I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith – Paul the Apostle
You have need of endurance… Hebrews 10:36
Sometimes there’s not a better way. Sometimes there’s only the hard way. – Annonymous
When the USA was beating Portugal, at the end of regulation, I said, “please please… let it be only two or three minutes of stoppage time” as a sort of prayer to the soccer gods who I don’t believe in. Then I saw the sign: 5 Minutes. FIVE? NOOOOOOOO!!!
Yes. And as anyone who knows anything about soccer knows, the trouble came in the fifth minute… about 30 seconds into the fifth and final minute, when a brilliant pass and header moved the USA from a new version of “miracle on ice” to a mere tie. We played brilliantly, to almost the very end. Almost, though, is an important word. The difference between almost and actually is found in a single word: endurance.
Just this past weekend, a co-worker finished a marathon, friends celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and another friend presses on in his vital leadership role, right in the midst of a battle with cancer. What all these remarkable people share is a commitment to finishing well, and endurance is a key ingredient for doing that.
Jesus doesn’t congratulate us for starting well, because the truth is that for most of us, starting is exciting. Right now, in preparation for a planned 400 mile hike in the Alps, my wife and I are in the midst of equipment preparation, trying out our shoes, reading maps and books, and all the other things that generate the excitement of anticipation. Engaged couples share that same sense, as do most people in their first week at a new job. New presidents, new locations, new friendships. We’ve all known the thrill of starting.
I’ve started enough things, though, to know that the thrill of starting isn’t sufficient to sustain me for the distance. The times I’ve done some mountaineering, I’ve loved the packing, loved the meal on the way to the parking lot, loved the first 1/2 mile. But shortly after that there’s an ache in my back, and later in the day my thighs or calves, too, are screaming. Did I mention hunger, altitude sickness, sunburn, and the need to build a base camp, boil snow for cooking and drinking water, cook a meal, clean the dishes, and set out equipment for summit day – when all you want to do is sleep or throw up?
Endurance means you keep going when you feel like quitting. In fact that the very definition of endurance; our need for it presupposes that we’ll encounter seasons in any worthwhile endeavor when we’ll need to silence the voice telling us to quit.
What are the qualities that build endurance capacity?
1. A goal. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is always helpful because it is, in a sense the reward. 26.2 miles is a long way, but if you know that’s how far it is, you can steel yourself for the task by training both mentally and physically for it. Marriage? Our goal is a deeper love, a truer knowing, a profound intimacy. Vocation? Our goal is excellence at our craft.
“If only the goal was meaningful” you say. Don’t say that too quickly. Rico Medellin works on an assembly line at a work station where it’s expected that he perform the same exact work over 600 times a day, or once every 43 seconds. Rico’s goal wasn’t to “make it through the day” so that he could go home and a enjoy a few beers. Instead he perfected his craft, reducing his performance time to 28 seconds per unit. Working at peak performance levels is his goal. Day after month after year, and he calls the experience “enthralling”
The good news is that meaningful goals can sustain us and motivate us, and the better news, from every century of history, is that meaningful goals are available to everyone: sick or healthy, free or imprisoned, wealthy or impoverished, single or married. Don’t fall into the trap of making “a change of circumstances” the pre-condition for going after a goal. There’s a reason to excel, a summit to pursue right here, right now.
Do have a goal for your fitness, spiritually, vocationally, relationally, physically?
2. Patience - A favorite recent read says, “The Gradual Progress Principle says that everything has to grow incrementally through its own developmental stages, from less to more or from smaller to larger.” Lincoln fought, not for every freedom for African Americans, but for the Emancipation Proclamation. He knew that change happens best when it happens gradually. Go further back and you find William Wilberforce working tirelessly for decades to abolish the slave trade in England.
You don’t wake up one morning and move from couch potato to marathoner, from stale marriage to deep intimacy, from mediocrity to excellence. But you can wake up each day and, as I like to say, “move the ball the down the field”. I often need to ask the question, “What’s the next step to reach the goal?” and take it, being content to realize the gain might be visible to nobody but me. Still, it’s a step, and as I’m about to learn on my 400 mile hike, every step matters.
Other times, I can simply continue in practices that I know are transformative. Keep making eye contact with my wife at least once a day; run three times a week; continue having coffee with God. With such habits I can rest in the confidence that I’m being transformed step by step. This too requires patience.
What else aids in the development of endurance?
3. Needed Nutrients
4. Focus: Distance and Present
My goal is to address these elements in the next three weeks. I hope you’ll join me for this mini series on endurance because whether it’s a 400 mile hike, a desire to walk faithfully with Christ for decades, a marriage in need of passion, or a calling in need of fulfillment, endurance is a vital ingredient for your journey.