“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV
If you have been following this blog through the pandemic, you read early about the need to treat this like a marathon rather than a sprint. What we didn’t know at the time was that it would be an ultramarathon. If you are like many in this ultramarathon of a pandemic, you are probably begun to feel an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and perhaps you have “hit the wall.”
Long-distance runners know the phenomenon of “hitting the wall.” Hitting the wall usually occurs at the last portion of a long race when the body has depleted its storied glycogen and it begins (both physically and mentally) to shut down. The body experiences sudden fatigue and the mind (partially due to a physiological reaction) is filled with negative thoughts, crippling self-doubt, and a strong compulsion to giving up.
Pushing through the wall takes mental fortitude and intentional planning. I am not a marathon runner, but I know runners do several things to mentally and physically prepare and push through the wall. As we run the Covid leadership ultramarathon, we are now at the “Hit the Wall” moment and I want to share some thoughts on smashing the Covid leadership wall and successfully completing the race set before us.
Unravel your Entanglements
In this marathon leadership season, you have probably experienced two common entanglements. First, your flaws may have turned into fractures and sin may have gotten a foothold in your life. Difficult seasons do this. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, sin easily entangles and prevents us from running the race. Sin will prevent you from thriving in this season and it can prevent you from completing the race. Take time for self-reflection and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any entanglements of sin that have wound themselves around you. Perhaps you are struggling with jealousy, gossip, pride, pornography, lying, etc. Whatever it may be, confess it to God and another trusted person. Seek help if needed from a trusted friend or a professional counsellor. Untangling ourselves often needs the help of a friend.
This season has probably raised the awareness of the common entanglement in church leadership. The entanglement of one’s ministry, vocational role, and personal life. Being a pastor is a unique job and career. As a pastor, your friends, work, and church are all the same group of people and one’s work and life can become so intertwined that it is hard to distinguish one sphere from the other. Marathon seasons can pull the cord that entangles these spheres tighter, making it very difficult to unravel our identity from our ministry and vocation. Take time in the coming days to intentionally embrace your foundational identity as a child of God, find something and someone outside of your entangled sphere to help you unwind from the pressure it can cause and the confusion it creates.
Feed Lots and Keep Hydrated
Runners know the importance of feeding your body before and during the race. There is truth for pastors and church leaders here. If you sense the wall is approaching and you are feeling depleted, eat and fuel your body, mind, and soul! Intentionally consume energy-rich nutrients…even if do you don’t feel like it. Feed your soul in ways that work for you: read the Scriptures, read books, connect with friends, go for walks, embrace a hobby, laugh often, do puzzles, play an instrument, etc. Feed your soul and drink deep the love of God for the journey ahead.
Marathon runners will tell you the importance of pacing yourself. If you are like most leaders, the beginning of the pandemic was powered by adrenaline and you probably pushed hard. Really hard! Granted, you didn’t know how long this would go on for and, thus, you probably didn’t pace yourself. If you are feeling like you have no gas in the tank for the final stretch, I would urge you to slow down, and, if needed, even take a break. It is better to complete the race walking than to end the race in injury or burned out in exhaustion. As we approach the summer, there is wisdom in keeping the ministry momentum going for your church, but it is also vital to slow down and rest for the final stretch as you hit the Fall. Pace yourself!
Rediscover Your Why and Persevere
One of the things that high-performance athletes do is visualize the race/event/game/match and the act of winning. In many ways, they are both preparing their mind for the decisions that will need to be made but also reminding themselves of the why (crossing the finish line and experiencing the feeling of victory and accomplishment). When runners hit the wall, their bodies begin to shut down and send signals to the brain to give up. As a result, breaking through the wall is not just a physical feat but a mental one. It takes mental fortitude to temporarily ignore the impulse to quit.
The key to persevering and pushing through the wall is to remember the why (or in our case, it is also the who – Jesus – by fixing our eyes on Him) and to temporarily ignore the voice that says to give up now, it is too difficult, and it isn’t worth doing. Amid the intense and ongoing pressure, you may feel the impulse to quit and give up. There is wisdom in temporarily ignoring that impulse and push through the wall. If needed, tell yourself that you will listen to this voice after you have processed this Covid season but, for now, you are intentionally deciding to not give in and to persevere. Perhaps God is calling you on to do something else. He may well be. But there is wisdom in waiting until we are done the race to determine this and discern if this is truly God’s desire. Until then, press on and smash the wall!
Run the Race
My encouragement to you as a colleague in ministry is to run the race set before you and smash the Covid leadership wall. Don’t listen to the voice that may be calling at you to prematurely quit. Rather, fix your eyes on Jesus, unravel your entanglements, fuel up, pace yourself and rediscover your why.