Today's Festival features a post by Sue at Inner Dorothy. She deals with Chronic Daily Headache and writes about balancing her life and work with her physical condition in this season.
It's not just about the Advent season. It's about life.
I have several family members and friends who are marathon runners. Perhaps more than anyone else, these are people who appreciate the value of pacing.
When I think of running, I think of contrasts - sprinting or pacing. Now, I'm no athlete, but I know that even the very best sprint runner cannot keep up their personal best for an unlimited period of time.
The nature of my vocation is such that there are times when, yes, I sprint. I have to forget about the clock because, in all honesty, it doesn't matter. What matters is someone else's need for care and compassion. I can switch into sprint-mode as quickly as a phone ringing at 2:00 am. Like a light switch, I'm no longer someone who was sleeping. I'm reaching into the closet for a shirt and collar, some trousers that don't need cleaning or ironing, and checking the mirror quickly for massively offensive bed-head. Then I'm out the door. At a sprint.
That is my job. Despite the fact that those calls are generally sad news for people that I care very deeply for, I do understand the privilege of standing on that holy ground, even if all I have to offer is presence and prayer. Again, that is my job.
But it is not my job every minute of every day. If it were, I would have lasted about two months after ordination. Most of the time, life in ministry is not the adrenaline rush of the 2:00 am crisis call. Most of the time, it is placing one foot in front of the other, checking things off the to-do list, pastoral calls and visits, worship planning and implementation, living out the call of God to live and serve in the name of Jesus - whatever that might mean on any particular day.
My most recent pension statement says that my earliest retirement eligibility date is July 2025. Fourteen years. The last 9 + in my present pastoral charge have gone by in a blink. In that time, so much has happened - too much to list here. Suffice it to say that I have much to be thankful for and I am acutely aware of that.
With Christmas quickly approaching, I need to remember that I have at least 14 more Advents and Lenten seasons to encounter. How those will happen remains the curious mystery of the future. All I know is that I need to meet each one as if it were my first. I need to keep the Good News of those high holidays at the top of my priority list for each of the coming years.
Each year will hold the same temptations as the past thirteen years of ministry.....to do it all and to do too much.
Given the overall health "stuff" I've experienced over the past ten years or so, not the least of which is an ongoing struggle with head pain, I *really* need to listen to the wisdom of the marathon runners in my life. If you sprint out of the starting line, the 26.2 miles is not a reasonable goal.
Don't be shocked or sad that my head pain is not completely gone. I've come to accept that to some degree, it will always haunt me. When it becomes bad enough to seek out treatment again, I will do that. Until then, I will continue on as I do now - ignoring it until it interrupts my life. And my ministry.
I've come to accept that there is no medication, no treatment, no analgesic, no narcotic, no alternative therapy that will keep me pain free every day all day. It's just not going to happen. That is not fatalistic or dramatic. After five years of grasping after every possibility, five years of advocating for myself and five years of convincing (some) health-care providers that yes, dammit, my head feels as if it's going to explode - well, I think I've covered all the bases. I'm not giving up. One day this pain will disappear in just as unlikely a way as it appeared. If all I do every day is wait for that permanent pain-free existence to return, I'll soon discover that retirement is near, and I've missed some incredibly important opportunities for life in abundance.
You see, for me, pain has become a part of that temptation - the one that appears especially brightly at the holiday seasons. The temptation for me is to think that I can live those holidays and their exhausting schedules without consequence. I cannot. The temptation is to try.....to boldly play chicken with the Pain Monster. That is neither bad nor good. It just is what it is.
Like any other appetite, my temptation to push beyond my capacity in every area of my life is one that I can control. There are candy bars in my home at 7:00 am, but I do not eat them for breakfast. I prefer oatmeal or cold cereal. But the candy bar is there. I choose not to have it because I know that by 10:00, I will be at work wishing it were lunch already.
This holiday season, I will sprint as needed, take care of myself with devotion, prayer, and weekly massage, and - above all - I will pace myself.
Because I'm worth it.
Because Christmas is coming. Again. But differently than any other Christmas before it.
And I don't want to miss a minute of it.
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