December 18, 2014

Endurance And Rest

“How are you, young man?” he said to me as we were both headed into the gym locker room. We’d said hello from time to time before, and it sure is nice to be called ‘young’ these days. Technically, I am younger than he is; he’s probably in his early 80s, I guessed.

It was the middle of the day, after I had a long stretch of morning get together’s and before two evening meetings. I was taking a mental health break, so to speak; the very best kind. He was in there as he normally is at that hour, or at least he’s there whenever I’m there mid-day.

“I’m fine,” I responded, pleasantry to pleasantry. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’ll be much better an hour from now!” he said, grinning.

It is kind of funny, I thought. He’s certainly retired, certainly done with needing to keep up appearances, certainly able to sit back and coast for a long, long time. He can do whatever he wants to do, can’t he? In fact, he doesn’t need to do anything, let alone push his body and get his heart rate up for nearly sixty minutes.

But he does. He may not like it – “…I’ll be better an hour from now,” he said – but he’s doing it, still, and keeping it up. Good for him. Honestly, I’d like to be like him when I find a few more gray hairs on my already salty salt-and-pepper head, although I fear that I’ll still find plenty of excuses not to go to the gym, not to push myself, not to keep it up.

There’s something to be said for my friend at the gym, the kind of character like that tortoise in that well-known fable: he keeps going, no matter what. He may not like it all the time, he may wish he were doing other things, and no one is forcing him to be physically healthy and well. And, yet, he keeps going, keeps working, keeps doing it.

“By your endurance you will gain your souls,” Jesus taught his disciples (Luke 21:19; also Matthew 24, Mark 13). Likewise, Paul famously taught that “…endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:4) There is indeed something to be said for the gift of endurance. Sometimes just showing up, doing the work, putting in the paces is a great start.

And yet I’m also aware that I’m writing this when my own life is busy, much like yours, I’m sure, and my schedule is packed way too tightly. These latter days of Advent mean that Christmas Eve and Christmas break and the ramped-up commercial Christmas craziness is only just ramping up! We in the church are about to do big work and really good work, at that, touching lives and preaching a message that is truly good news. Following which, I know that I will – and I hope most of my friends and colleagues do, too – enjoy rest and time with family and those whom I love. Even the tortoise gets to rest, if only from time to time. Endurance isn’t necessary continually.

And after our well-deserved break and rest, we will once again re-engage the mission field that is our context and community. And we will return, once again, from these bright lights on these darkening days to the mundane, the ‘normal,’ the everyday. And we will, I suspect, return to that ordinary practice of showing up, of being present, of enduring, no less. God is in that, too.

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