The tree in the backyard is growing, relentlessly, powerfully, and slowly.
Our children are growing, as we do too, slowly; imperceptibly every day.
The meat in the crock pot is tenderizing; slowly.
Our world, very much alive and changing all the time, is changing slowly.
Slow, it seems, is most natural, most of the time. And yet we lust for speed.
We look for quick fixes to relationship issues, addictions, fears and anxieties, intimacy with Christ, weight loss, studying for tests, and o so much more. Hucksters over promise on quick transformation (six minute abs anyone?), have been doing so for centuries, and succeed because there’s always a market for “instant”. Lately though, I’ve learned once again, that the way of Christ followers is utterly other than that – it’s SLOW.
I’m planning a big long hike this summer, over 400 miles, with over 100,000 feet of elevation gain, and in preparation I’ve been trying to fix some injuries. My strategy though, of resting until I feel no pain, and then getting back at it with 150 calf raises, and running stairs in a weighted backpack, hasn’t been working. Every attempted return to activity has sent me limping home, frustrated and angry. “They say ‘stay active as you age!'” I rant to my wife, “but they don’t tell you that when you try to, you’ll get hurt… every – single – time.”
It was during my most recent period of forced convalescence that I discovered a word I’d not encountered before: SLOW. The author suggested that the best thing to do after an injury is to let your jogging pace be bound by two limits: your heart rate, and your pain. He suggested running in minimalist shoes so that, if there was something wrong, you’d get feedback from your body earlier rather than later enabling you to adjust or stop, letting your pain be your guide. He also suggested using a heart rate monitor and staying, relentlessly, at the low end of the aerobic zone for your age.
All right then. With toe shoes and pulse watch, I set off, striding lightly and slowly. Quickly, my pulse is out of bounds, so I slow down further still. I’m on the path by the lake, “running” but not really, more like “jogging”. No, that’s not right either. It’s just a cut above a brisk walk, and I feel fragile and weak as all who aren’t walking pass me as if I’m standing still! I see people from the church I lead and they wave and smile kindly, as I do when I see senior citizens courageously walking the lake. I’m frustrated because I know that I could run faster.
But recently, running faster hasn’t been good for me, so I stick with the plan, refusing to let my pulse rise above 140. After 28 minutes, I’m home. The pace is embarrassingly slow on my little exercise phone app, and I fear someone will find my phone and post the data on facebook. I ponder deleting it, but determine to run the same route two days later, keeping my heart in the same zone, just to see if my pace would quicken a bit. It did. So I did it again, and again, again.
I’m still running, faster every time, and injury free, as I stay in the zone and slowly, slowly, slowly, add distance. I don’t feel the changes, day to day, workout to workout, but I know they’re happening because of that nifty app on my phone!
Of course, this isn’t ultimately about running, or hiking. It’s about the true nature of the path to which each of us are called; the path of transformation. Paul says that we’re called to look towards Christ, soaking in his glory and learning to enjoy intimacy with him. This in itself is a practice which takes time to develop and countless Christ followers, if honest, would say they have little or no enjoyment of intimacy with Christ as a reality. One reason for this is because we have this sickly “cost/benefit analysis” mentality whereby we assess the value of our activities solely based on whether they yield immediate fruit. So we try a little Bible reading, maybe light a candle and read a prayer – but our minds wander. It’s challenging to meet with Jesus because he’s Mr. Invisible and we’re not sure, at the level of our deepest selves, whether we’re even meeting with anyone. So, after a little while, we ditch the effort. Cross-fit’s more measurable, clearly a better investment of our free time.
The problem is that meeting with Jesus is like meeting with anyone. It takes effort to carve out the time, and no single encounter, any more than a single run, or cross fit workout, is necessarily meaningful or measurable. Like romance, or practicing the violin, meeting with Jesus is sometimes profound, sometimes painful, sometimes boring. sometimes enchanting. And just like romance and the violin, it gets better with time. The ones who quit too soon don’t know what they’re missing. They think the problem is the practice, or their skill level – but the problem is impatience. Keep showing up and good things will happen….slowly.
The transformation we’re promised is “from glory to glory” and the language implies that the change is imperceptible because it’s slow. To the extent that we’re concerned with “how we’re doing” we’ll become mindful of our shortcomings, and then looking to fix them, one at a time, as quickly as possible. How much better to just keep showing up in the presence of Jesus, learning to enjoy companionship with him, and resting in the belief that, by staying “in the zone” so to speak, good things will happen.
in his book Run or Die, Kilian Jornet, a very skillful runner who ascends and descends mountains at unusual speed, talks about why he doesn’t suffer from race-day nerves:
“I practice and train for almost 360 days of the year. It’s like a baker getting the jitters the day he has to bake bread. In the end, bread is bread and maybe the bread turns out good or bad depending on a number of things that escape the baker’s control, but the bread will be made according to the same recipe whether it is Monday or Sunday.”
Despite his success in competitions, Jornet has come to focus on the practice, and not the expectation. (thanks to Justin Roth of “The Stone Mind” for this)
Focus on the practice of enjoying fellowship with Jesus, not the expectation that if you read your Bible enough, or pray enough, or are quiet long enough, you’ll make a quantum leap out of addictions, or fears. You’ll move out alright… but It. Will. Be….. Slowly. Step by Step. enjoy the journey.
PS… if you’re interested in practical help with developing habits of pursuing intimacy with Jesus, I’ll be re-releasing my book “O2” for Kindle on Amazon under the title, “Breathing New Life into Faith” Stay tuned!