The pace of life

As I look back, I realize that my life has not been a journey undertaken at a steady pace. When I was in my twenties, I taught stress management classes. I spoke to learners about exercising for endurance and about setting a pace that could be sustained rather than running full bore until exhaustion. I have a fairly good cognitive understanding of how longevity is a product of understanding the dynamics of stress and distress and managing stress so that it doesn’t become distress. In practice, however, I have always undertaken periods of greater stress. When I was a student, we used to call it “pulling an all nighter.” The concept was that when the work piled up, you just worked to completion, forgoing sleep. I never was able to do that very well and I learned early in my student career that the technique that worked for me was to take a nap fairly early in the evening and rise very early in the morning. I seem to have more energy first thing in the morning and my work is productive at that time of the day. To this day, I rise earlier than any of my peers in order to work when I have energy. I also go to bed earlier than many of my colleagues.

I did, however, have periods of time, when the end of semesters rolled around and lots of papers were due and tests were imminent, of sleeping less and working more. Those weeks of intensity were usually followed by a few weeks that were less productive.

Later in my life, when I had completed the journey of a full-time student, there would be weeks, perhaps when I was leading a youth mission trip or when I was heading up a camp or conference, when I would sleep less. When I was the dean of church camp, I prided myself in being the last one to bed at night and the first one up in the morning. I used to say that I simply had more endurance than the campers and that they would end the week more tired than I and it was generally true. But I remember times of collapse after a week’s church camp. Once I injured my back loading boats after a water sports camp. I called my doctor, who called in a prescription for a muscle relaxant. I took one pill and slept for nearly 24 hours. One could say that the pill was effective, which I guess it was. But the other factor was that I was really tired.

To this day, I stretch out my days and put in long hours some weeks and then have days that follow when I need more sleep.

Holy Week is a marathon of my own creation. I’m the one who submitted the plan for worship every day of Holy Week. I love all of the services that we have in our church. I want to be with the people at the blues concert and also to shear communion with the choir. I look forward to the journey to the cross and the great vigil. I can’t imagine missing Easter sunrise with other congregations. I love the journey.

Part of what I love is that it pushes me mentally and physically. I don’t want to live life at a constant pace. I want to have times when I push really hard and explore the limits of my endurance. Friends will say to me, “You must be really tired.” and I am. Being tired isn’t the worst sensation in the world, especially when you can look back and see that you’ve accomplished good work.

There are, of course, limits. I don’t have the energy that I had when I was 25. I don’t respond to my drowsiness by drinking cup after cup of coffee as was the case when I was leading church camps every summer. I sneak naps from time to time when I am able. I’ll find myself nodding off when reading at my desk some days. Last night I lingered at the church picking things up for a half hour or 45 minutes after the last guest left, but I also left some work undone to be tackled this morning. I don’t try to get by on four hours of sleep any more.

Age and maturity should have an impact on the pacing of my life, and I am sure that they do. Still, I enjoy an occasional week that pushes my limits and has a pace that is more extreme than my usual. It reminds me that I am alive. It keeps me from falling into a rut. Ministry cannot be a simple repetition of whaat has done before. We are called to create newness and to put fresh energy into the tasks before us. Our Creator God made us in the image of God. We are also creators, capable of bringing newness into the world. So we have mixed things up this year. On paper the schedule for Holy Week appears to be similar to recent years. In reality it is quite different. This year I used visuals for the reading of the passion and had to practice my timing over and over again. We upped the pace of our social media advertising for the Blues Concert and the crowd was bigger. The Seder meal is new and the result of carful nurturing of our congregation’s relationship with the Synagogue of the Hills. We did quite a bit of personal recruiting for that event and the numbers look good. The Maundy Thursday cantata is more ambitious than recent years with a new choir director and extra choir members recruited from sister congregations. It isn’t just a case of the same old routine. For us, it is exciting and challenging.

It is only Wednesday and I had to exert some effort to get out of bed this morning. I wasn’t quite ready. I’m a little tired. That’s OK, there are much worse feelings one could experience. For this week I seem to have avoided boredom and a sense of purposelessness. That’s not bad for a guy my age.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!