Some years ago I was serious about distance running. I meticulously planned my meals, training, and schedule in order to achieve my goals. After a long season of training I laced them up and lined up for a marathon. At the start I took off on pure adrenaline. I ran with excitement passing many people and feeling like I was in the Olympics or something. The street was filled with onlookers and there was music. It was excellent. The only problem was I never slowed down. Like a labrador in an open field I just ran hard for several miles. Then something unexpected happened. At about mile 14 I began to feel irritation in my hips and knees. Instead of slowing down I just winced through it. By mile 18 I was grimacing. By mile 22 I felt like I was in a vice. I had foolishly outrun my ability and my body was paying the price.
This incident has become instructive for me of late. For years I have been privileged to speak to men who seem to take on too much work and go too hard. They are always running on fumes and rarely feel like they are doing their best in a particular area. They regret their busyness. I look back to many conversations where I’ve tried to help guys see their priorities, build a reasonable plan, and some accountability to make it happen. I’ve even used the analogy of life being a marathon and not a sprint. What’s more, I’ve even used my misplaced running zeal as an example of what could happen if they don’t reign some things in.
The only problem was, I never listened to the advice.
I have been in full-time ministry for just over 10 years now. Prior to that I worked full-time, went to college, and was an intern in a church. Also, my wife and I have six kids. This is a full plate. And, it has been a full plate for years. My philosophy from the beginning has been that I will sacrifice personal things (recreation, entertainment, professional pursuits, and even sleep) in order to spend time with my family, read my Bible, and be a disciplined, godly man. Over the years this resulted in me averaging around 6 hours of sleep per night. The 4:00 am alarm would go off every morning regardless of what time I set it in the evening. I look back at the last 15 years to when I was a relatively new Christian at 24 and marvel at everything. I would never trade any of it for anything.
At the same time I’ve realize that it cannot continue at this clip. A couple of months ago my wife lovingly talked to me about some concerns with my health. She has been an advocate for healthy living for years and I’ve largely spurned her advice because I have to run hard. Now she has objective items related to things she has observed. She called a timeout and told me to take my own advice and reel things in.
Here are some of the areas I’ve made adjustments or recommitments to:
- Tend to my soul through the daily disciplines of scheduled Bible reading, meditation and prayer.
- Enjoy some quiet to think without planning, working, or preparing for conversations.
- Take a day off that is actually a day off.
- A minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night (unless it’s a necessity to do otherwise.
- Eat better (which means actually eating meals instead of skipping them).
- Continue to exercise reasonably.
- Make them all feel the specialness that they are in reality to me.
- Take time to look each of them in the eye to listen and talk to them.
- Make intentional, spiritual investments in them.
- Slow down and observe the uniqueness of their person as image bearers.
- Do my best to not be drained when I get home and give them leftovers.
- Keep alerts off the phone (except text and phone call).
- Have scheduled email / social media times.
- Keep up with my personal reading schedule for personal development.
- Continue to read one fiction book per month.
- Read newspaper regularly.
- As much as I can try to end the day at the end of the day. Don’t bring it home.
- Cast cares upon the Lord and rejoice in his triumphs of grace.
- Get some administrative help.
- Give it everything I got in between the lines (the work day).
- Sow gospel seeds deep into the ground by discipling people.
- Pray. Pray. Pray. This is the Lord’s work. The arm of flesh can do nothing.
- Be patient, the Lord is steering the ship.
- Run like it’s a marathon not a sprint.
Some of these things have been in place but not working together in view of finishing at a good clip. In other words, there were other things that were draining their effectiveness. Perhaps you run really hard and have reasonable restrictions as I did, but are also feeling the fatigue. In this case I would encourage you to look at the big picture of what you are doing in light of the long-run, the marathon of life. Can you finish at this clip? Or will this thing finish you?
This brings me back to the marathon. I finished the race, but I was hobbling. A friend was at the finish line and said, “Dude, you look horrible.” This makes me think of John Owen, one of my favorite theologians from church history. It’s widely reported that when Owen was young he allowed himself a mere 4 hours of sleep a night. As you would expect this affected his health negatively. Later in life, when on his sick-bed, an older Owen regretted those hours of rest that he missed as a younger man. Wisdom listens to those who love them and those who are laps ahead of them. I’m thankful for both and am already benefitting from the changes.
Perhaps you are someone who needs to assess and slow it down. This could be a good time. If you want to talk about it, feel free to leave a comment or send me a note on Twitter or Facebook. I’d be happy to help in any way that I can.