Yesterday I went on a run, 2.8 miles around my neighborhood consisting of four laps around the perimeter road. That means I pass my house three times before stopping the fourth time. I am tempted to stop when I pass my house. But, instead I speed up as I imagine my children looking out the window at me. I don’t want them to think I’m a slacker. I have been a runner since 9th grade. I understand pace, posture and efficiency. At 50 I have to be efficient. My cardiovascular system doesn’t metabolize oxygen fast enough (or at least so I am told).
Here is my concern. I have been running for over 35 years. I am sure I have logged hundreds of miles if not thousands. I have read articles on running. I have talked to people about running. Consistently people speak and write of some sort of “runner’s high” after a good run. Running produces endorphins some say. I had one 9 mile run when I was 17 where I felt I could have run another 9 miles. But, no runner’s high. I’m still searching for one or two endorphins after a run! I usually just hurt. I’m breathing hard. My muscles feel like they are lifting a body four times my weight. If I break the end of my run into nanoseconds, there might possibly be a nanosecond or two where my mind is simultaneously celebrating that I am finished with a grueling run and the synapses haven’t quite transmitted the hurt coming from the rest of my body. If it happens, I am barely aware of it.
The title of this blog is “Sabbath Hangover”. I want to write something that communicates the difficulty we have in translating our faith from word to deed. And, hopefully, in the process, give some insight about how we might be more effective. Much like my experience with running, I have moments of faith lucidity. I’m able to translate my faith to the world I live in with efficiency. The problem is: they are only moments – not long stretches of time.
Why the title? I find (and maybe you do, too) when I fully engage in my connection with God (usually on Sundays or on some church retreat or trip), I also experience a hangover soon after. After my spiritual connection something else happens to take me away from it. It is usually the busyness of my work or the activities of my family. Sometimes it can be the news in my world or community. My sabbath becomes a memory – and sometimes it is a foggy memory. The hangover doesn’t produce the buzz of the sabbath. Why would it? It is discouraging – much like my quest for a runner’s high.
I also play basketball. In my senior year of college I was on my fraternity intramural team. We were good. But, not because of me. I was only on the team because I coached the team the year before. As part of my promise not to coach my senior year, they let me play on the team. Evidently, I would do less damage as a player.
Our sophomores were the real ball players. All of them played for their high school teams. They started for us and played most of every game. Our sixth man was a senior, one of my good friends. We were in the finals of the intramural tournament. We were playing the independents, college students who scoffed at fraternity boys. Their basketball team was made up of athletes from other varsity sports at our school. Not to worry, though. Our team had similar athletes.
The game went down to the wire. Our starters played most of the game. Our sixth man barely saw the floor. He was clearly upset. As the game wound down, with the score close and our sixth man already sitting with the other fans in the stands, one of our super sophomores fouls out. The coach looks down the bench. I hadn’t played all game or much of the season. He looked in the stands at our sixth man who said some highly non-complementary words to our coach. He wasn’t playing. So, with 90 seconds to go, I enter the game.
I don’t remember the details. I’m sure there were a few trips up and down the court. However, with about ten seconds to go we are down by one. Someone on our team puts up a shot. It misses. Somehow all 5 feet 10 inches of me gets the rebound. My layup fails. But, I’m fouled while shooting. I go to the line with the opportunity to win the game. The independents are already on me. “He won’t make these. He hasn’t played all game.” I sink the first one to tie the score. More trash talking. I concentrate. I swish the second. We are up by one.
The other team calls a time out. If I could pause here. Up to this point I am the hero of the game. I can feel the “basketball high” coming on. Against all sorts of pressure, I came through in the most improbable of circumstances. History books could record these moments (if history books tracked intramural sports at small colleges).
The independents set up their full court inbounds play. We have a player on the end line in front of the passer to obscure his view of the court. At this point everything begins to happen in slow motion. I’m defending at half court. As the ball is inbounded our on-the-ball defender grabs the ball as it is being released creating simultaneous possession before it leaves the passer’s hands. Evidently this isn’t allowed, resulting in two foul shots for the independents. They sink both free throws and win the game. I am not the hero. No basketball high for me or the team.
I have played a lot of games since. I have won pick up games with 3s, driving lay ups and steals at just the right time. The wins feel good. But the feeling never lasts very long. There’s always the next game. The hangover begins. But, there may be a permeating truth in all of this. Even though the details get fuzzy and the endorphins are short lived, the real joy comes in the moments leading up to the big moments.
The incremental imperceptible growth over time produces endurance and confidence.
It is like that with spirituality. Our lives have the possibility of being less about the “spiritual highs” and more about our own incremental imperceptible growth towards a more complete understanding of who we are in relationship to God. Jesus offers glimpses of who we can be. He doesn’t promise some sort of euphoric feeling when we get there, not even one as long as a nanosecond. He does promise companionship for eternity. We have glamorized eternity with angel wings and harps. But, maybe it is just the steady secure feeling we get when being with a long time friend or a trusted family member. It makes sense when you consider one of the last things Jesus says to his disciples, “I will be with you always.” Jesus also liked to say things like, “The Kingdom is at hand.” In other words, eternity begins today, not some other day.
Fortunately the sabbath hangover also produces a desire to get back to the sabbath – to reconnect with God. It is the same reason I talk myself into going on a run. It is why I go to church every week and wake up twice a week at 5:15 a.m. to play basketball. I know the benefit I will eventually receive having done these things. I will be stronger and more confident in the person God made me to become.
Note: Sabbath Hangover will be an attempt to recapture these truths and apply them to the week ahead. It is going to be a lot like a 2.8 mile run around my neighborhood. Lots of starts and stops. Maybe a few hills. I hope you will join me. I need a running partner.