“I think you’re underestimating it.”
“I don’t mean that I’d feel great afterward. I just mean I think if I had to that I could do it once, even if I hated myself for a few days afterward.”
This conversation took place between myself and a youth-turned-friend in her first year of college. She’s taking an aerobic walking class this semester and her final is to achieve the stated time/distance goal. Last night I was supposed to play tennis but a persistent drizzle erased my plans. It wasn’t raining when I arrived at the courts, but they were too wet to play. So I decided to go walk the track around the high school football field. Being a goal-oriented individual, I thought I’d see if I could “pass” her final. I started the stopwatch on my phone and set off at what felt like a brisk pace. My first lap was just over 4 minutes; that wasn’t going to do at all. I doubled my speed.
I finished the 2.6 miles in 28:11. Technical success. But my friend was correct; I had underestimated the task. My legs were screaming from my ankles to my knees. My arms had become desperately annoying dead weight that felt like they were slowing me down just by existing. It wasn’t a pace I could have continued. It wasn’t sustainable. I hadn’t trained. My cool down turned into a thoughtful 5k, which turned into an even more thoughtful 10k–both distances I don’t ordinarily walk. When I got home my wife informed me that I could expect to live in pain for the next two days. I have such wise people in my life.
This spring near the end of Lent I experienced a similar over-extension of self. A friend posted on Facebook that he was going for a “warm-up hike” for the beginning of his “hiking season” and asked if anyone wanted to go. I hadn’t been on a hike in years; why not jump back in? We went and hiked a brisk 9 miles up and down Big Frog Mountain, a 2,500 foot elevation exchange in 4.5 miles one way. Straight up and then straight back down, if you’re bad with topography. For reasons I won’t bother to explain I wasn’t particularly dressed for the occasion. I appeared to be successfully completing the journey, but within a shout of the car I lost focus and stepped off the path, rolling my ankle. My legs had been like rubber for a couple of miles. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but after a couple of weeks of increasing soreness I finally went to the doctor. It turned out that because my legs were so worn out, when I rolled my ankle I did so with absolutely no muscle resistance, effectively snapping down on it with all of my weight. I’d torn a ligament. Solution? Space boot for 6-8 weeks. Oh, and a “Don’t overextend yourself like that again, dummy.” Thanks, doc.
If were a smarter man, I could easily train for these things. I could walk great distances if I built up to them. We’re capable of fantastic things physically. I just need to train. When it comes to youth ministry, our goals aren’t always as clear. We can’t always see the mountain, and we may never stand at this particular mountain ever again. So how do we train?
Youth ministry can feel like a long series of one-offs, if we’re not careful. Mini-epic events that we didn’t get to prepare for. We survive them (usually) but our shins hurt and sometimes we roll an ankle. A spiritual question beyond our depth. A situation with a youth family that we’ve never encountered in ministry. The criticism that seems to come from nowhere at times. We rise up and often withstand, but each of those instances can leave us damaged and wounded. There’s just no way to prepare for everything. We at best manage to execute the worst kind of cross-training, becoming a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. So what can we do?
I think one thing that we can do and do well is cultivate purposeful, supportive community. Even if it’s just with one other youthworker–someone needs to know your junk. Someone needs to have your back. And you need to be there for somebody else. It’s a good “one thing” to train for. You’ll see stuff coming that maybe they don’t; you’ll also give them the opportunity to push you out of the way of the bus you don’t see coming. And you’ll both have a place to turn when life hits you anyway. It’s at the heart of what the Youthworker Movement is all about.
Who is your training partner?