Everything Is Not A Marathon

Last week I attended a seminar on energy and stress.  The presenter described the human body as an oscillating system and she drew a roller coaster design with highs and lows.

The body is created to have periods of stress, which she defined as “energy out” and periods of rest and integrating, “energy in.” It doesn’t matter what kind of stress it is – so-called good stress, like working to achieve a goal or a happy life event, or so-called bad stress: illness, loss, accidents. Both kinds of stress are “energy out.”

What happens with much of our lives is that we stay in a stressful mode, rarely dipping down to rest or recoup our energy. This was titled “flatlining” or being in marathon mode. This is a stance where we are geared up and pushing through without ever really taking a break.

As I listened, I thought about so many churches and leaders who are “pushing through” without the time to rest, reflect and take a breath. In times of uncertainty, this is a default mode. We lose our perspective that for God’s people, life has mostly been uncertain, and God gave us the gift of Sabbath, a practice that includes, but is not limited to a day of rest, a season of rest such as the Jubilee, and even cycles for prayer, napping like Jesus on the boat, and taking time to walk and read and rejuvenate. One of the best learnings she offered was that our bodies don’t really need much down time to get back to optimal settings – they mostly need the regular opportunity to re-set.

This seems just as necessary for our congregations, sessions, and ministry teams, who are often in marathon mode to get so much done when there is till so much more to do. What kind of rest and break is built into your work rhythm as the collective body? When do you rest from the load and mission you are carrying forward? Where are you all as a body taking “energy in”, the breath of the Spirit to refresh?

So far so good – these are not startling new ideas, though it can be useful to hear the reminder again that God created the world and took a breath – and therefore so should we.

It was her second point that really got my attention.

She described “growth” as happening two ways. First, there is growth when we rest, because that is the time that the body, mind and spirit integrate what has been happening.  It is essential to rest and offer that time for re-generation. This is less about new growth then continuing to develop in the same familiar way.

But the second place for growth is when we choose to push ourselves. When we find an opportunity to sprint. This is the time we go beyond where we are comfortable. We find a dream, a goal, a project that is compelling and we go beyond our natural limits, our beliefs about what we can do, our fear of failing or not being enough and we press ourselves out. This is not about the marathon of daily life, it is the opportunity to risk, to open ourselves to a new thing, and to hear the Spirit calling us beyond what we are already doing. The growth that comes from the sprint offers a new dimension.

The sprint stance is not one we take often or easily. In challenging times we tend to hunker down, keep on keeping on.

But what an opportunity! To go against the familiar and find a way to thrive!

This seems to me to be the call of our faith – where we are invited to do some sprinting. What wild idea, new form of ministry is lurking around the edges of your imagination, or in the hearts of your congregation? Where might you choose to live your call in a risky short term way?

Take time to rest, to rejuvenate and grow. But don’t overlook the possibility of the short dash press to a new way of being.

Laurie Ferguson began her ministry in the Hudson River Presbytery in 1982 as church pastor, and she also served in two brief interims. She is currently a member at large, serving the denomination as a consultant and leadership coach in mid councils and at the national level. This work furthers her core belief that God is on the move in the world, and we are all needed to participate. Our work is to catch up with where the Spirit is heading! Laurie is a leadership and career coach, and is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Tappan NY. She also serves as the Director of Auburn Seminary’s coach training program. She can be reached via her website: lauriejferguson.com

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