I aspire to live each day of my life out of three core convictions: 1) That my identity and worth flow from being lavishly loved by God, 2) That my security is grounded in the abundance of God’s provision for every need, and 3) That God’s power to work all for good allows me to trust and surrender to whatever is given in each circumstance. Pretty much everything I am writing or speaking these days is infused with these simple but profound truths.
I was running (slowly) up a mountain yesterday…and breathing was much on my mind. Years ago a colleague of mine would frequently use a metaphor to describe the abundance that surrounds us every day. He would say, How many of you wake up in the morning worried that there won’t be enough oxygen to breath that day? It was a humorous and effective lesson: everything we really need is available to us. “Daily bread,” right?
As I was running, however, I became keenly aware of every runner’s reality—the direct relationship between your ability to access oxygen…and the pace you’re trying to keep. It felt like an extension of my friend’s old storyline. Is there enough oxygen to breath? Absolutely…if (and this is a big if) you are running at the right pace. And the converse is also true: If you’re not getting enough oxygen, then you’re probably running at the wrong pace! As in, faster than you are meant to go.
So how do we even know what is the “right” pace or the “wrong” pace? Often we try to set our pace by the example of those around us, particularly those we admire. But this is problematic since, just as there are no two physiologies the same, neither are there two souls the same. Pacing is a very personal matter, and comparisons with others aren’t terribly helpful in the running of our daily lives.
Okay, so if pacing is personal, the question still remains—What’s the right pace for me? And the answer—as it occurred to me on the mountain yesterday—is deceptively simple. Your personal pace should match your ability to take in the oxygen. In other words the supply of spiritual, emotional, relational, financial (etc) resources available to you in this present moment must be sufficient for what you are trying to accomplish. And if they are not, you’re simply running too fast and you need to slow down until that equilibrium is established.
Moving fast is the idol of our current culture and isn’t likely to change anytime soon, so if you have any motivation or vision in your life at all, you’re going to feel the temptation to outrun your resources. I’m reminded of a line from the cherished Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” What a powerful image! Like puppies, these two qualities that symbolize God’s abundance are following you everywhere you go. But…you can outrun them. Move at too quick a pace, and you distance yourself from accessing the goodness and mercy your soul craves. Not enough oxygen. (Sorry for mixing my metaphors.)
What do you think about your pace right now? Too slow? Too fast? Or is it Goldilocks—just right? Seriously, how is your oxygen working for you?
Honestly I had to admit last week that my air was too thin. I was not thriving. I was outpacing my oxygen; the provision was there but I couldn’t access it because I was trying to do too much. Move too fast. It was humbling, but I had to tell my individual clients that I was taking the month of June off from coaching in order to recalibrate my pace. I can’t help them thrive if I’m not thriving myself. And the same is true for you, whatever your context: If you’re not getting enough oxygen, you can’t empower those around you who depend on you.
When you’re running physically, this reality self-calibrates. Once we get beyond our ability to metabolize our oxygen, we will slow down! Your body will enforce it. In life and leadership this truth self-calibrates as well…but it takes a little longer. Eventually we will experience a breakdown of some kind—emotionally, spiritually, relationally. So if we want to avoid that kind of damage, we have to pay attention.
Paying attention is the first and most vital spiritual practice of life. Running the mountain yesterday was a great opportunity to pay attention to body and soul. What will you do to pay attention to your oxygen level today?
Grab your journal and take an hour in a quiet, beautiful location—maybe a local park or retreat center. If you can’t snag an hour today, put it on your calendar now for sometime this week. Talk with God about how you are or aren’t thriving at your current activity level. Write down your insights along with any adjustments you might need to make to your pace. Remind yourself of the Big Three: You are beloved, There is enough, and You can surrender to God.
Don’t outrun your oxygen.