As I was reflecting on the past year today I realized the word that resonates with me in defining my experience of this year is endurance.
Much earlier this year I read a book by the same name about the famous explorer Ernest Shackleton and his incredible expedition where his ship sunk, he and his open crew were on ice for months with little food, and endured the worst conditions a human could possibly survive. Seriously, how did they all survive? It’s an amazing testament to the potential for resilience that humans have who have a strong will to survive (and good leadership in this case). I didn’t realize how much I would think about his experience or how it would inspire me this year.
In March I decided to start running and this time to really commit to it. I had no idea that it would really “take” this time, but slowly over the course of the next several months I ran a few 5k’s, two 10k’s, and then a 15k in October. This March, not quite a year since I began running, I’ll run my first half-marathon in Lincoln City, OR. More than physical endurance though, running has grown in me a mental endurance to withstand the temptation to quit when I’m tired or in pain. If you’re a runner, you know that some runs are easy but many (most?) feel terribly difficult. So much of the difficulty is a mental thing. Of deciding in your mind that you will not quit regardless of how tired you are. I’m thankful that I’ve undertaken this hobby as it has paid off in other areas of my life. Little did I know, I would need this newfound mental strength in so many other areas.
Our year with Owen has also felt like “enduring” as his sleep has been insanely exhausting. More so for Kelli than I, but it’s left all of us feeling drained and stressed. There have been nights when he has woken up at 11:30pm for the day! (He eventually did go to sleep again..at 8am.) He’s still to this day usually up two or three times a night, sometimes for 2 or 3 hours at a time, and sometimes he’ll still pull the “I’m not going back to sleep card” regardless of what time it is. He’s got a stronger will than I’ve ever seen in a kid. If he wants something, he simply will NOT quit until he finds a way. You can imagine how difficult this is in those moments we have to put our foot down. It’s like someone unleashing a dragon. That kind of persistence will pay off for him as an adult but for now it’s maddening.
Despite all of that, I’ve been amazed at how I’ve experienced the Lord sustaining me. Even on 4, 5, 6 hours of sleep, I’ve felt joy during the day and a great love for our little son. I love him dearly and have enjoyed the time I’ve gotten to cuddle with him in the night hours. Knowing these moments are short lived, I’ve tried to take joy in it this time. What has also helped is that I’ve followed Dallas Willard’s advice and regularly prayed the Lord’s prayer in the early morning hours when I’m rocking Owen or sitting with him on the couch watching Doc McStuffins. The Lord has given me the strength to endure those days I’ve been short on sleep and I have no doubt it’s because of this time in prayer.
After one of those nights of very little sleep a few Sundays ago, I got up at the usual 5am and started to get ready for the gathering. After only about 4 hours sleep, setting up the gathering, talking with people, by the time the gathering started I was drained! In fact, this was the first time in the middle of the sermon I questioned in my mind if I had the energy to continue. I saw I still had three pages to go and it felt similar to being at mile 6 of an 8 mile run when your legs feel like lead, and there’s a steep hill in front of you and you just want to stop. For a moment in my mind I imagined doing just that, letting everyone know how tired I was and explaining that I didn’t have anything left in me so I had to stop. It would have been an amusing thought had I not really been considering it!
But I did what I do on those cold, early morning runs when everything in me is screaming to quit; I kept going. What’s even more strange about that experience and the others like it is that I find that I’ve been getting more feedback and response from people about my sermons. And not just the “good sermon today” kind of stuff, but the real, thoughtful feedback to where you know that something you said really connected. But how could that happen when I feel empty, drained, like I have nothing. I almost wonder if that’s what it takes sometimes for God to really speak through someone. There’s something to this “power in weakness” thing that is for real.
I’m not trying to paint a more rosy picture of what life feels like right now than what it really is. There are moments where impatience, frustration, and irritability spills out onto my boys or with Kelli. Or if it doesn’t spill out, it’s like a burning fire inside. Sometimes it all feels like more than I can bear. Because of these challenges this year, I’ve recognized my limitations more than ever before. I’ve sought to get help with some of those things through counseling which has been a good decision. I’m an incredible person when everything is going my way. 🙂 But not as much when I’m tired, stressed, and the boys are fighting. I have a long way to go and hope that God will continue to grow me into a better husband, father, and friend in 2014. But I enter this year with increasing confidence that whatever comes my way, with the strength of the Lord, I can endure.