Playing a Long Game (or, Finally, A Post That Isn’t about Books)

History, literature, and sports. are full of stories that extol the virtue of expending oneself completely for a great and noble cause. The best example of this is, of course, a Greek story. The first guy to ever run a marathon ran from a battle to report his army’s loss to Athens 26.2 miles away. Upon the delivery of his message, the poor fellow died. (Incidentally, this is a decent argument for not running marathons.) But then there’s Kerri Strug – y’all remember her? – who secured the gold medal for the Magnificent 7 by successfully completing a vault on a screwed up ankle, after which she collapsed. From stories like this, I grew up with the impression that “doing my best” meant doing everything physically possible, completely exhausting all my resources if necessary, in order to accomplish something.

My body and my heart and my mind and my spirit and all that stuff are very mushed together. I like to explain it this way: I am really really really all one thing. And while there are definite perks to being built that way, there are some downsides. I don’t handle stress well, and because of how incredibly corporeal I am, my body bears the brunt of my stress. Ever since I first got a glimpse of how this connection works in me, I’ve been trying to sever, or at least diminish, it. Instead, the effects of my stress change. It’s like stress is charging my body a toll, and when I figure out that I’ve (unbeknownst to myself) been paying in rubles, I yell, “Cut that out!” and the sneaky toll payer in me starts paying in euros instead. Case in point: I was so stressed my senior year of high school I started throwing up every Wednesday, like clockwork. It stopped when I went to college, but recurred periodically. I was thinking surely I had some sort of stomach problem, but my doctor eventually convinced me it was stress. And just like that, I stopped stress-vomiting… and started storing my stress more profoundly in my shoulders. This sort of shifting seems to occur regularly – and means that I am not dealing with my stress problem, just burying it under a different rug until it again becomes undeniable and overwhelming.

So I’ve been rethinking a lot of things. While it might be a bad idea for someone else to take on a stressful job, for me it can mean becoming completely debilitated. The stakes are really high. And I am a driven person, who really enjoys high-energy situations – but I am also a person with a body that is broken in such a way that high-energy situations can be really dangerous for my health. Thinking “Yeah, I’m not doing so well, but I can keep this up for the next 3 weeks before it completely lays me out flat” does not lead to a healthy lifestyle.

This whole idea that we are supposed to constantly be giving 100% does have some merit. The one thing we are commanded to do at 100% is love God – with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And, as His sons and daughters, we ought to be loving God this way in everything we do. But as we love Him, as we serve Him, part of our job is to be good stewards. Sometimes we have a calling or person for which/whom we are to, like Paul, pour ourselves out like drink offerings (2 Tim 4:6) – like this woman. But notice Paul’s context – he is dying. I’m starting to think that kind of push-yourself-to-the-last-inch-and-then-a-little-more might belong in contexts with a definite finish line. Like death.

My Greek professor in seminary tried to help us come to terms with this phenomenon, telling us that we’re incapable of doing it all, and that we had to prioritize our goals and responsibilities – and allocate our efforts in a way appropriate to those priorities. For the next three weeks, he told us, our full attention was to be on Greek I. “So,” he told my married classmates, “tell your wives you love them and kiss them goodbye for the next three weeks. Because to do this well, to lay the foundation you’ll need for Greek II, you need to immerse yourselves as much as possible in studying the language.” But he went on to explain that we could not expect to give A-effort to everything in seminary – or in life. “You may need to decide that you’re going to be satisfied with a B in a class because you need to be spending more time with your wife and kids. You may need to give one class C effort so you can work harder in a class that’s harder for you to bring up your grade.” Rocket science, this is not… so why does it seem so hard to do?

The aftermath of my most recent bout with endometriosis (and the coinciding fungal disaster) has meant piecing together what it means to have a body with these limitations and this pain, what it means to play a long game instead of pushing myself to the breaking point time and again. And I think I’m starting to get an idea of what the puzzle’s going to look like put together.

Freedom in Christ means a lot of things. One of them is that I am free to say no. For a driven person like me, this has been a hard thing. I’ve been keeping the Sabbath for the last 18 years or so has helped tremendously, because I am used to practicing the fact that it is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, not my own, that makes me holy. That has been a huge encouragement and help to my faith. God is using the disciplined living out of the truth to change my heart and life – and to equip me to handle bigger, more uncomfortable truths I need to learn.


One Comment to “Playing a Long Game (or, Finally, A Post That Isn’t about Books)”

  1. Great post!

    Sent from my iPad


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