Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lower Sights, Higher Hopes

Wow--so many things to blog about: Holy Week, Somali pirates, the institution of marriage, Newsweek's article on the death of Christianity... and I've got a head full of thoughts on all of them! But what is really on my mind right now is a topic I keep coming back to again and again: my ongoing struggle with personal discipline.

I just came in from a "run," if you can call it that. A little over 20 minutes at 8:30 per mile. I've done that four times this week, with an eye towards adding five minutes the next week, and the next, and so forth, throughout the summer. Someone asked me recently what I think about when I'm running. When I was competitive, I always thought about the run itself--pace, mile splits, sensory feedback on perceived exertion. Nowadays, I find myself thinking about future runs. Not these little 20-minute jogs, but how good it would (will) feel to be able to cruise along effortlessly for 5 or 6 (or more) miles. Getting from where I am now to that point seems almost unreachable, but today I had an epiphany. It doesn't hurt nearly so bad if I go slow. Perhaps I'll never again log an 8-miler in less than an hour. But I could get back to running either the 8, or the hour, if I just adjust my horizons. And there is still some hope that if I get back to the kind of aerobic shape where I can go easy for an hour, maybe I can pick up the pace a little bit on the shorter stuff.

The same thought process is working in the area of my daily spiritual disciplines. I've gone a quarter of the year and stayed caught up on my daily scripture reading. At this rate, I could finish reading through the whole Bible again by the end of the year. But I'm not really enjoying it. I'll skip a day or two, then catch up. And I'm just slogging through the Old Testament. I think the Lord will forgive me for saying that Numbers and Deuteronomy just don't fire me up (and I positively dread the idea of spending all fall in the major prophets). What I really want to do is concentrate on the New Testament, reading both more chapters and also more deeply. A buddy of mine who is 75 years old and one of the most Biblically literate people I know has told me that he can work through the New Testament 7 times a year in the same time he can do the whole Bible, and that doing so has led to him having most of the epistles near-memorized. I'm about 98% sure that I'm going that route, probably starting this Easter weekend.

I've also had a bit of a breakthrough on the topic of prayer. My good friend Karl, who is one of the chaplains at school, has shared with me a little book called Hour by Hour, which is a set of prayers for use 4 times per day (morning, noon, evening, and night). It's heavy on the liturgical side, but I have found that using it helps me to "formally" pray several times a day, while also setting the stage mentally and emotionally for more informal and personal prayer in at least one of those times. Much like the running, I find that things go better if I ease in and "warm up" slowly these days.

In every one of these cases, what I'm finding is that I'm having to adjust my lofty goals (many of which were realistic at a time when I was younger, or fitter, or had more free time, or less kids) to more realistic and more attainable levels. It takes a little pride-swallowing to slow down, to read less per day, or to lean on someone else's prayers. But it also takes a little weight off of my shoulders. I would much rather be satisfied with meeting these modified goals than constantly kicking myself for the failure to meet the old ones.

1 comment:

Pete said...

I once heard of a guy (Smith Wigglesworth... yes, that's his name) who once said [paraphrase]: "I've never prayed for more than 20 minutes, but i've never gone more than 20 minutes without praying." Now, something tells me these weren't the lofty, christianese prayers...

I like to think of prayer as a conversation that keeps going rather than a quantified interview.

That said, sometimes i think we (xtians in general) miss the other side of prayer... Kinda like the internet, there's an up-stream and a downstream.... bidirectional communication.

i think i'll post the remainder of this on my blog rather than using your blog...

However, goal adjustment is one thing i can understand. A friend once told me that "Doing your best doesn't mean doing something better than someone else. Rather, putting your best effort in today under today's circumstances."

But, I'm encouraged by your openness to share your disciplines & struggles. It helps to hear someone that does have a measure of discipline admit that it's not always easy to keep the discipline. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but it does produce some really cool after effects.