I am fairly determined when it comes to accomplishing a task. My wife, Diane, would even say that I’m hard-headed! Guilty as charged. As an endurance athlete, that is even more important. Maybe it’s just a manifestation of my German descent, but I don’t easily change directions. It’s not that I don’t like change, it is just that when I start a direction, I have given it considerable thought, believing it to be the right thing to do, so unless the outcome is really bad, I’ll stick with it until there is a compelling reason to change.
That being said, I know that in the grand scheme of life not finishing a triathlon is not a big deal. But in the endurance world, not finishing a race is like bearing shame! Have you ever seen video footage of triathletes crawling on all fours or staggering across the finish line or falling down and continuing to get back up until they finish? I guess you could say that we triathletes are a little bit compulsive when it comes to training and racing.
The “Dreaded” DNF
DNF means “Did Not Finish.” I have never DNF’d a race and I can promise you that in eight years of competing in numerous triathlons, starting when I was fifty-five, there were plenty of times I asked God for the strength and desire to complete a difficult race like my first (and last) Ironman distance race. Now, I primarily train for Olympic, Sprint, and half iron distance races. While racing my Ironman triathlon, which was only my third triathlon, consisting of swimming 2.4 miles in Lake Erie, hopping on my bike and riding 112 miles only to finish the race by running a full 26.2 mile marathon, you can bet there was plenty of prayer time!
Not What I Expected!
Competing in and training for triathlons proved to be much more difficult than I had imagined, which is exactly how pastoring unfolded for me. And I will guess for most of you as well. I just wanted to be an Ironman. Entering the ministry, I just wanted to see people saved and change the world. It proved to be far more difficult than I had imagined it to be. I guess we all need harder heads in the ministry so we don’t quit! Most leaders have them. Moses had a hard head, as did Joshua. However, I don’t want to be so hard-headed that I don’t take criticism or change direction when it is warranted, but I do want to be like Ezekiel as he faced the hard hearts of Israel, when the Lord told him, Ezekiel 3:7-9 (NIV) But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate. 8 But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. 9 I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house.”
Don’t DNF…..Whatever you do!
So what I am trying to point out here and it depends upon where you are in your tenure as a pastor, don’t DNF something you are supposed to finish. Don’t allow the repeated emotional trauma to morph you into that poisonous cynic referred to earlier. It is possible to finish and to finish well. This is not about easy. This is about how to “endure hardness as a good soldier.” Keeping your lofty goals while stoking the fire of your passion will go a long way to getting you to the finish line!
How Not to DNF
In my previous article, “Passion to Cynicism” I outlined what I call my 3 “D” legacy framework, the 3 “D’s” being, Disconnect, Distract, and De-Stress. If you don’t want to DNF your calling, then you absolutely MUST disconnect from your ministerial drive-train. Maybe you’re even hard-headed like me, but listen, none of us are bullet-proof and to think we are is to be naïve to the point of self-destruction. I use my headstrong character to choose to disconnect even when I don’t really want to. The truth is that I NEED to! How many of us pastors when asked how things are going, puff out our chest, so to speak, and say something like, (my favorite phrase) “Well, I’m busier than a one-legged man in a soccer game!” I hope you get the mental image of that one! While some think it is a badge of honor, the truth is that it is a recipe for disaster. Listen, we read and hear too many stories of yet another pastor falling from grace as they crash and burn in a moral failure. We shake our heads and wonder how they could do that. I’ll tell you how. It comes from an entitlement mentality that they didn’t have when the entered the ministry.
I’ve seen the same thing in LE officers. They start out straight as an arrow and end up getting arrested for a DUI or even worse a domestic violence charge or even criminal behavior. How does that happen? The inevitable outcome of vocational/emotional trauma not properly dealt with is risky or immoral behavior because it is such a radical opposite to their “by the book” career. I’ve talked to pastors, as well, who once believed in alcoholic abstinence only to cross a conviction they once held by stating that, “It just takes the edge off.” I’ve heard the same excuse for medication that turned into addiction. Before you know it, you feel entitled due to all the stress coming your way as a result of a career of service to others because no one knows what lengths you go to serving your people. That is NOT a healthy distraction. It is a destructive distraction.
Personally, I really like riding my triathlon bike 30-40 miles at a time with a goal of averaging 20 mph, in my sixties! It is a great disconnect and distraction. Not only that, but doctors tell us that 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5 times/week can be BETTER than medication for mental health, depending on your situation. I know this, that the worst thing we can do is nothing by sitting around, immobile and just thinking about whatever it was that put us in a funk like getting thrown under the bus in a Board or business meeting or a dip in attendance or offerings. I’m certainly not saying that someone has to do what I do, but I am saying that you HAVE to do something that disconnects you from your ministerial drive-train because that is how we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Disconnected activity is the Designer’s way of us coping and healing an emotional wound created by extremely stressful situations.
I can’t tell you the ugly scenes I have come upon as a LE Chaplain like murder scenes or having to deliver the worst possible news anyone can receive in a death notification etc. Add that to my “normal” day to day pastoral stuff ranging from zero to ten on the scale of difficulty and you could say that is stress, and you would be on point! But I can also tell you it is a very rare occasion that I don’t get into bed and fall asleep fairly quickly. I have learned the art of disconnection and distraction. And while I’m disconnected and distracted, I begin to de-stress! Pastor, you NEED to implement and practice this 3 “D legacy framework in your life and ministry. It could save your career, your marriage and even your life. There is much more to come. For more, visit my podcast, Emotional Survival for Pastors at PastorJohn.net.