“Stress, recover, improve, that’s all training is….”
–Legendary Oregon track coach and Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman, in his annual welcoming line to freshmen. From the book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon: The Story of Oregon’s Legendary Coach and Nike’s Co-founder.

Bill Bowerman and Steve Prefontaine

I absolutely love that line. As I have been training for the Chicago Marathon one of the hardest challenges in my training has been to know when to work hard and stress my body and when to rest. That is a very difficult balance. The tendency is to always work hard and run more, assuming that the more miles I put in and the harder I work, and the more cross-training I do, the better off I will be. But we all know that our bodies need rest. We know not to lift the same body parts in the gym in consecutive days. We know that our bodies need time to recover. And we know when we recover, our bodies will most often come back stronger after that rest. That makes sense to us. But as I read this book, I realize that I take for granted something that was not always known or assumed. Bowerman was one of the first coaches to understand this theory and apply it to his runners. So while other coaches had their runners putting in hundreds of miles a week, as well as having them run multiple times a day, in and out of practice, Bowerman decided to experiment and institute rest days, as well as easy run days for his runners.

As Bowerman experimented this technique with his runners they began to improve more and more, eventually taking the track world by storm as Bowerman put out one Olympian runner and world record holder after another.

Why am I talking about this? Because I have been wondering how this applies to the spiritual life. I know that if I want to run the marathon race well, then I have to make sure that I take rest days, that I take easy runs on certain days. I have to listen to my body and know when to say stop. Last week I was out running on a 5 mile easy run, and after the first mile my hamstring started to feel strained. I knew I had to stop, but it was so hard to stop and to realize that I am probably going to have to rest it for a few days to a week, or even longer. But what I was keeping in mind was my end goal of running the race in October. The race was not today. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Paul in I Corinthians 9:24-27 talks about the spiritual life in terms of running a race, especially running with a purpose and not aimlessly.

So where are our spiritual lives going? Do they have purpose? Do we have an end goal (if I can use that word) in mind, and is what we are doing now, put us along that path?

And where does this idea of “stress, recover, improve..” play into that? Do we take a Sabbath? Do we rest? Do we say no to things and set boundaries? Do we turn off our cell phones and computers on certain days?

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Genesis 2:2-3.

I have grown up in the church my whole life. And I’ve been in my current ministry job for a little over 4 and half years. And in my ministry experience the concept of rest is often overlooked because there is a huge tendency to always have to be doing. Always have to be meeting with people. Always have to be studying. Always have to be on the phone. Always have to be here and there to meet people’s needs or to put out fires. Always have to be on the computer. These are not bad things in and of themselves, but I wonder if a lot of us have overlooked this concept and rhythm of work and play and rest.

Great runners struggle with, and learn, and know how to balance out the interplay between work and rest and play. I am hoping to take what I learn in running into my spiritual life. Sometimes we think that everything is supposed to be learned in our spiritual life and then applied to other areas of our life. But it seems to me that often it is what we do in our everyday, ordinary lives that provide us the best instruction for our spiritual lives. And ultimately we have often separated these areas of life, when in reality they were never supposed to be separated, but intergrated into everything we do. Paul drew on everyday things to teach his listeners about Christ. Jesus used parables and stories to help draw his listeners into what it meant to be a disciple.

Do you stress (work, serve), recover (rest, play), improve (grow, transform), etc.?

It seems that pastor Tod Bolsinger is figuring this out.