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Finding a sustainable pace June 10, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Struggles, Sustainability.
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I used to be in shape. I mean really, really good shape. My family would spend all summer camping and hiking –  an easy day was 8 miles (although long hikes would go as far as 20 miles in a day, mainly uphill).  Fast forward through college, marriage, full-time office job, and several years of no vacation time and living at sea level. I find myself very much no longer in shape. However, I still think that I should be able to climb 14,000 foot mountains with ease and I find it very frustrating when I discover that I cannot, and in fact can barely hike a few miles at altitude until I have had a lot of time to acclimate.

On our recent trip we were staying at around 8,000 ft elevation and taking hikes down into the canyon (the bottom of which was maybe 6000 ft). I hate canyon hiking because you have to do the hard part in the afternoon, when you’re already tired. Mountains you get the hardest part out of the way first and then after lunch it’s all down hill (although the advantage of the canyon hike is that unless you want to live in the canyon, you cannot wimp out and turn around when the climb gets too rough!)

In any case, on our first hike of the trip, as soon as we started climbing back up I thought I was going to die. The path was so steep, the air felt so thin, and my legs just wanted to leap up and strangle me for putting them through this. About half way up, panting and gasping, I realized something profound. Part of the reason I was having so much trouble was that I was attempting to go at the pace I thought I should be able to go – ie, the pace I could go when I was 15 and doing this everyday. And there were other people around me hiking fast, I was ashamed to go slower than them to let them see how weak and flabby I was. I was trying to prove to myself and to them (not that these strangers cared at all) that I could still handle it, that I was still fit. And as a result I was in serious pain and had to stop frequently to catch my breath.

So I slowed down. I slowed down until I a found pace where I could put one foot in front of the other without having to stop. It was mentally agonizing. I felt like I was so terribly behind everyone else, that no one in the history of time had ever needed to hike so slowly. But it was sustainable. It was still a difficult climb, but I found a pace where I was able to keep going, however gradually. And ultimately I got where I was going and I wasn’t completely destroyed at the end of it.

This was a revelation to me, not just in terms of hiking but personally and spiritually. First, I realized how ridiculously competitive I can be (although that’s not exactly news). Second, I realized I do this same thing all the time in so many areas of my life I get excited, I race ahead, I burn out quickly. I do it in work, in hobbies, in relationships, and in my spiritual walk. I get up early one day and exercise and read 27 chapters of the Bible, pray, journal, worship, exercise some more – and then the next day I can barely drag myself to work and all I want to do is lay on the couch and watch reruns of 30 Rock.

The author of Hebrews tells us to run the race with endurance. Which is impossible to do if you spend all your energy in the first five minutes. There will be nothing left for the end and you will mostly likely give up. This is something I am working on. Finding my sustainable pace not just in exercising but in my spiritual life, in my level of involvement in ministry. And like anything else, when one has not been exercising muscles, whether real or figurative ones, they simply cannot do as much as they could when you were consistently training. But if you can find the point where you are able to keep plugging along, however slowly, they will start getting stronger.

It was a relatively short trip, but we hiked everyday, consistently. By the hike on the last day I found that I was able to hike significantly farther and faster than at the beginning, and to feel less drained when I was done. In fact, I felt totally energized. This is a place I need to get to in my walk with God. A place where I am consistently devoting time and energy to my relationship with Him, and growing in my faith. The growth may be slow, it may frustrate me that I am not an instant spiritual master or immediately 100% plugged in and useful at church, but it will get me where I need to go. God is not put out by my plodding pace, even when I often am.

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