Throwing In The Towel

May 12, 2009
Turning the Other Cheek

Here’s another life lesson I had as a kid that has left a significant mark on who I am today. In my early teens and at various other periods growing up, I was the victim of a lot of “persecution” by my peers…teasing. The persecution came in a lot of forms, some physical with bullies, but I guess most of it was verbal–name-calling, etc.

Middle school is a really tough age. If I thought I’d get anywhere, I’d go door-to-door with a petition to send kids straight from grade school to high school, but I guess that won’t happen.

The teasing led to what has so far been the most stressful time in my life, and I was eventually ready to just quit school altogether and hide in my bedroom till I was eighteen. So, at one point, my parents sent me to see a counselor. The lesson that stuck with me was when the counselor was addressing my responsibility in the situation, in other words, how I reacted to the teasing.

He brings out this bath-towel and asks me to grab onto one end. He takes the other end, and starts to pull, and asks me to start pulling back. So we enter into this tug-of-war, and he tells me that on his side, he’ll play the part of my peers, and so he starts calling me names “stupid, idiot, geek,” etc. He then asks me to respond the best way I can–to defend myself: “I’m not an idiot!, I’m smart!, I’m not a geek!”

The tension rises, we’re both struggling in this battle over this bath-towel…I’m pulling with all my might, but he’s much bigger than me, and its all I can do to hold on. Then, in the midst of the struggle, he throws me for a loop with this odd request:

“Let go.”

Now, here am I, doing what he asked me to, pulling with all my might, and he wants me to let go! And boy, did that strike some fear into my heart. The emotions surged inside me: ‘I can’t let go, I’ll lose! I’ll be giving in!. If I let go, I’ll become what they say I am!’

“Let go,” he says again. Something in me just wouldn’t let me do it. It was like my very survival was at stake. Letting go meant falling backward into… who knows what? Maybe I thought it would kill me, I don’t know.

Then finally he yells it at the top of his lungs: “Let go!!!!!”

So, I let go. And, as I remember, stumbled back nearly falling onto the floor. I was startled, to say the least. I can imagine we were both breathing heavily and sweating from this struggle. Now, I don’t remember exactly what he said next. But, the gist was something like this:

“Where is the problem now? By letting go of the struggle, not defending yourself so stridently, you’ve left no fuel for their fire. But, by continuing to hold on, it is you who contributes to your own demise.”

Once I entered high school, I eventually became a pretty self-confident person, realizing my gifts, building my self-esteem. Yet, I’ve never become completely free of the effects of that teasing. One time just a few years back, I was sitting in a minivan with my 11 year-old nephew in the back seat right behind me. He starts messing with me, kicking the seat, pulling at my hair, laughing at me. I did my best to behave like the “adult uncle” in asking him nicely to stop. But, you know what came up in me? All these emotions of helplessness that I hadn’t felt in years…I felt like I was in the 7th grade all over again.

And, I still struggle with defensiveness today. I can fall into this pattern of spending way too much time concerned with how others perceive me. And oh, how I hate being accused of something I didn’t do! Just ask my wife. A lot of our marital arguments are sourced in that little insecurity.

But, I realize that while I’m most definitely responsible to respond to the needs of others in following the great commandment, “love God, and love your neighbor as yourself,” I don’t always have to defend my honor so aggressively when someone offends me or when I think I’m being labeled unjustly. The most important source for my self-esteem and worth is God–what others think of me really doesn’t mean a whole lot in the greater scheme of things.

Can you identify? When someone opposes us, we pull and pull on our towel, stressed out by the struggle, but fearing that to let go would perhaps be the end of us somehow. But, you know what? I think God wants our relationships to be proactive rather than reactive. In hindsight, perhaps if I was more mature back when I was a kid, I would have focused less on what my peers were doing to me, than what I could do for them.

Whether it’s during an argument in our marriage, whether we’re secretly hurt by a friend’s comments, or whether we’re weighed down by the burden of unrealistic expectations–when we give up our need be to always be right, when we “turn the other cheek” and “lay down our lives” for the person we’re in conflict with, we can actually become a little bit more like Jesus, who suffered way more persecution than most of us can fathom. When we let it all go, we can benefit from the unity and peace God wants for our relationships. We actually end up getting the peace we wanted all along, but just didn’t know how to find.

There’s a line I remember from the movie What Dreams May Come where it’s said, “sometimes when you lose….you win.” I guess another way to say that is, ‘Sometimes, you need to throw in the towel…but that’s how you’ll win the fight.’


About John Michalak


An author and speaker, John Michalak has spent more than 25 years encouraging others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is available from places like AmazonBarnes and Noble, and most everywhere books are sold.

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  • Charity Angel
    December 2, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Very well written. You could be quite the motivational speaker with that one. I absolutely have to agree with you on the fact that sometimes our problems continue because he fuel the fire by making something have more value then it truly has. When I was in similar situations, it was my counselor that told me to turn things around and empowered me. I don’t think that I can ever thank him enough for that one lesson, it changed everything for me too.

    Charity Angel

  • Gordon
    December 2, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    So so true. I deal with this myself… far too often. I am not sure there is a person we would find that does not have their own version of this story… well, after awhile. Most people hide things so much that you cannot break through their armor. Anyway, do not wish to ramble. Good thoughts…..

  • Just Duckie
    December 2, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Wow! You’re not kidding Gordon. I too struggle with this BIG TIME. One of my major flaws is that I am too open with people who are aquatiences.. and too closed to the people who are my friends. I still am not quite sure why. I guess it’s cause like John said, we get too afraid to let go. Thanks John for some great words of wisdom. I needed them today.

  • Erika
    December 2, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Well hey next time you’re in Nz 😉 my church would LOVE to hear you speak/play. Funny, it’s not terribly hard to set up tours of NZ. Maybe because we’re such an, I dunno, MINISCULE country? Most all of it’s pretty, though. And you’re always welcome here.

  • Crystal
    December 2, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    That was great and all kids and teens need to hear that and maybe it can help the to be motivated in the right direction.

  • Kelly-Lynn
    December 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Your message was Great..I have dealt with this too in my past and also my little brother as well..As an artist we deal with this too..Negative people trying to hold us back etc etc..Great Word!


  • Lindi Jo
    December 2, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Letting go of past hurts (teasing, abuse, rejection, the list goes on and on..) is a subject very dear to my heart…Loved This Blog, best yet!!!

    In Christ, Lindi

  • Signl8
    December 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I had a similar experience that lasted from the time I got to the “new school” until I graduated 6 years later. I tried everything I could try to make them like me, but all I did was lose track of who I really was. It’s funny because I always hear people say, “If I could go back…I would react totally differently.” I found that, at least for me, that wasn’t the case. Even now, when certain people treat me in a similar fashion, I find myself getting upset. When people hurt you…it hurts. My mom used to say, “Why do you give them so much credit? You didn’t even know them yesterday (two weeks ago, two years ago, etc..)” I still catch myself doing that and then I have to remind myself that I survived it once. I realize I’m reading this almost a year later, but the message is still one I needed today. Thanks.

  • John Michalak
    December 2, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks, Charity. Isn’t it cool how we’re united by our experiences? Our God is a wonderful God, to say the least. Is it no wonder how creative his lessons are for us?

  • John Michalak
    December 2, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Gordon and Jose,

    Thanks for your comments, guys. It’s not like my lesson was original. I.e., throwing in the towel is a close companion of Jesus’ “turn the other cheek”. But, as I said, God is pretty creative at teaching us similar principles from different angles. And we’re in school for a lifetime, right?

    Take care.

  • Raymond Schmitt
    February 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    As I read this old memories flooded back, being the object to everyone else’s opinion of my size, I learned to defend myself at an early age. I struggle with self-defense even now 55 years later, but because I am now aware of this mechanism in my life, I am learning how to kill it. John, if this old born-again alcoholic could give you some advice, it would be this. Forgive everyone that brought pain into your young life, real or perceived, take the time to remember them, write down their names and their offense then tell them you forgive them, outloud speak that forgiveness into the air. Something will happen to you, I promise, you will find forgiveness for yourself and a peace that passes understanding. I am a Christian and I have discovered that the promises of God are as real today as they have ever been. He is the same today, yesterday and forever.

  • John Michalak
    February 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Hi, Raymond. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this. Our childhood experiences are truly powerful and can stay with us into adulthood. So, your points about forgiveness are well-taken. Thanks again, Raymond.

  • Michelle D
    July 28, 2015 at 9:22 am

    I love this! All teens should read this. This problem is too prevalent today.

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