When The Going Gets Tough

When the going gets tough, the tough go tromping through mud and wet grass for a three-mile run. It was a great plan. I’ve been in such a purple funk lately, fighting my way back to solid ground after letting the circumstances of life toss me about. Over the last few years, running has been both my physical fitness activity of choice and my emotional release from the stresses of life. It was the obvious choice.

I had determined that this summer would be the time I got my running game back on track. Or at least on treadmill. And wouldn’t ya know it, we have experienced one of the rainiest summers in recent memory. On any given day, once I got finished with work or whatever else needed doing that day, the monsoon had begun. I do own a treadmill. It is totally accessible. I just hate using it. So, most days, I don’t.

This particular day was surprisingly sunny, though not surprisingly, humid. I suited up in a cute runner girl ensemble and headed out the front door for a run around our property. To say that I went for a run is, I must admit, a liberal use of the term, but I was running at some points, so you will have to give me the benefit of the doubt here. Truth be told, our land has never been pane-of-glass smooth, but after a visit from Hurricane Matthew last year, it was even less so. Running in the grassy sections would be unwise because there could be a hole there and I would never know it until I found air instead of solid ground beneath my feet. So mostly I was doing some brisk power walking through two sides of the rectangular area and running when I hit the road and my driveway. It was a great plan. Until it wasn’t.

In my closet there are any number of running shoes, various types for various purposes. I wore my old favorites because they are comfortable, and I wasn’t too worried about getting them all muddy. It seemed like a logical choice at the time. I was about halfway through my distance goal of three miles. There were about five running strides left before I shifted back to power walking. Without warning, I did a face plant. I’m not even sure what I managed to trip over, but in a movie-like slow-motion sequence, I watched the muddy ground get closer as my left ankle twist painfully and awkwardly to one side. The ridiculous thought that raced through my mind at the moment I bounced off the terra firma was, “Woman! You have trail shoes in your closet!”

In one slightly less than fluid motion, I picked myself up and scraped the worst of the mud off my legs. The ankle was none too happy but could support weight, so I took a step, then another, and decided to press on with the run. After one slow and steady lap, I felt confident that there was no damage and returned to the running segments. While I was chugging along, I remembered a time when I’d had a much more serious fall while running down a street in near-total darkness. With the help of my friends, I hopped up, ignored the blood, and kept on running. Recalling that incident gave me the courage to not wimp out this time. If I bounced back from a tough run once, I could surely do it again.

That made me think about King David. Long before he assumed the title of king, David was the runt-of-the-litter little brother who was left behind to take care of the sheep while his older brothers, by all accounts burly and impressive young men, who were off having exciting exploits as members of Israel’s army. Only things weren’t going so well for them. David showed up and offered his assistance. When the brawny brothers pointed out that David was indeed a runt, he remembered times in the past when he’d faced tough situations and how the God of Israel had strengthened him. He said, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (2 Sam 17:37). You might say that David had a giant problem. This is quite literally true because David was about to face off with a giant, not in a figurative sense, but in the original, honest-to-goodness, for real and for true giant named Goliath who was nine feet tall and not at all a nice person.

In that moment, David recalled the way he had faced challenging situations before and triumphed. He knew that his God provided the strength necessary. He didn’t cower in fear and run for cover. He didn’t complain about how he’d been in much better shape when he faced the lion, or that the conditions had been better on that day. But what he did do was remember a success from the past, which in turn gave him the courage to face the giant on this day.

Now I don’t claim to be a David, and getting up after a small stumble may not be that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps there are some lessons we can learn here.

  • Remembering the trials we have overcome in the past can give us courage to face different, but equally challenging, difficulties in our present.
  • We often need to think of our circumstances differently. In a crisis situation, it is easy for molehills to become mountains in our minds. Taking a step back and calming down can do wonders for our perspective. When we are calm we simply make better decisions.
  • Sometimes we just have to develop the best plan we can and go for it. I’m sure David’s sling and rock attack didn’t look like an especially wise military maneuver to anyone else. But he trusted his God and slung that rock. The results speak for themselves.
  • My Faith not in my Strength – that comes and goes – but my Strength is in my Faith. More specifically, my Strength is in the One who is the source of my Faith.

Psalm 121:1-2, written by David, this same shepherd boy turned mighty warrior, says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (NIV)

When the going gets tough, the tough call on Jesus.

I Didn’t Read My Bible Today

I’m sort of an OCD kind of person. Actually, I am a really OCD kind of person. Structure and organization give me a sense of calm, and nothing makes me happier than having a good plan and seeing it through to completion. That’s just how my brain operates. The same principles that held true when I was an English/Social Studies teacher are relevant in my personal life. I like for things to be in their “proper place” – in the refrigerator and in life.

When it comes to my personal quiet time/devotion, I also like normalcy and order for the most part. One of the first things I do each morning is to read my Bible, usually working my way slowly through a specific book or topic; read a daily devotion from Oswald Chambers; and record key quotes or personal reflections in my journal. Then I pray about whatever God has brought to mind or any specific issues I’m facing, before beginning the day-to-day part of my day.

This is a pretty doggone good system. I love communing with God before I have to face the rest of the world. Keeping a journal is also a great way on those tough days to look back and see the last thing God said to me.  This helps to anchor me when life seems crazy. Seeing His fingerprints from days gone by remind me that He is still very much in control today.

One day recently, though, I did not do that.

I gathered my materials, a meeting of ancient and modern, with both an iPad and a soft, leather-bound journal, and just sat there. I simply could not bring myself to read the Bible. I couldn’t. On this particular day, I was more than just bothered by something; I was distraught. My mind was locked up almost. I could not think straight. Reading was out of the question. I tried to pray, I really did. Nothing was coming out right. My sentences were a tangled jumble that made absolutely no sense, and I’m sure they even contradicted each other as I attempted to bring my petitions before the Father. Then the tears started – not polite little drips, but monsoon-caliber torrents accompanied by much wailing and a fair amount of snot. It was not a pretty scene.

In that moment a couple of things happened. All that Scripture I had hidden in my heart from the time I was a young child came rushing back to me. I wasn’t worried about chapter and verse, but the words from the greatest love letter that has ever been written flooded my heart and my mind and my jumbled up prayers. A line from this verse, a line from another, swirled together, all pointing to the faithfulness of my heavenly Father Who is at work behind the scenes in ways I cannot even begin to imagine.

I also understood a passage I’d always heard, and have probably referred to on more than one occasion, in a totally new way. Romans 8:26 says,  Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (NKJV) This is one of those really great verses to pull out when times are tough. I expect I had done that before. But on this day, I totally got it. I was so wiped out, emotionally, spiritually, and physically; I had nothing left. The only word I could utter that made any sense at all was, “Help!” I reached the end of me, and allowed Holy Spirit to take over, which He had probably been patiently waiting for me to do. Somehow, I knew, whatever the outcome might be, God was very much in control of the entire situation. I could rest in that truth and quit trying to resolve this on my own.

So, is a carefully planned devotion time or simply winging it the better option? To this question, I would have to say, Yes. There is a time and place for both. There is a danger, of course, in being toooooo orderly all the time when spending time alone with God. It can quickly become more of an itemized checklist than ever-deepening relationship. Years of diligence in study, reflection, journaling, and memorization combined to lay a foundation upon which I could depend when I needed it most. Sometimes though, you just have to chuck the plan and go with the moment. When I had no words of my own to offer up, Hope – stored away in a lifetime of memorized Scripture, along with the promised presence of the Holy Spirit – filled in my blanks.