We are sprinters in a marathon world…to our detriment. It is to our detriment because the pandemic is testing our ability to endure hardship at a time when we all need to be marathoners more than sprinters (and there’s nothing wrong with being sprinters).
So, how are we sprinters? It helps when we have too much to do and too little time to do it all in. If you’re late for an appointment it helps to know how to save time.
Otherwise, being a sprinter over the marathon amount of time to cope with COVID doesn’t help us very much. And our natural tendency in this age of 5G to be sprinters can make us more miserable. The evidence of this tendency is overwhelming. Immediate gratification, for one! “Yesterday is not too soon” is like a chant or a motto.
Our attention span has shrunk. This is true of all ages, not just youth. Turn on almost any TV show and notice how quickly the scene or camera angle changes. This is hindering our powers of concentration and focus for more than a few seconds. The big selling point for upgrading all our cell phones and laptops is speed and more speed! Ideal for sprinters!
Today the most preferred way to grab people’s attention is via visual Blitzkrieg.
And so, when circumstances call upon us to have to wait, to demonstrate patience, to meditate or to endure, we are ill prepared. Tempers grow short. We become easily discouraged.
This isn’t to suggest we aren’t entitled to feel down and irritable. But limiting our lives to sprinting makes us more vulnerable to feeling low when life won’t move as fast as we want.
Thing is: Some of life’s sweetest moments come at the end of marathons, and we know it. Years of piano practice. Baseball or soccer practice. Learning a new language. Graduating from high school or college. Marriage. Rearing children, who finally make it on their own. Malcolm Gladwell cites “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” That a person can become expert at almost anything if they commit 10,000 hours to it. The Beatles did that in Hamburg, Germany, before becoming world famous. Mozart was a child genius but his best works were written as an adult.
We know how to sprint. Running a marathon? A whole different matter. I learned this the hard way. My friend Joe Culpepper did our first trip from Indy to Terre Haute, IN that was supposed to be 72 miles, but turned into 90 miles.
We set a hot pace of 14 mph the first 2 hours. Then we saw a detour sign, we chose to ignore. The road we took led to a flooded river submerging the bridge. Our “sprinter” mistake ended up adding 18 miles and an hour-and-a-half to our trip, backtracking to the detour sign.
The right road also led to the flood, but a bridge we could cross. We took a break wading in the cool water. But the water took the starch out of our shorts, as the heat caught up with us. I struggled over the rolling hills until we got about 25 miles out, totally miserable.
Ten miles later we paused for a bottle of pop. But a few miles later my initial sugar rush turned swiftly into a blood sugar drop. The last 15 miles felt like cycling through tar. At last, we arrived in Terre Haute. But I was dog-tired and wondered if cross-country cycling was for me.
But that ride taught me a lot. I discovered to get through hard times you have to 1) Pace yourself. 2) Don’t underestimate the distance. 3) Beware short-term solutions for long-term problems. 4) Be aware of possible challenges and acknowledge the things you can control (the sugared drink) and the things you can’t (the heat). And 5) Pay attention to the signs; sometimes detours are ironically the shortest way. Surviving the pandemic is a lot like that cycling trip.
Our decision to become Disciples of Christ was a life-long, marathon decision. In fact, the Greek word for “disciple,” mathatas (we get our word “mathematician” from it), means to become “a lifelong learner.” It’s way beyond Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule.” It’s also downright biblical, as the apostle writes in the Letter of 2 Timothy, to his young protégé.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
The apostle is instructing his student, to hang in there, even when we feel we can’t keep going. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, like Aesop’s tortoise who defeated the hare. Take each day one day at a time and remember “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Set short-term achievable, measurable goals and keep setting new goals.
Don’t mentally try to climb the mountain all at once. Don’t be so consumed by the final goal you can think of nothing else. Use your creativity and imagination. Pray for God’s help to endure. And above all, believe that God believes in you and me and all of us together. God will endure with us and always be with us.
And, yes, remember that the longest journeys we achieve are finally the best. The longer the distance, the deeper the satisfaction. As my Dad used to say, a lot, “Nothing worth doing ever comes easy.”
Just keep moving!