My Self-Indictment

It’s been a while since I’ve posted something on my blog. This was not my plan. But in my own defense against my accusatory self, my life has been unusually full over the past few months. My sons have entered new schools, my wife has begun in earnest a new school program for herself, I’m finishing up a book project and preparing for a Kickstarter launch (stay tuned), and doing my very best to prioritize healthy eating and living practices. All that speaks nothing of my day-job in pastoral ministry which continues, full of joy and frustration, privilege, and very, very heavy weights of responsibility.

Believe it not, however, I think my own tendency toward self-indictment is principle cause for my lack of blog-material production of late. I’m very often my own worst enemy. And that’s the topic of this post: my accusatory self.

A couple months ago, I began writing a piece on despair. I couldn’t perfect it. So, it remains locked on my laptop hard drive. I do hope that it will eventually reach the light of day, but I haven’t yet built the courage to put it out there. At every turn during the writing process, I could hear my inner critic reminding me that that last sentence tapped out on the screen could be interpreted in not-so-flattering ways. I heard its gentle but frantic voice whispering about the few who would take offense at me expressing my thoughts in that particular way. And then, after having re-written it, I heard that troll criticize the new material from the perspective of a hostile community in the opposite extreme.

It’s a curious dynamic.

Precious few of these private voices have ever been spoken to me by others directly (or indirectly). I’m primarily aware of them because of having read the comments (don’t ever read the comments by the way ) on other pieces, or through unbridled conversations in person regarding other people or subjects. Their voices echo and morph in my psyche.

A friend of mine taught publicly this last year on a theme that has great discord among church people. Before the lecture even began, opposition to the presentation began to mount on online message boards. Angry and frightened religiously devout people wrote fanciful conspiracy-theories about the speaker and associated communities of faith. Facebook-grandmas indiscriminately forwarded emails to their tribes. My friend’s best intentions and considerable skill did not save them from attack; and that was only the beginning! Once the material was out in the open, recorded and published for all to see, the attacks began in earnest from other, opposite, perspectives on the spectrum. Many things, from the choice of topic itself, to the speakers’ past, to their credentials, to their race and gender, were brought into focus and thoroughly deconstructed. Before it was all over, the very motive of the speaker, their heart, their intentions, were twisted and interpreted as pure evil. My friend, despite a solid and conscientious attempt at addressing a difficult and contentious topic, had been thoroughly eviscerated from all sides – not self-prophylactically as is the subject of this article, but in the frantic court of public opinion.

It can be terrifying to stand up and say something, anything; to put thoughts to paper or film and post them for the world to see. Even if the critics don’t come calling as they did my colleague, some of us, yours truly included, make sure their voices are felt none the less. Creating in the shadow of self-indictment has been a paralyzing, deconstructive, and obsessive loop for me. It has not been healthy for me or for those I have the privilege of influencing.

"Creating in the shadow of self-indictment has been a paralyzing, deconstructive, and obsessive loop for me."

Now – I could play the victim here. I could finish this article by writing about how terrible those people are who served up oversized helpings of opinion on message boards and blogs. I could write about the anti-social and community-destroying nature of 21st century social media. But I don’t think those tacks would either be constructive or truthful. The fact is that my creative incapacity has far more to do with me than it does with outside forces.

My own story has taught me to make too much use of inner critic. While this dynamic might not be true for everyone, I’m sure I’m not alone. I have experienced very real rejection at certain points in my 36 years, the most hurtful in traumatic ways that were both boundary breaking and therefore outside my control. As a child, adolescent, and even as a young adult, I learned to cope with some of these experiences by exerting control in what little ways I had less. In my mind, I came to believe that the more in control I was over life, the less likely I was to re-experience such painful injuries. Often this hyper-attention translated into me choosing to disengage preventatively: refusing to even try throwing my opinion out or participating in the conversation. My unexamined reasoning held that if I just meekly listen, without taking a position, I can’t be attacked, I can’t be pushed out, I can’t be left behind. Over time, my uber-precaution fed and developed a well-trained inner critic.

In other words, I believe I tend to avoid sticking my neck out there today not because “people on social media are mean” or because of “the trolls,” but because I am only recently learning how to coexist with debate opponents (or downright nasty people) with love in my heart and a skip in my step. I’m only recently developing the skills to be confident in my own identity, my own sense of calling, and in my own convictions – regardless of the push back. I’m only recently learning to allow these to shape my public voice instead of the inner critic. 

For those of you who have gone through this process as an adult, you know how challenging it is. But just as disengagement leads into cycles of paralysis, courageous creativity and expression multiplies into cycles of positive action.

I do also have to admit in all this that at times, my critic has (and still does) serve me well. He’s like my body-guard, looking out for me, and trying to protect me. He’s trying to help, truly. And there are many moments I can point to in the past where he, full of anxiety, has pressed me to produce something much better than I initially made. There are moments where his insistence on refinement, harder work, more hours, something like perfection, created something more beautiful than I had originally accepted. It is simply fact that some of my work has been excellent because of this “bouncer” at the door.

And yet, now, as a grown man, I’m beginning to learn that I, as the artist (to keep the metaphor going), hold the creative power in this relationship. It’s my choice. It’s my decision. It’s my risk to take. I’m old enough to know that wisdom is absolutely irreplaceable, even from the inner critic – and also that cycles of immobilized depression are possible in the absence of all gambles.

In the end, I have hope that my experience with the inner critic will lead me not only to produce better material, but even more, to be a more empathetic reader of others’ material as well. I want this voice I’ve honed over the years to serve me positively. I want him to help shape the tone I take when I comment online and the angle I use when in conversation with friends. I don’t always succeed. But at its best, my critic can be a useful guide.

"We, as a society, have the capacity to be charitable...to assume the best...to interpret with generosity and kindness."

In fact, at times I find myself feeling defensive of others who create – like my speaker friend I mentioned above -- but also of those with whom I disagree. Not only did that person’s experience lead me to self-reflect, and self-critique, it also opened up a path of (for right or for wrong) righteous outrage for me. For many of us, especially those like me, it takes courage to put your work out for all to see. I think the act of bravery alone deserves at least a modicum of respect. We, as a society, have the capacity to be charitable in response to opinion shared publicly. We have the capacity to assume the best, even when the execution is off. We have the capacity to interpret with generosity and kindness.

As a writer myself, I certainly long for that from my readers!

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Often when I feel this sense of anger rise up in response to a public disembowelment, my mind is drawn to a scene of the 1995 Michael Douglas and Annette Bening film, “The American President.” At one point, Douglas, who plays the president, finds himself in a heavily critical conversation with his chief of staff. I don’t recall the details of the political situation, but it seems that there were no good options for the administration – no set of actions that yielded minimal political or real-life ramifications. In the conversation, the president’s chief of staff is unvarnished in his criticism; it was a moment of truth. The heated exchange grows to a head as Douglas shouts to his friend, “Is the view pretty good from the cheap seats AJ?”

The insinuation is that it’s easy to pick and poke, attack and deconstruct, from a position of having little to lose, from a place of little to no investment. Without “skin in the game” as it were, critique can really fall flat. Unless you’re actively engaging with the issues, tangling with problems, attempting solutions, putting yourself at risk, your criticisms can come across to those at the table as more than a little hollow. In fact, some of the greatest allies for your cause might be the ones you so easily dismiss as evil, deluded, committee automatons.

After having served on a great many committees and leadership boards, I know all too well how those tasked with making decisions agonize about the many, many factors and consequences that go into them. And I have also been privy to the casual and ignorant conversations critiquing those decisions with great force and ostensible authority, but with not an ounce of empathy, and truly without comprehensive understanding. The “cheap seats” might seem like a perfect place from which to be an expert, arm-chair quarterback. But unless you have or are engaged in the issue, your critique is more likely to be myopic at best. In fact, sometimes our inner critic (and by now you might accurately be renaming this as EGO), from the cheap seats, likes to express him or herself simply to feel bigger, more powerful, and more in control.

There is such a thing as injustice. Wrong is wrong. Evil is evil. Sometimes views are expressed or actions performed that simply are not ok. No amount of self-mind-ninjitsu, or insider self-justification, will transform them into constructive or beautiful actions. But I think the list of truly un-just leaders might be shorter than the frantic voices of social media can lead us to think.

It’s super easy to allow our inner critics to condemn what others are doing. I want to be someone who gives the benefit of the doubt – who gives common courtesy – who lives under mercy as a first policy; this for myself as well as for others. I strive to keep my own inner critic in check: granting both me and you with unearned kindness. I want to be quick to listen, quick to grace, quick to curiosity – slow to criticism. I want to be brave and thoughtful, daring and humble, considerate and precise.

May God grant me the courage to give myself grace - even for this imperfect piece. And may he grant you the courage to give grace just the same. May God bless us all in our creative work that pushes the ball forward, and welcomes into reality the Kingdom of God.

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For additional reading and reflection on some of this subject matter, I recommend the following:

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1.     For artists and creators, I’ve recently finished a book by Julia Cameron called “the Artist’s Way.” Many of you will have already heard of it. It’s a classic in the field; I think it’s worth every minute. https://www.amazon.com/Artists-Way-25th-Anniversary/dp/0143129252/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=419VCH8E0Y6KG4KGVDP5

2.     Rob Bell’s podcast has been a blessing to me personally. You likely won’t agree with everything he says, but as I’ve outlined above, I think he models the kind of courage our world needs – the willingness to express ourselves in dialogue, without letting those inner voices shut us down prophylactically. His most recent post on “everyone is your teacher” (episode 166) is particularly apt with regards to this post. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-robcast/id956742638?mt=2&i=1000392953150

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3.     Finally, I’d also recommend a book recommended to me by a good friend. It is really a transcription of a speech given some 20 years ago, but I found the material both touching and challenging. Again, very closely related to the above article. Anthony DeMello’s “Rediscovering Life.” https://www.amazon.com/Rediscovering-Life-Reality-Anthony-Mello/dp/030798494X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507133578&sr=1-1&keywords=rediscovering+life

 

 

7 Lessons I Learned Running a Marathon

Over Memorial Day weekend 2017, I had the gift of checking off an item from my bucket list: running a marathon. I didn't cover the 26.2 (my GPS said I went 26.4) miles at a particularly quick pace, but I did, in fact, run the entire course. Looming even larger than the speed at which I completed it is the context in which it comes. As I've indicated on my blog here more than once, I've been on a journey of weight loss and improved health over the past couple years (here's a link to my most popular post from a while back). Two years ago this spring, I was at my all-time-high weight, suffering on many levels and in many ways. I was depressed and discouraged. It's hard to describe how much different I feel physically and emotionally today - my run on Sunday is a positive sign of changes already afoot, and yet a reality. As I reflected on the experience this morning, Memorial Day, some lessons came to mind, some that have emerged over the preceding months: 

1. Judging people, positively or negatively, based on big flashy moments is fraught -- reality is always much more complicated than the surface level (or even well-informed) perception. We hardly know ourselves accurately - let alone other people! 

Perhaps this isn't a lesson I learned exclusively through this experience, but at the very least, it was reinforced by it. I can recall a great number of incidences in my life where, at a sporting event, presentation, concert, or other spectacle, I felt incredibly impressed with the feats accomplished by extraordinary people on stage. Watching in person the winner of an Ironman race cross the finish line, for example, I was in awe of how a human being could do such a thing - and look so relaxed while doing it! What a great person, I thought. How incredible! Feats like this are just outstanding.

On the other end of the spectrum has truth as well. We're all familiar with gawking over news stories of the latest fool who's worst moment made him famous. We pass judgment gleefully on facebook about the moronic lady who locked her kids in the hot car to go shopping, or the maniac who stabbed someone on the subway because someone looked at him wrong. We write these folks off as intrinsically evil. What terrible human beings! How incredible. Only fundamentally flawed people could so something so idiotic. 

The reality, I think most of us know, is that neither great achievements - nor great failures - sum up our humanity...sum up who we are. Nor do they necessarily indicate what it took for us to get there. It's easy to fail to appreciate the years of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) that set the stage for a drug addiction. It's nearly as easy to fail to appreciate the years of training and practice it took for that Ironman winner to prance over the finish line with hardly a hair out of place (from my perspective).

Neither of these vantage points accentuate the incredible importance of grace over it all. 

Many, many situations in life aren't as singular or momentous as they seem on the surface. It's far too easy to judge them in either direction: superlatively excellent or horrible. We love to reduce people to their most common denominators, to narrow causes and effects down to singular details. But reality is always more complicated than that. We know this.

On a much smaller scale than any of the examples above, take the marathon I ran. It was an achievement for me, absolutely. I completed a goal I had set for myself. I feel good about it. And it is certainly an indicator of a positive path I've been on over the past 24 months. But the reason it happened isn't because I'm a superior human being, or have a high pain threshold, or have a lot of willpower. It didn't happen because I'm a particularly talented athlete, or just wired for it. It didn't happen because I'm worthy or especially remarkable in some way. (But friends, surely, thank you for the shout outs on Facebook, your well-wishes are appreciated). 

The truth is that I've been thinking about, preparing for, and training for this thing since last fall. Since then I've run 3-4 days per week, without fail. I've run half-marathons in practice a dozen or more times this spring. Just about two weeks ago, I completed a 4-hour, 20-mile training run in the heat. Through the winter, I ran in the snow/slush/rain more times than I can count. I was that guy out on the pavement with gloves and a beanie, flashlight strobe flashing, trying not to get hit in the 5pm winter darkness. I was the guy hopping over ice-slush puddles and snow banks. Over the past months, I dragged my rear out onto the trail when I didn't feel like it, when I didn't want to, when it was cold and I was warm on the couch in front of the TV. 

"I ran the marathon for 6 months, not 5 hours."

26.2 miles on Sunday was an accomplishment, sure, but it all wasn't about that moment. And it certainly wasn't earned only in that moment. There was so so so much hard work along the way. And there was an incredible amount of grace (at the top of the list has to be my family who tolerated me going out for a 3-hour runs on perfectly good family weekends). 

So that's the first lesson. Resist judging people according to outlier situations, good or bad. No one can be reduced to whatever moment. Lots decisions and occurrences and pain happens along the way to get us to them.

I ran the marathon for 6 months, not 5 hours.

 

2. The real fight is between your ears. Without a doubt, I've been through quite a lot of physical change over the past two years. That bit is for sure. Two years ago, I wasn't even able to run or jog a full mile without stopping to walk. And the truth is that no amount of willpower would've gotten me to 3 miles or 5 or 20 in that state. I had real physical limitations, as all of us do. So hear me, I'm not saying that everything is in the mind, success isn't ONLY willpower. I have lost 80lbs and 20% body fat over the past 2 years.

And now I'm going to use the dreaded conjunction "but," which implies a negation of all that has been said before. 

BUT. What happens in our minds is absolutely significant. And in many ways, that is where the real battle plays out. I know this to be true in terms of eating habits, even post bariatric surgery. As I wrote in some of my original posts on the subject, I came to see surgery (accurately I believe) as a tool, not a magic wand. It was one of many strategies that would prove helpful for me in achieving a healthy weight.

What I learned later was that my dream of coming to a time when I wouldn't have to pay attention to my diet would never materialize. The mind game is with me to stay. And it continues. I have to pay attention to what I eat. Full stop. This dynamic applies to probably the vast majority of areas in our lives where we wish to see growth. As character develops and solidifies, sure, hopefully the decisions we are trying to develop become more automatic. But the battle to get there was always up top. 

Something I experience in living color while running my first marathon is that by far, the most difficult stretch was the final 6 miles or so. It was brutal. Miserable, honestly. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, my training program had me run 20 miles at the maximum. Maybe it isn't odd that I was fine over the period of the marathon for which I had trained. 

I've heard people talk about "the wall" - and I'm not sure I really experienced that. I wonder if it might've been some combination of dehydration and sodium deficiency.  But I'll tell you, I considered quitting more than once in those last few minutes. At one moment, I saw some soft grass in someone's yard and was tempted just to lay down and go to sleep.

The final miles were very painful. Very difficult. My pace had slowed. The spring in my step had weakened. My muscles ached with every clomp. Like I said, I had run 18+ miles several times in training, and each time I came prancing into the house with great positivity and confidence. That last hour of the marathon though, it's a lot. "This is hard," I told myself. Its different than the rest of the training. 

I feel as though the whole race is run in that final window. Training makes it possible to have that challenge available in the first place. 

Marathon coaches (I've enjoyed the Marathon Training Academy podcast over the past few months) talk about the importance of mental toughness, preparing for the mind games, making plans for how to keep your head in the game, etc. I didn't take much of it seriously honestly. I had my audio book (this Sunday, it was the classic "Fahrenheit 451" - I know, nerdy), I had my music playlists, and I had my common practices of reflecting on identity and calling in life while running. I wasn't worried. But especially in those final two miles, all that support went out the window. The music shut off. Fellow racers around me had thinned out drastically. There were no cheerleaders along the trail. I fell back on feeble sounding prayers - just a couple words more often than not. "Help me." "I can do this." "Please." 

When I rounded the final corner, with just a few hundred yards to go, my brother-in-law came running over to report that I had just about a minute left to pull in under my goal time. It was a painful stretch. I might've just walked without that carrot in front of me.

Thinking about the next marathon attempt, I'm already strategizing in my mind, how I can prepare myself for the mental jousting I experienced in that final hour of the race. Is it possible that each day of training should resemble just a bit of sticking with it despite the pain? I had confidence going into the race of my physical preparation. But I wasn't ready for hard mind-work of sticking with it at the end. This dawning reality is both encouraging and clarifying - but also disheartening and confusing. 

Marathons are completed at least in part by means of mental tenacity. This is my conclusion. And the same goes for many aspects of life in general.  

 

3. The right gear can help improve attitude -- and getting the right gear can become an obsessive distraction from the work at hand. I like gear, granted. I'm a techy, I love the hunt, I love a good deal, and I love having the right tool for the job. I like to shop, I like researching. Fine. I own all that. 

Something I was shocked about is just how much money people spend running. I mean, really. It's perhaps the purest physical endeavor for humans. And yet, we've gone and commercialized it. I mean, with a sport such as golf or downhill skiing, the assumption of cost is a little more obvious. Lift tickets, special boots, fancy parkas, country club memberships, custom clubs, expensive clothes, the list goes on and on. It's part of the territory for sports like that. But running?

What more could you possibly need than perhaps shoes and socks?

Well...

A running watch with GPS is hugely helpful, a smart phone for bragging about your run, shorts and shirts with technical fabrics, compression underwear, running shoes at $150/pair (many people have 2 identical sets to rotate runs), longer sleeve clothes for colder climates, rain proof gear, lights, gloves, hats, visibility gear for being seen on the road, nutrition items, special electrolyte beverages, and the list goes on and on and on. Runners World magazine is just the tip of the ice burg on the marketization of such a simple endeavor. Many might join me in my critique. It says a lot about American culture (and perhaps others) that we have found a way to make money on running. 

And with all that being said. I must say that small comforts on such long stretches of athletic effort are hugely valuable. The right fabrics and the right technology are insignificant details that are unnecessary in the end. But they lend a modicum of confidence and improve your attitude while out on the course.

Technology isn't everyone. It can be obsessive. But it can be helpful. (This lesson might be one I already believed haha)

 

4. Training - preparation - rehearsal - in proper amounts - brings confidence. When I lined up amongst the crowd on that Sunday morning. I might've not looked like the other runners around me. But I felt I belonged. I believed I had earned a spot. I knew I could do what was set before me. I wasn't arrogant, I knew it would be hard, but I had a healthy dose of confidence.

It's absolutely true that finishing the race took, in the end and in the moment, more mental toughness and determination than I had ever anticipated. But my level of confidence would have been no where near its point before the race had I not put in the hours of prep over the previous months. Sometimes athletes or performers are asked by the press or whoever about how they were able to do what they did on such large stages, in such big moments. And often it seems like those questions don't really register with the athlete. 

I wonder that observation it has something to do with the preparation ahead of time.

I'm no expert. I'm not elite. Running a marathon was one very small blip along the way for me. I'm not a professional athlete. I'm not exceptional. But my practice did lend me confidence. 

I have close friends who are musicians - I'm almost certain this dynamic plays out in their lives. Hours and hours and hours of practice and preparation might not smooth over all nerves. But when they step on the platform, they know they can play the piece of music. A friend of mine has a quote on the wall of her studio that reads something like: We practice so that what is in our hearts can come out in the music we play. The practice doesn't take the heart out of the performance, it enables the real emotive moment to more readily take place. Practice isn't to make a perfect performance per se, its more about creating a connection, about how we feel and make others feel, its about putting on display the deeper more important thing over and above technical ability. 

I find this to be true in my craft of preaching. When I have prepared well, when I have preached the sermon dozens of times before I step onto the platform, when I have spent hours before the mirror, prayed over the material and had debates about it with friends, when I have submitted my manuscripts to critiques and painful cuts by trusted advisors, I have a sense of peace and confidence when I step on stage. The moment becomes far less about me as a person - me as a performer - me earning adulation. And likewise, I find that in these circumstances, my heart feels more free to express what God has put there. The message has been internalized and a calm confidence and authenticity shows itself.

I love that feeling.

And in a sense, that's how I felt when I got to the starting line. Calm. Happy. Few nerves. Light. 

 

5. Setting goals - with real deadlines, with real consequences attached - is incredibly motivating. Duh, right? How many times in my life have I heard this? How many times have I been to seminars or sat in class or had conversations with people I respect who have rattled off the importance of the practice? In this experience of running the marathon, the lesson sunk in a little more fully. 

What I have observed in myself over the past couple years, is that without a hard goal in front of me, it's far too easy to not do the little things along the way that are necessary to achieve it. If the goal is etherial or "it'd be nice" in nature, the dynamic doesn't take hold. Without the race on the calendar, I'm way more likely to keep my rear end on the couch when its cold and rainy.

But if there's a deadline, a date, a financial sacrifice, and preferably a public demonstration, my level of motivation changes. This might be personality, granted. I got bit by the performance/achievement bug while in high school and the thought of not living up to expectations gives me the hives. I turn projects in on time. I get A's if at all possible. I show up on time. I do my best not to disappoint. And so in the area of fitness, I'm much much more likely to practice and prepare and train if I know there will be a test at the end of the rainbow. And that's true even if the pot of gold is 5 hours of suffering.

Not all of us are wired this way. But I know that if I want to continue the lifestyle of regular exercise, I need to plan on an event. Don't ask me what that is at the moment, one week out from my marathon. But in the coming month, I plan to settle on the next event: cycling, running, triathlon, climbing, or whatever. This is something I've learned over the past 6 months. 

I, for one, need the goal to put in the time. 

 

6. Running a marathon is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. This is something I've already hinted at in this article. And it's something that sounds ridiculously cliche. And yet I've found it to be true. Honestly, much of the marathon itself was a blur. The day flashed by. I have memory - but it was all so quick, easy to miss. By the time I got 4 hours in, I'm pretty sure I was in low-sugar, low water, low-something stupor for more or less the rest of the day. I wasn't the best conversationalist with all my friends and family members who showed up to greet me over the line. The truth I found is that, if running a marathon is mostly about that experience, it's probably not worth it. I didn't find it magical per se. It was fleeting. It was over and then I was in the van driving home.

As I've mentioned, a couple years ago, I could hardly string together one mile of continuous running. For the bulk of my life, I've told friends and coworkers that in order for me to run, I would have to be chased - or I needed to be in some kind of competition whereby the running was disguised. Sunday morning basketball for 90 or 120 minutes felt like another thing entirely to me than just going out to pound the pavement. I hated running. It hurt. It was uncomfortable. And the only thing I could think about while doing it was, "when can it be over?" 

Many of my readers might be nodding their heads. This is the experience that many have around the sport/activity/torture.

That is no longer the case for me however. I relate to it entirely differently today. In all honesty, I've learned to enjoy running. I like how I feel after a good workout, I like the fresh air, the freedom, the moments of silence or audiobook listening. I like being a fly on the wall, getting to people watch, or getting out in nature. I love it. In fact, today, post marathon, I miss it if I go more than a day or two without it! The first week after the race was particularly hard because most guides say that you shouldn't run for a week AT MINIMUM after a marathon, to ensure proper recovery. Some trainers insist on a 26 day recovery of no/minimal running. 

Far from requiring discipline for me to get out there on the course. It's taking discipline for me NOT to run. 

The lesson I see in this is that the journey has a lot in it for me. I didn't adopt this new orientation because of the sunday marathon, the destination. I adopted it because of the training, the journey. And although the destination was valuable to me, and brought good things to my life (see the section re: goals above), the greater gift overall arguably came through the training over the months. A genuine enjoyment of an athletic activity like running is a gift to my life, I can't be more grateful for it.

 

7. Finally - trust. Over the course of the training and prep for the marathon, I listened to a ton of different advice. And honestly, there's a massive amount out there. Just as with any subject, the opinions of experts and armchair-experts alike span the gamut. What I ended up doing, what we all do, is taking the advice of one person, one school of thought, and ignoring or eschewing the advice of another. By taking one path, I rejected the other options. I made a decision and chose, CHOSE, to trust it. 

Listen - for those friends of mine who are religious and highly sensitive to choosing the right path out of all the options, I get it. And I'm not advocating just mindlessly picking an option. But life is full of different paths that are inconsequentially different, or simply too numerous to adequately and fully explore. We can't be experts in everything. We have to trust someone's advice - we have to submit to coaches - we have to give ourselves over to the better judgment of people who know something more than we do. It's unavoidable. And if we don't, the paradox of choice (see Barry Schwartz) will fill us with anxiety and overwhelm us in the mean time.

There's probably a dark side in this somewhere: we can infantilize ourselves and try to shuffle off all responsibility by outsourcing our decisions to authorities. But that's not what I'm describing as my lesson here. 

The thing I discovered is that at some point, I had to make a choice. And in this case, i found the choice stress relieving. I found it peace-giving. Choosing a plan and sticking to it's point of view helped remove some of the mental energy I needed to make an endless parade of smaller decisions. Once I started my 16-week training, the outline was laid out. 3 runs a week. One short with intervals, one mid-length and quicker than my marathon pace, and one long but slow. Cross-train in between. Rest at least one day a week. (this is the one I used, if you're curious, recommended by a local coach I approached on twitter). I could pencil the whole thing out in a day and it'd be set for weeks to come. When I got to the given week, there was my plan. I didn't have to debate for hours in my mind whether it'd be better to follow up yesterday's run with another run, resting, or a bike ride. The plan laid it out for me. 

In this, I learned once again the incredible value of trust - and reliance on someone else, one someone higher/bigger/better than myself. In Christian spirituality, we talk often about trusting God - of whom, I believe, it is an understatement to say is bigger than myself. This process of training for and running a marathon taught me anew that I can't be an expert in everything. I have to choose a plan to follow, I have to follow in someone's footsteps. Yes, I'll be pioneering here or there. I'll experiment. But its absurd to assume that I can live my whole life and not be in anyone's debt. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and so do you. We must trust to live well.

 

And that's the end folks. Until the next goal finds its way to the calendar...

Leviticus and Telling the Truth

This summer, my colleagues and I at the University Church plan to work through a twelve-part series on topics from the book of Leviticus. In a college town like Walla Walla, summers often become moments to step back, take a breath, and recharge for the resumption of the academic year. As a church community on a university campus, our spiritual lives follow this ebb and flow to a degree - but we of course continue to gather together for worship, reflection, teaching, and

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