lesson: when natural strength fails

Tim and I had dawdled a bit before getting out of the house this Sunday morning. That’s the good thing about a positive habit though, it doesn’t let you off the hook easily. So, there we were, once again on a hilly trail in the Sierra de Mijas and all set for running 10km of climbs and descents.

The dawdling that morning was due in part to the fact that I had run some kind of distance every day for the past week. I was tired. And if I was aware of this at home, as I considered liberating myself from the duvet, I was even more aware of it as the climbing portion of the trail began. As I faced my fatigue, I tried my endurance-enhancing tricks. One of these is to repeat a little attitude-boosting mantra: There is nowhere I would rather be than here, doing this! Only in this case, in my heart of hearts, I knew that I would rather be in a hot bath taking a long soak.

The muscles of the butt and upper thigh are among the largest in the body. The glutes are large and powerful because they keep the entire trunk of the body upright and contribute considerably to our core strength. The quads are basically four muscles working together to extend the leg each time you take a stride. While these are not the only muscles employed in running, they are large muscle groups and, quite naturally, we depend on their strength when we run.

But now my glutes and my quads were tired! The muscles I normally depend on for strength and oomph for those rocky inclines were complaining and moaning from the bottom to the top. What would I draw on for the necessary energy and power to finish what I’d started?

I’m no physiotherapist but I can tell you what I notice from my own experience of running. When the naturally strong muscles on which I so easily depend are tired, I have to draw from somewhere deeper. In particular, I become aware of engaging my deep core muscles and I use my breath to help me do this. When my core is engaged and working to support the action of my body, I have extra strength and stamina that contributes to overall endurance on a run like this one. Indeed, the fatigue that creates awareness of my need to deeply engage at a core level is in fact training me in the crucial discipline of employing my core to a greater degree, at any time.

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All of this makes me think about life when I am not running. Like all of us, I have natural talents and abilities that I bring to my work, or my parenting, or my relationships. It is easy for me to depend on these natural abilities because I lead with these gifts and ordinarily they offer me what I need in diverse situations. I can depend on my natural gift for communication, for example, or my natural organisational skills. All this is normal and good, it’s what we’re wired to do. 

What happens, then, when my habitual strengths are fatigued? When that which I normally bring to the game has been over-worked, or has come to the end of its natural capacity in a given situation? What do I draw on in order to stay the course, to finish what is required of me? Perhaps, in a way that is similar to running, when I face my own limitations it creates more awareness in me of the need to engage at a deeper level. When my natural strengths can be persuaded not to be the primary drivers in my leadership or my relational interactions, then perhaps there is a little more room for those deeper things to take up their proper role. 

In this way, I become more conscious of engaging at the level of values, of listening to God and to others, and of submitting my natural tendencies and abilities to the movements and priorities of the Spirit. I train myself to look to God for the energising of God’s Spirit in more and more of my activities, learning to let my leading edge be that sensitivity. My talents and unique ways of contributing to a situation have an important part to play, and do so much better when consciously submitted to the leading of God.


What about you? In what way are you being invited to engage at a deeper level in this season? How do you experience your natural strengths and abilities taking a backseat during times of weariness, or when the task is particularly demanding? How might these times be opportunities to become even more conscious of bringing forth that which is most deeply sustaining? 


Mighty Spirit, thank you for the gift of natural strengths which I am able to share with others. Teach me to engage with you in such a way that, whether weary or full of energy, my true strength would be found in your empowering presence.