I went for a hike this past weekend in preparation for our upcoming plan: 40 days/400 miles of trekking in the Alps. The big hike is now just about 3 weeks and a few days away, so these last times in our own Cascade mountains are important, as we check equipment, feel the weight of our packs to decide what we absolutely need and what’s expendable, and of course, train our bodies.
The training of the body of is vital for people like us, who have spent most of our waking hours during adulthood sitting in chairs. Just over one year ago, my wife and I decided to tackle Mt. St. Helens in April. We thought we were in decent shape for the hike because my wife did some circuit training a couple days a week and I did a little bit of jump roping, sit ups, and a few pull ups on a climbing wall two days a week and had skied a good amount during the previous winter.
We really thought we were in shape for it but the mountain didn’t care, and we turned back about 600 vertical feet from the summit, tired, cold, spent. It was humbling, which I hope has led to some enlightenment. Since then, I’ve learned a bit about the science of exercise, about mitochondria, and ATP, Cytochrome-C, and why muscles contract.
Here’s the bottom line for people planning long hikes. The best training for you won’t be brief bursts of intensity, like a 20 minute cross fit workout. A book specifically written to people hiking and climbing in the mountains reminds us that “the longer you can subject your muscles to a mostly aerobic stress (that’s the easier stress, like walking fast or jogging slowly) the better…”
This is because by subjecting your body to this stress, it will rise to the occasion and adapt, literally changing its own constitution so that you’ll be better able to manage the same stress the next time. Or, to put it another way:
Adaptation = Stress + Rest (Recovery).
This insight was revolutionary to me, and I’ve been prepping for the long hike by taking longer, slower, runs, and long hikes, always wearing a heart monitor to make sure I don’t go too fast because my tendency is not to do much of anything slowly. It’s during these long, slow, hikes, that I begin pondering how these very same principles of endurance apply to relationships, vocation, calling, and so much more in life.
In world of disposable relationships, countless job changes, hypermobility, and a kaleidoscope of “next big things” awaiting our very short attention spans, the best lives will still follow Eugene Peterson’s path of “A long obedience in the same direction”.
We’ll get up, morning after morning, with the same spouse (or the same empty bed because of our calling/gift of singleness), make our coffee, maybe read and pray, use our vocational skills, invest in the same relationships, encourage people, serve, practice generosity, eat real food, maybe even exercise. We’ll do these simple things – over and over again.
It’s the sameness of this that causes people to bail out, because we like new. We like sprints, and high intensity training, and the adrenaline rush of the start up, and church plant, and new relationship. There’s nothing wrong with new, of course, because starting needs to happen. But hear this: There will be countless days that seem to be nothing more than just another step that was o so similar to yesterday’s step. Same coffee. Same boss. Same friends. Same city. Same. And you want to drop out and find a new race, or new trail, or new job, or new spouse.
Not so fast friend! It’s when you feel like quitting that you are building transformative capacity by staying, (tweet this) and living, fully present and alive the moment that is so painfully “the same”. Most folks can rise to the occasion and nail the job interview, or the first date, or the part of the climb that’s all about shopping for new equipment. The challenge comes down the road, when you are risk of what you call “stagnation.” Maybe. But maybe you’re at risk of transformation, as you move into the deep waters of learning to be fully present with the o so familiar – so present that it becomes delightfully new. The principles of the exercise formula, I’m learning, apply to every area of life:
Adaptation = Stress + Rest
Stress – The stress created by endurance training isn’t sudden and acute. It builds slowly through the weariness that is a byproduct of sameness. Whether you’re at 13000 feet on Mt. Rainier, or on day 1300 of the same job, or day 300 of cooking chicken fajitas for your friends or family, “you have need of endurance”. You gain endurance by learning to be fully present with this step, this day on the job, this chicken fajita. That’s called maturity, and learning it will make you wise.
Rest – There’s a rhythm of work and rest in God’s design for us and we mess with this to our own detriment. Gone are the days when I can survive on pure adrenalin, running meetings, writing and studying, counseling and leading all week, and then cramming a taxing climb in on Fri/Sat only to return and preach four times on Sunday. Without rest, exercise is toxic to the body, a recipe for injury. With rest, it transforms us into people of strength. The same holds true for all the other areas of life.
By virtue of the blessings we’ve been given, many of us have a capacity to be people of strength in this world, with enough resources of joy, or hope, or even money, to be blessing for others around us. But our strength comes from adaptation, and the formula for adaptation never changes:
Adaptation = Stress + Rest There’s no need to mess with the formula, because it’s the way the world works! Accept the stress, embrace the rest, grow strong, be a blessing. Enjoy!