The Orthodox Leader

Running the Race

Our parish is holding Vacation Bible School this week, with a theme of “Running the Race. Going the Distance.” The key Biblical passage is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (NKJV)

The emphasis is, of course, on the spiritual life: characteristics of good athletes, a healthy spiritual diet, perseverance, focusing on the goal, and “the trophy.”

For clergy and parish leaders, however, this “race” always has some particular obstacles.

Obviously, there is the matter of personal spiritual life. The deceiver always lurks in the prayer corner to tell the priest, “You’ve already prayed today. You don’t need to do so now.” The deceiver sits at the desk, murmuring “But you’ve already spent time reading the Scripture when you prepared your sermon. Why not read something more fun?”

Then there’s the family spiritual life: cultivating a healthy prayer discipline in the home, encouraging the reading of Scripture by them, taking family to church (even when the kids don’t want to go, or parish tension awaits), avoiding gossip, cynicism, and negativity, finding joy in little blessings every day, and, above all, loving one another. On that last point, I’m not talking about that sort of “of course I love you” abstract love, but rather the “I love spending time with you, and bearing you up on your tough days, and using nice tone of voice with you” love.

And, finally, there’s the personal self-discipline. At a fundamental level, this is “self-care”. It’s no secret that our clergy are frequently depressed, overweight, excessively sedentary, and burned-out. (See, for example, herehere, and here.) It’s a big deal. It’s hard to find strength to address the preceding obstacles if, for example, one is too tired, physically or mentally, to fight back. Physical laziness often translates into mental and spiritual torpor, which can result in apathy for one’s ministerial duties, to say nothing of hollow preaching and confession (giving or hearing). We really do need to heed actor Matthew McConaughey’s advice: “Break a sweat every day.” I’ve chosen swimming and biking, plus more time outdoors doing things that rejuvenate (like fishing).

The question for you readers: Concerning the above points, what things do you find helpful? What things have been less so? I’m talking about all of them, not just the last paragraph. I know I would love to find greater success in all of these areas.

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

June 18th, 2013 at 7:51 am

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