Some years ago the women’s competition in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon had one of the most dramatic endings in sports history. Coming into the final stretch with a comfortable lead, the triathlete reached the very end of her reserves. She slowed, staggered, then collapsed within sight of the finish line. Her mind and body were barely functioning. It was a pathetic and frightening sight.
Determined to win, she crawled toward the finish line, only to be passed by a competitor at the last moment.
The crowd and the commentators had the same reaction—too bad she lost. But even if she would have won, what a terrible price to pay!
This memorable moment illustrates a critical principle for Christians today. Life is not a sprint to be run with reckless abandon. It is a marathon to be run with care and thoughtfulness, saving bursts of speed for when they are necessary, but allowing time to recover before the next burst. The twenty-six miles of a marathon must be run strategically. The runner must conserve energy, monitor, then pace herself according to energy reserves. Otherwise, no matter how fast she may have started the race, she will end up losing, collapsed in a heap short of the finish line.
Some of us are tortoises (type B’s), some of us are hares (type A’s). The hares run themselves ragged, pleased that they’re getting more done and getting it done faster than the tortoises. The tortoises burn energy slowly but surely, getting the job done but not raising their blood pressure much in the process. While the hares start off with a great lead, they end up spending so much time sick, run down, and weighed down that the tortoises pass them by, getting more done in the long run, and in the process living longer and better lives.
Some cars are still going strong with 200,000 miles on them; others are sputtering at 60,000 miles and goners at 80,000. All of us need to go down some bumpy roads in life, and occasionally we need to speed. But if we race through life with throttles wide open, if our most traveled roads are full of chuckholes…how long can we expect to last? How much mileage will we get out of our lives?
Christian stewardship is much more than what we do with our money. It begins with what we do with ourselves. We must see taking care of ourselves—spiritually, psychologically, and physically—as an investment.
God’s words are called “life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body” (Proverbs 4:22). God chose Solomon’s words to his son to be part of His own Word given to His children:
My son, do not forget my teaching,
But keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you prosperity. (Proverbs 3:1–2)
Listen, my son, accept what I say,
and the years of your life will be many. (Proverbs 4:10)
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For through me your days will be many,
and years will be added to your life. (Proverbs 9:10–11)
The fear of the LORD adds length to life,
but the years of the wicked are cut short. (Proverbs 10:27)
If we live according to God’s principles, we will withdraw in daily meditation of His Word, develop godly perspective, learn to manage our emotions, and learn to eat, exercise, and rest properly to care for our physical bodies, the temples of His Spirit. Can living by God’s prescription really help us live longer?
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. (Deuteronomy 6:1–2, italics mine)
Of course, we have no guarantee of long life on this earth. God may have other, better plans for us. God is sovereign and there are accidents and diseases completely out of our control. There is no unconditional promise that faithful people will live long lives. Indeed, as the many martyrs around the world prove, God’s people sometimes die young because they are faithful. I do not believe in the health and wealth gospel. But I do believe God has entrusted to us the stewardship of our bodies and our lives. We can take good care of them, and leave our lifespans up to Him.
Let’s put the emphasis on the word enjoy from Deuteronomy 6, “so that you may enjoy long life.” We’re talking about quality of life. Those who pace themselves are invariably the most contented and refreshed people. They have more to offer their families, their friends, their church, their ministry. They’re more enjoyable to be around, they enjoy being around, and—all things being equal—they’re around longer to enjoy.
Sure, some people may pamper themselves unnecessarily and use stress as an excuse for avoiding their responsibilities. But we’ve talked with far more people who are so responsibility conscious, so totally committed to their tasks that they feel guilty caring for themselves. They think it’s selfish to take a nap, and unspiritual to send out for pizza. At best they feel it’s an imposition and at worst a sin to ask for help. If this describes you, change the way you think and start taking care of yourself or you’ll bequeath to those who love you a broken and burned out person.
Jesus came that we might have abundant life, not just in Heaven but on earth. How rich and rewarding is your life? How much more rich and rewarding could it be with a daily maintenance plan for the body and soul God has entrusted to your care?
Let’s open up the windows of our lives, learning not just to survive but thrive. Let’s learn to pace our race, and throughout our days look to God as our Creator and Redeemer.
Adapted from Randy and Nanci Alcorn's book Help for Women Under Stress.