The other day I hit TRAIL 10, a cross-country ski trail that meanders through the woods to the bank of the Ottawa River. The snow was fast—not icy, but slick and granular, like trillions of minute, oil-drenched pearls. I am naturally a speed freak, so I decided to take advantage of the conditions and set a personal record for TRAIL 10.
I didn’t. Set my record, that is. I failed to pace myself.
I took off as fast as I could, exhilaration trumping judgment. For the first two kilometres, all the muscles around my pelvic girdle screamed, “Slow down, will ya?” For the last three kilometres, my lungs wheezed, “Told ya!” When I finally heaved myself into the driver’s seat to head for home, my body was trembling.
I began to think about Psalm 39. It’s a psalm about pacing, among other things. David writes,
“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psa 39.4, ESV)
Some context. David finds himself in the midst of wicked people who seem to have no sense of the eternal. They are simply heaping up wealth for no purpose, and David understands the futility of this worldview and desires to be spared “the scorn of a fool.” He asks God to forgive him for his own transgressions and to hear his cry, acknowledging the fleeting nature of life and the importance of living with the impetus of eternity.
How can we pace ourselves more effectively?
- By knowing our destination. People who feel their destination is a hole in the earth live one way; people who know they are headed for heaven live another way altogether. Those who have no idea where they’re headed live another way still. People who work only for weekends, or for wealth, or for retirement work one way; people who work to please their Saviour work a different way entirely.
- By knowing our capacities. I’m not a long distance runner. I’m not built for it and I never enjoyed it. But a 100-metre track or a soccer pitch was another matter entirely. Though I know my destination, I don’t know how far away it is. So I need to understand what I can do in the remaining days of my journey and not concern myself with things for which I have no capacity. I’m far more effective if I “play to my strengths”.
- By knowing our propensities. I have a tendency to overestimate my capabilities in terms of how much time I have to perform tasks. Throughout my life I have often taken on more than I could accomplish, and ended up frustrated and stressed. I’m a procrastinator, but I work well under pressure. I’m not a good multi-tasker. I become very easily distracted doing routine tasks, but given a window of time to devote to something I enjoy, I can be so focused I can skip meals and sleep (theoretically.) I love a challenge.
These natural traits, considered against the backdrop of a biblical worldview and an eternal perspective, should be reminders to me of how to approach my relationships, priorities, my work and my schedule.
They are like aching muscles and a heaving chest.