Editor’s Note: Shawn Michaels, aka “The Heartbreak Kid”, “The Showstopper”, “The Headliner”, “The Main Event”, “The Icon”, and “Mr. Wrestlemania” is an eleven-time winner of Pro Wrestling Illustrated and WWE’s Match of the Year Award. He has been blessed enough to be the WWE World Champion, World Heavyweight Champion, Royal Rumble winner (twice), Intercontinental Champion, World Tag Team Champion along with many other noteworthy accolades. All of that used to be his entire identity… until he met Jesus and faith in Him changes his entire life from the inside out. We hope you enjoy this excerpt from Wrestling for My Life and share it with the wrestling fans in your life.
The Christian friends who expressed hesitancy about me returning to wrestling did so out of concern for me. I have said that WWE is not as evil as it is often made out to be, but there obviously had been plenty of pitfalls there for me to fall into my first time around.
Rebecca might have experienced a little bit of trepidation, but when I asked her opinion about me returning, she said she was at peace with it. When I went back, my old lifestyle had absolutely no appeal to me. I didn’t want to live in a way that would be detrimental to me or my family.
For the first time in my life I felt that I could clearly see the lines between right and wrong.
My salvation came with the realization that if you don’t live for something, you don’t live for much of anything. My something was Jesus, my Lord and Savior, and I no longer wanted to maintain a lifestyle that would disappoint the One who had given His life for me.
With the change that God brought to my life, there was nothing about my previous lifestyle that I wanted to revisit for old times’ sake. The assumption was that before I became a Christian, I had fallen prey to the pursuit of fame and money associated with the wrestling lifestyle. Based on that assumption, I understood why some people were concerned about my going back to WWE. But the assumption was false.
Fame and money and those pursuits were not a temptation for me. They were not a threat for me. They were not the reasons I had gotten into all the stuff I had before. I had drunk a lot, done drugs, and popped pills for two reasons: because of boredom, and because I was empty and lonely. My wife used to say that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and that was true with me, because a lot of the destructive things I did were just a way to kill time.
Our schedules back then were so busy that all there really was time for outside of wrestling was sitting in a hotel room watching TV until you fell asleep. That, to me, was torture. Plus, I didn’t like to be alone with myself, because I didn’t like myself. I went out and drank because that was a way to be with others. I did drugs to get high and took pills to get relaxed so I could get into a mental state where I wouldn’t have to deal with who I had become.
I never had any withdrawals once I quit. I found Jesus, and I was done with the drugs and pills. Just like that. I have had surgeries since and have had no problems getting off the pain pills after I recovered. I took the pills exactly as prescribed and stopped exactly when I was supposed to.
To me, the complete life turnaround was the strongest witness I could have as a Christian.
Although there were a lot of new faces in WWE, I knew they had heard stories about me. The biggest reputation black marks against me were being difficult to work with and being a pill head. While some of the old-timers who were still around might have wondered if the change would last, I think they also hoped I had changed for good, because they remembered quite well how I had been before, when I had been hanging out in the bars, drinking, doing drugs, messing around with women, going off on people, and generally being disrespectful.
When I had left the first time, the range of how much I was liked by the other wrestlers was probably little to none, with the exception of my best friend, Hunter. I guess one of the upsides to the hell of a life I had lived was that I had set the bar so low that it would not have taken much effort to not be as bad as what I had been. Trust me, that is not something to be proud of!
I used to be one of the guys going to the strip clubs. I didn’t go to those places when I went back. Gosh, I didn’t even know if the younger guys were going to them. I didn’t know where they went. When I could, I brought my family with me. I did that so we could spend more time together, but one of the by-products was that the guys got to see me with my family and their mental images of me would be me with my family instead of in those other places. I think that simply not being seen in certain places I had previously frequented proved to be a pretty viable witness on its own.
I had only one fear associated with my return: that I would not be as good a wrestler as before. I didn’t know how much my back could withstand, but I wasn’t as worried about my body as much as I was my wrestling ability. I was thirty-seven years old when I got back into the ring at the SummerSlam pay-per-view event, working an angle in which Triple H had turned on me. My knees and back felt years older than thirty-seven, but the fans ate up the Triple H angle, and when our match went over well and I didn’t experience too much unexpected soreness afterward, I was back to wrestling.
I didn’t wrestle full-time, managing my schedule so I could spend time at home and still be available for the run-up to and during the big events.
The fans were receptive to the cleaned-up Shawn Michaels. I knew I would face the same challenges with them that I did with the guys. Namely, was this change real and would it last? I couldn’t blame the fans for being suspicious that the Christian story might be just another made-up wrestling storyline. In every personal interview I took part in, I made sure to include my faith in an effort to show that I had experienced a legitimate, real-life change.
I also started incorporating Christian words and symbols into my wardrobe. I wore overt Christian T-shirts into the ring, such as shirts that included Jesus’ name or made a declaration such as “He Is Risen.” I was excited about the shirts, and I took a bit of heat from fans for wearing them and for talking about God so openly. But I had expected that and had determined I wasn’t going to let it bother me. I was genuinely happy and was telling folks long before I knew that “I shouldn’t.”
Vince was fine with the messaged shirts, too, although he did come to me after a couple of months of me wearing them and said he wanted to ask a question about my shirts.
“Do you have a problem with them?” I asked Vince.
“I think they’re great,” he answered. “But there are some countries where we air that we have to digitally alter the overt Jesus stuff. I’m not asking you to change what you’re doing; I’m asking what we can do.”
Vince offered to have WWE create and merchandise shirts that would be able to be aired unaltered in those places while still getting out the message I wanted to send. He said it would be cheaper for WWE to make the shirts for me than to continue digitally altering them for certain locations.
I thought about it and agreed. That put the creative gurus at WWE in charge of my shirts, and they started designing me shirts with crosses on them and “HBK” (for Heartbreak Kid) inside an Ichthys, the Christian fish symbol.
Spending fifteen seconds in the ring before a match with a message on a T-shirt might not seem like having much impact until you realize that we were watched by four to five million people per week in just the United States. That was a big audience!
As for what those people were watching in the ring, I believe a strong case can be made that despite the physical issues, I was a better wrestler — and certainly a better storyteller — in the second part of my career than in the first. Not bad for a dude who not only hadn’t planned on ever wrestling again, but also had struggled with the decision as to whether he should even rejoin WWE.
I learned a valuable spiritual lesson in my return to wrestling: God does not give us gifts that He does not intend for us to use. Even in the days when my life was out of control, I considered my wrestling abilities a gift from God. I say it humbly when I say that I could wrestle really well. It always came naturally to me. There was nothing about the job of wrestling itself that I did not like or would define as work. To me, digging a six-foot ditch is work. Hard work!
But wrestling wasn’t.
Being good at wrestling was never difficult for me.
Someone once told me that God isn’t a bait-and-switch kind of God, and I don’t believe that God would have given me the gift of being a good wrestler and then not want me to wrestle.
The Lord built me to be a pro wrestler, and I did the best with what I had and tried to make the most use of my platform when I could. I would say that before my salvation, I wrestled because I had a God-given ability.
Afterward, I wrestled because God had a purpose for me.
Watch the Wrestling for My Life Video:
Excerpted with permission Wrestling for My Life by Shawn Michaels, copyright Zondervan 2014.
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What are some God-given gifts you’ve been blessed with? Join the conversation on our blog! We’d love to hear from you about living out God’s purpose!