Just over twenty years ago, I did something I never dreamed I would ever consider: I said yes to running my first marathon. Over the previous year I had begun to discern the possibility of entering religious life (something else I had never thought I would do). At that time the Office for Vocations offered a variety of programs to assist and support both men who were discerning priesthood and women who were discerning religious life, including retreats, discernment groups, ministry days in which participants could “shadow” a priest or religious for a day, and the Run for Vocations. The Run for Vocations brought together a team of over 100 people annually to promote vocations while participating in the L.A. Marathon. Like many marathon teams, participants in the Run for Vocations Team made a commitment to collect sponsors to support their cause; however, instead of collecting sponsors who made monetary contributions, we collected sponsors who promised to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life as well as pray for those who were discerning their vocations.
When Sr. Kathy Bryant first invited me to join the Run for Vocations Team, I thought she was nuts. Why would I ever want to run a marathon? Do you know how far that is?!? I hate running!!! But she kept inviting. She assured me that she and the rest of the team would assist me with training plans, and that there was plenty of time to prepare myself for the race. She introduced me to other team members who shared their stories of successfully completing the marathon, as well as their tips about what helped them to reach the finish line. She told me about the support network anchored by local Serra Clubs that would be stationed near the Catholic Churches and a few other places along the route to support and encourage Run for Vocations Team members along the way. As crazy as it all seemed, I ultimately chose to say yes.
Right now, we are all running a marathon that we not only had not imagined for ourselves, but also one that we did not choose. We didn’t have the benefit of months of training to intentionally prepare ourselves for what we were about to undertake. It was thrust upon us in early March as coronavirus cases began to spread rapidly in our communities, and “normal” life came to a sudden halt. Unlike an actual marathon, we don’t know how close we are (or aren’t) to the finish line.
Eight months of living through a pandemic, compounded by everything else 2020 has thrown our way, is a long haul. If my recent conversations with a number of people are any indication, I think that many of us are hitting the wall. For marathon runners, hitting the wall happens when they run out of energy and feel like they can’t go any further. In my recent conversations I have heard this type of weariness expressed in various ways. When you hit the wall it doesn’t just go away; but as insurmountable as it might seem, there are things you can do to get through it. This is just as true with what we face today as it is in an actual marathon.
Slow down. Hitting the wall affects everything about you because it often has both physical and mental or psychological dimensions. Attempting to just push through and gut it out is usually counterproductive because your whole system needs time to recover. Slowing down reduces the draw upon your energy (which is already depleted, or you wouldn’t have hit the wall in the first place) and allows your system to begin the reset process so you can continue on toward the finish line. Taking a few deep breaths can help this process and begin to physically calm and relax your body and mind. Scheduling down time can help make the space needed to reflect upon what you are experiencing and discern your next steps.
Fuel up. If hitting the wall indicates your energy has been depleted, then you need to re-fuel in order to restore your energy reserves. It’s important to take a holistic approach to this that encompasses body, mind, and spirit. A key part of this is eating well and staying hydrated. But don’t forget to also make time for personal prayer, liturgy, and spiritual reading – the fuel supplies for your spiritual energy. You can also use self-talk or repeat a mantra to build up your positive thinking. Avoiding negativity is important in recovering from hitting the wall. It’s also helpful to know what other things, big or small, help restore your energy so when you realize you are hitting the wall, you can easily pick one and do it.
Seek support. During marathons, there are official and unofficial support stations throughout the route providing water, sports drinks, food, and encouragement; but it’s up to the runner to choose to seek out and accept the support that is available. Other people don’t always know when we’ve hit the wall. It’s important to know who you can reach out to when you do so you can receive the support and encouragement you need to get through it. This might be a friend or family member, or even a spiritual director or therapist. Remember, we were not created to go through life alone. We need each other. Simply knowing someone is there in our corner can make all the difference in getting through the wall.
Trust your training. No matter how overwhelming things might seem, you are not starting at ground zero in facing the current challenges. The things you have done on a regular basis to build up your physical, mental, and spiritual health are valuable training for what you face now. You have experience in overcoming some sort of adversity before. Draw upon those resources now! And remember, you are not in this alone. God promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Jos 1:5). Jesus promised, “I am with you always,” (Mt 28:8), and also promised that the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father to be with you always (cf. Jn 14:16-17). God is with you, strengthening you, supporting you, refreshing and restoring you. When you make it to the end of this race, you will find there is no better feeling than to hit that finish line!