In January 2020, shortly before COVID obliterated our sense of normalcy, I received a fresh reminder of why QuietWaters Ministries exists. The Wall Street Journal had published an article about pastors who struggle with mental health and how admission of these struggles can often have negative repercussions, such as termination. It’s interesting to revisit this topic now, after so much has changed in the world. The unique challenges grappled with by pastors and other Christian leaders have not disappeared, and in fact have only been exacerbated by COVID and the other crises and conflicts of this season.
I could regale you with dozens of stories from the last 9 months of training for my first ever marathon. There has been humor and pain, success and failure, rain, sleet, snow, heat, and humidity. I have studied about things like VO2 max, fartlek’s, intervals, LSD (that’s long, slow, distance), metabolic efficiency (yes, I’m a geek), heart rate training zones, diet, nutrition, and so much more. I’ve shared conversations with Boston marathoners, ultra-marathoners, beginning runners, friends, supporters, naysayers, coaches, and chiropractors. I’ve spent miles running and praying and thinking and more miles running and not thinking and just, well, running.
Last night, during marathon training mile 926, I had a brief conversation that really captured my heart. I was running along the Cherry Creek Trail and more focused on getting the training run finished and beating the rain than anything else. A man was running towards me. I had seen him on the trail before. Much like me, he doesn’t have a runner’s body. I like to call us sturdy! As he approached, I could see a serious look of determination on his face. His breathing was labored and sweat was dripping down his cheek. We shared only a quick wave as we passed each other. A few minutes later, I got to my turn around point and headed for home. The man that I had seen earlier had slowed his run to a walk. I came up beside him and matched his pace. He removed his headphones as I got his attention. As I have done many times before during short running conversations and encounters, I asked him what he was training for. His answer caught me off guard. Matter of factly he said,
It started out as a typical Thursday morning here at the QuietWaters Ministries HQ. I began the morning looking for the devotion book that we have been using for our weekly Staff Infection (a/k/a staff meeting). The morning continued with me contracting a severe case of conviction.
We have been using a book written by a local pastor friend of mine, Jason Lohse, for our weekly study. The book is titled Expresso – Devotional Readings to Energize Your Faith.
Pushing the Rock – Author Unknown
There was a man who was asleep one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Savior appeared. The Lord told the man He had a work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain. Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture placing thoughts into the man’s mind such as; “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it, etc.”
Thus, giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure.
These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man even more. “Why kill myself over this?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough.” And that he planned to do until one day he decided to make it a matter of Prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.
“Lord” he said, “I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock a half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”
To this the Lord responded compassionately, “My friend, when long ago I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back brown, your hands are calloused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard.
Through opposition you have grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock.
BUT YOUR CALLING WAS TO BE OBEDIENT, TO PUSH AND TO EXERCISE YOUR FAITH AND TRUST IN MY WISDOM, this you have done. I, my friend, I will now move the rock.”