart verbally with all the issues that were being brought up. It just felt like it.

I found myself in a breaking point. My ministry and my leadership were taking hits. The situation was stressful, especially since I didn’t have all the answers. I had a choice either to throw up walls (the mental barriers we use to tune out words that hurt or that we just don’t want to hear) or I could choose not to receive the comments as personal attacks and allow myself to learn from people who had more perspective than me.

When we reach a breaking point we basically have two choices: give way to the pain and miss an opportunity to grow, or stand up in the moment and become a stronger person.

I decided I was going to try to use this breaking point as a chance to grow.

As a devoted Christian I draw great encouragement from the hymn, “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson. Okay, so it’s not doctrinal and the phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” may not be theologically correct in every situation, but it holds a valuable message. Difficult situations have two possible outcomes: we are either built up or broken down.

My friend Will might be the most fit dude I’ve ever met. We played semi-professional football together with the Racine Raiders. He was a receiver; I played cornerback.

I’ll never forget one of the first times I tried to cover him. He had everything to his advantage: size, speed, experience, and a confidence the size of his biceps, triceps, pecs, traps, lats, calves, and every other muscle on his body. I had no idea so many muscles existed or that they could be so defined!

He was obviously faster than I was so I figured I could slow him down by playing bump and run. I was a rookie at the time and would have been better off trying to arm-wrestle the Hulk. The play was called and no sooner had the quarterback gotten the ball than I was thrown backwards and landed squarely on my… let’s just say that at no point should you ever be sitting down on the playing field during a play. I learned something that fateful evening: don’t press-cover Will.

I learned a lot more from Will than just what NOT to do when covering a talented receiver. I decided to spend some time with him in the gym. Will is a personal trainer and basically lives at the gym. He is very creative with his workout routine and really knows how to tear it up. By tear it up I mean muscle fibers. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. That first day I think we did every chest exercise known to man. We closed the workout with ten pushups. I’m pretty fit (Cornerback is the most athletic position in football! Just ask Deion.), but after four or five reps I couldn’t tell if I still had chest muscles. Will just said the obvious, “You’re done.”

For muscles to grow they have to be brought to thousands of little breaking points. The muscle fibers are pushed past previous limits while being brought to places of great stress moving weight like they never have before. As they heal they become stronger than they were before they were strained.

We’re like that. All throughout our lives we’re faced with difficult situations we’ve never faced before, or on a level we’ve never experienced. It started when we were infants. You may or may not remember but it’s a pretty intense process to learn how to walk, eat, talk, engage in society, and pass algebra tests.

The older we get, though, the more we seem to shy away from intense struggle. Human beings are capable of handling a lot more than what we give ourselves credit for.

One of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read is the story of Louis Zamperini in the book, “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the story of a man who experienced the most suffering endured by a human being I’ve ever heard of. (Granted, I’ve never given childbirth a try.) The guy’s plane crashed, he was stranded at sea, starved, captured, starved again, beaten and tormented for years, and finally released to return home to his family and battle issues resulting from severe PTSD.

Partway through the book I lost the ability to even remotely comprehend the horrors he experienced. Breaking point after breaking point after breaking point, he miraculously found ways to survive.

Breaking points have this in common: they don’t feel good. No one likes being criticized at work. No one likes being humiliated in competition. No one likes it when life throws the worst kinds of horrors at you and demands that you face them without respite. Without these moments, however, we would remain infants.

In a focal point of the book, a man they called “The Bird” forced Louis to hold a wooden beam above his head. Dealing with dysentery, minimal food, and a recently broken ankle he was told that if he lowered or dropped the beam he would be shot.

Despite having every excuse to collapse at any moment, he stood there longer than I could have if I were warmed up, worked out, and ready to go. Something gave him courage to stand when any normal man would have given way.

A breaking point is a moment of great stress or greatest strain when we are presented with a choice: back down or stand in the fire. The result of that choice is that we will either be broken or made stronger. Louis Zamperini held the log so long that “The Bird” was the only one who broke in that moment.

There’s one final piece to living as an overcomer: we need to be empowered.

After three years of youth ministry, Jesus’ words in John 15:5 hold more meaning to me now more than ever. He says, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (NLT)

It basically comes down to this: without Him I can do nothing of lasting good; with Him I can overcome anything.

Have you ever experienced a wave pool? Basically, when the pump starts and the pool slowly begins to rise and fall there is a sea of people who rise and fall with each wave. Then there’s me. When I’m not content to flow with the crowd you’ll find me smashing into each wave as it comes, plowing my shoulder into the hill of water or diving straight through. I think I do it because I want to see who will last longer, the waves or me.

It seems like life has no end of breaking points; the waves just get deeper and deeper. That’s right where I need to be. He is glorified when I overcome my breaking points because I can only stand when He is standing with me. Pushing towards my goal of glorifying Him with my life makes me a wave breaker.

The culture of youth ministries ended up improving at my church after my critiquing session. In the past six months our team has seen growth because we had the courage to deal with the issues.

Getting back up after being obliterated by Will helped me to improve in skill so that I could inflict my newly acquired techniques on unsuspecting victims.

Louis Zamperini survived his experience as a POW and has an incredible story of redemption and healing you wouldn’t believe unless you looked it up yourself. He overcame unfathomable challenges as an Olympian, husband, and soldier.

The capability is in us. We just have to be empowered and make the choice to stand one breaking point at a time.