Saturday, September 21, 2013

A call to dig deeper

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV

That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.
Friedrich Nietzsche

A call to dig deeper

Each workout comes with a choice – how much blood, sweat and tears am I willing to commit today? Some days we just don’t have it. Some times those days pile up into weeks of half-hearted workouts. But when we dig deep to really give it our all in a key interval workout or really go to failure and not just a little tiredness during a strength set or plank hold in the gym, there is a both a fitness and psychological gain to be had that we can call upon during a race that we really care about. Being willing to suffer through wind, rain, and more effort than we would normally want to give allows us to push through adverse conditions on race day.

As the 2013 triathlon season winds down and key races are happening, I am witnessing and hearing about athletes who exemplify what our sport (and really any sport) is about – digging deep to push through momentary pain and suffering to achieve a goal that lasts.

Sara dreamed about doing an Ironman, and did everything she could for 1.5 years to be ready. On race day, it was windy on the lake, and she finished the swim in 1 hr 43 min with a belly that was visibly distended from air and water taken in during the swim. She then rode a very hilly bike course for 112 miles, hillier and longer than she had ever ridden before for eight hours. She was more physically miserable during that ride than she had ever been before, but she didn’t stop because she wanted to finish that Ironman so badly. And she did.

John, a great local duathlete, traveled to Switzerland to compete in the Age-Group Long-Course Duathlon World Championships for Team USA. John wrote the following about his experience at that race: “Powerman, ‘World's Toughest Duathlon’ lived up to its name. I had a few adventures during the day....stung by a bee on my lip during the second loop on the bike; breaking a spoke with 32 miles left to ride (which made those 32 miles hairy since I didn't know if the wheel would hold up on the descents or during braking in the corners); missing a water hand up when I was out of fluids (the guy pulled the bottle back!).” Any one of these challenges might have ended a typical workout early. He had to dig deep to finish!

People in our midst are digging deep in other ways. Some are enduring the loss of a wife, a husband, a parent to sudden and unexpected death, and carry on for the sake of children day by day into a new and undesired reality. Others spend months in chemo treatments, surgeries and the physical impairments that result, struggling to return to some semblance of what they once were. And don’t forget the parents caring for kids with special needs who wonder who will care for these children when they no longer can.

Whether we endure by choice in sport or by necessity in life, we all look for a source of strength to help us continue when the going gets very tough, and the road feels especially long. We call upon the example of others to help us push through (Heb. 12:1-2). We hold onto the belief that how we handle the situation will somehow make us stronger as human beings, as spiritual beings, as parents, as pastors and teachers, as coaches, as athletes. We persevere in the face of adversity because we believe that continuing toward our goal is more important than what we feel in the moment. The desire to just give up and go home is defeated.

This is the call to true greatness in life, in sport. Perseverance in the face of adversity. Embrace it every day, every workout, and see where it takes you in 2014.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Getting my butt and my spiritual life in gear

My right glute doesn’t fire. I care about this because I’m a triathlete, and running has never been my forte. The glutes (buns, cheeks, rear end) are supposed to be my major running muscles, my “prime movers”, but mine don’t really do much back there. This means my quads, hamstrings, and calves do most of the work to move me down the road, but they’re not really meant for this job. When I run fast or a lot, they tend to give out, and I end up injured. I’m fed up with being injured, so this fall I’ve committed to getting my butt in gear, literally.

At the same time, I’m acutely aware that my spiritual life is in a holding pattern. It’s rare that I crack open my Bible between Sundays, and my prayers are short and shallow, offered up in the midst of other activities. There’s not a lot of two-way conversation going on between me and God at the moment. There was a time when I had a good habit of meeting with Him over His Word, and there was exciting fruit from that that I could share with other people. These days as the Exploring God campaign kicks off here in Austin, I know I should be sharing what I love about Jesus with those who are seeking hope and meaning, but I need a refresher on just what it is that I love about Jesus first.

What to do? I can just buckle down and start telling people what I know about Christ. God is powerful. He can use me even if I’m not doing a great job at representing Him. But just like running without using my glutes, my prime movers, and relying on muscles meant to be helpers to do all the work, I won’t get far if my Jesus-talk is not backed up with a vibrant relationship with my Lord. Knowledge of the Bible, trying to do what’s right, pride – all these can compensate. But love of Christ, coming from an intimate day-to-day walk with Him, is meant to be my prime spiritual mover.

Before I do much running, I’m going to spend a lot of time lying on the floor concentrating fully on teaching my brain and glute muscles to talk to each other so my glutes move when I want them to. Right now just doing this makes my weak glutes sore, but eventually they will get stronger, and ultimately I will go outside and get them to move my legs when I run. In the same way, I need to set aside time and energy outside of Sunday mornings to connect my head with my heart. I need to have frequent, meaningful conversations with Jesus about Who He is and who I am in Him, about the things in me that I need Him to clean out so He can use me better, about the things He’s doing that He’s calling me to be a part of. To fall in love again. Once I have started to move my spiritual muscles, then I can rely on Him to move me in my daily activities to take advantage of opportunities to speak Hope to others. I’m going to flex my spiritual muscles in prayer and study, and then step out in faith to put that power into practice. I’m not retraining my glutes just so I can move them at will when I’m hanging around the house by myself – those buns are meant for running! In the same way, I’m looking forward to both loving and obeying Jesus, putting my faith into practice to make this place a little more like Heaven, more His Kingdom, day by day.

Hebrews 12:11-13: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

1 Corinthians 9:25-27: Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Matthew 7:24-25: Anyone who hears and obeys these teachings of mine is like a wise person who built a house on solid rock. Rain poured down, rivers flooded, and winds beat against that house.  But it did not fall, because it was built on solid rock.

Next blog posts: Ironman Wisconsin reflections, comparison of Hammer HEED vs. Skratch Labs Hydration Mix