This post is about finding staying power for the marathon of life! Please read it to the end.
I was cleaning up my library last week. One of the "moments of effectiveness" that marked a seemingly ineffective week (I was sick and moving slowly). Bringing some order to the chaos of my shelves I came across The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Interesting title. The book contains such tantalizing chapters as:
- How to Escape from Quicksand
- How to Survive a Poisonous Snake Attack
- How to Fend Off a Shark
- How to Wrestle Free from an Alligator
- How to Jump from a Moving Car
- How to Escape from a Car Hanging over the Edge of a Cliff
I think for most of us the challenge is not surviving a snakebite or a car that hangs precariously over a cliff, but more the normal challenges of everyday life: surviving the next dirty diaper, putting up with the next frustrating client, overcoming the next disappointment, pressing on despite being tired, staring frustration in the face one more time and giving grace once again.
These days I am reading His Excellency: George Washington, the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Joseph Ellis. Part of his book carefully chronicles the painstaking journey that was the War of Independence as well as the persevering spirit of Washington. Here is a great excerpt:
A central lesson of his life – survive and you shall succeed – seemed to be holding true in the months after Valley Forge. Once [British General] Clinton barricaded his army in New York, and as Washington took up defensive positions around the city, he recalled being in the same location two years earlier and in much less favorable circumstances: "It is not a little pleasing, nor less wonderful to contemplate, that after two years of Maneuvering and undergoing the strangest vicissitudes perhaps ever attended any one contest since the creation, that both armies are brought back to the very point they set out from." Only this time it was the British who were "now reduced to the use of the spade and pick axe for defense." Victory seemed imminent.
As it turned out, victory in the full and final sense that Washington came to define the term was actually five years away. In one sense the War of Independence might best be described as a marathon, and Washington's distinguishing virtue thus becomes his sheer stamina. But in another sense the marathon metaphor misses the peaks and valleys that made his experience as commander-in-chief less like a long-distance race and more like a roller-coaster ride.
Washington's challenge as commander-in-chief is every foot soldiers dilemma too: How to survive the marathon roller-coaster ride, especially when that ride is -- like Washington's -- a long, downward dip. Put another way, "How does one find strength for the long haul?" That is the question that has gripped my heart since waking earlier today.
Opening the pages of Scripture we discover that God has a lot to say about finding strength to walk the long arduous up-and-down road of life. Here are five ways God strengthens us, each with a follow-up question to ask yourself:
- God strengthens by food. "And taking food, he was strengthened" (Acts 9:19). Am I eating and eating right?
- God strengthens us "in the LORD." "And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him . . . . But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God" (1 Samuel 30:6). Have I paused lately to take inventory of God's great power and willingness to help?
- God strengthens us by encouraging words. "And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words" (Acts 15:32). Am I placing myself in the position to hear encouraging words from God's people?
- God strengthens us by the Holy Spirit. "According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being" (Ephesians 3:16). Am I looking to the Spirit for His power for my day?
- God strengthens us by grace. "You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:1). Am I practicing "image management" or am I resting in the fact that I am eternally loved by God?
Interestingly, one of those with Washington and his troops enduring the captivating cold at Valley Forge was Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense. He writes:
These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country: but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
I love those words. If I may borrow from Paine, "Walking the long road of life, like Hell, is not easily conquered." Yesterday we sat with our son and daughter-in-law as we waited for skillful surgeons to begin what will be a series of repairs to our grandson Archer's month-old heart. It was a successful operation, one of a few to come.
That was yesterday. Today, we start again down the long road. Gratefully, God walks with us and he gives us the strength we need.
- "A central lesson of his life ..." from His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis. New York: Knopf. 2004. Pages 120-121.
- "These are the times ..." from "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine. Special thanks to Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr, Professor of History at the University of Washington for pointing out Paine's presence among the troops at Valley Forge. See www.http://faculty.washington.edu/qtaylor/a_us_history/am_rev_timeline.htm. Accessed May 19, 2015.