Just over a year ago I decided I wanted to do a February fun run in Seattle because they'd be tearing a road down with a stunning view, and it was my last chance to run on it. Never mind that I'd not run since October, I was motivated. So I set out on a training run. I pushed too hard, heard a pop, and spent the next two months recovering from a severe calf strain. I needed endurance. What I got instead was a lesson: endurance can't be created instantly! It appears that being in it for the long haul for anything, whether a consistently intimate marriage, or consistently meaningful vocation, or consistently embodied life of faith - is learned slowly.
So here you are. Maybe you've decided to use this unique moment in history to deepen your relationship with God, so you've embarked on a spiritual discipline(s). You began, like a marathon runner at the sound of the gun, with a rush. "You've got this" was your functional, if not literal, mantra. But social distancing has lasted over a month now, and everything that was in such vivid color originally is fading to grey. You're bored; or worried; or angry at the news; or afraid. And those pursuits that you'd hoped would offer meaning early on? They've become dry and stale, and are starting to fade away.
If I was sitting with you over coffee, chatting, I'd say, "Good. news! This is where the real transformation begins". Anyone can pop in for a worship service during a crisis. Many will pop in for an Easter dose of Jesus. But crisis and holiday faiths don't change our lives. Our lives are changed by habits - and habits are created through some time honored principles:
1. Real beliefs shape priorities, and priorities shape habits. Because I have an 84 year friend, George, who still skis uphill, and leads groups mountain biking, I believe (based on his words), that moving my body daily, to the point where my pulse is elevated enough to work the magic, is very important. Because I believe it, I do it, almost every day. I don't always feel like doing it, but whatever - feelings deceive. Beliefs sustain.
So what do you believe shapes you to be a person of hope, meaning, joy, and service in the world? What do you believe shapes you to rise above the petty fears, and steady trickle of lies so that you embody courage, grace, and truth? What do you believe makes you that kind of person? More TV? A bigger car? More money in the bank? I believe that Christ shapes us toward that beautiful destiny, and so I look to those who, like my friend George, have gone before me, emobdying hope and generosity will into their 90's in some cases. They'll show me the way, and have. It's called "Rule of Life", (all proceeds from this book go to World Relief refugee resettlement during April and May) a set of habits for spirit and soul, just like aerobics are for the body.
As a result, I show up for meditation, for Bible reading, for a day of Sabbath rest - not because I always feel like it, but because I believe in the time honored ancient paths that lead to intimacy with God. If your priorities include wanting to become a person of hope, intimacy, and wisdom, you too should join the tribe of those seeking the ancient paths.
2. Slow and Steady, beats Sprinting Sporadically. The mountain guide ascends at a pace whereby she can breathe through her nose and carry on conversation. Anything more is too fast. But ascend often enough, and nose breathing/conversing will be able to happen at a quicker pace. That quicker pace isn't achieved though, through once a week sprints in the park. It happens through slow and steady, daily, just a notch above easy, hiking.
So take Bible reading for example. It's way better to digest a verse a day than to try and swallow a chapter. It's better to spend five minutes in the scripture every day than 45 minutes once a week. Steady. Slow. Both are not only fine, but preferred - and counterintuitive in our 'more is better' culture.
3. Failure and discouragement are growth ingredients. I've trained too hard and injured. I've been seduced by social media some mornings and missed my Bible time. I've chosen Mocha ice cream sandwiches over meditation - more than once.
Whatever. I watch my granddaughter learning to walk. She falls, she gets up. I watch my other granddaughter on her scooter. She falls. She cries. She gets up. Kids give themselves grace, because that's the way humans are intended to live. We live, though, in a nearly perpetual state of "not enough", especially spiritually. As result, to avoid the shame of failure, we don't try - running instead to other pursuits where we feel more competent. Or we avoid trying to develop rule of habits for fear of failure. Or we try once, and when the adrenaline wears off we quit.
"You have need of endurance" says the author to the Hebrews, because he or she knows that every single life is filled with moments when the easiest thing to do is allow yourself to passively drift away from the fire that will empower you to give, serve, and impart beauty, hope, and joy into a very needy world. "Trials produce endurance" is what James' letter says. The moments that can undo us range from boredom with the faith life, to excessively busy demands, to doubt, to a virus that upsets the carefully constructed global economy and personal connections we thought were solid. Poof!
You can't develop endurance by reading about, or praying about it, or writing about it, or taking a pill. Endurance becomes part of one's character only by pressing through during times when you want to quit. So if you're tired of this mess and feel like quitting - congratulations! You're in the endurance developing space that is transforming you into the person God intended you become. That will only happen though, if you keep showing up; day by day by day by day by... you get the picture.
You've made us to keep showing up O God
But it's also in us to fail
Or let fear of failure keep us from the race entirely
We get discouraged
When faith loses its luster
In culture of fireworks, and faster, of bigger is better,
Of RedBull as fuel...
We express our desire for endurance
And ask you to give us the courage to
When it's easy
When it's hard
When it's sunny
When it rains
For the 10th day in a row
And after we've missed five days, or months.
We turn to you... our true fuel for joy and hope and meaning.
Fill us again Lord Jesus