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Saturday, November 13, 2010

When Mental Toughness Requires An Unexpected Change of Course.

"Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It's a state of mind-you could call it character in action." Vince Lombardi

3More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5 ESV

I've been fighting a funk the last 10 days of so. It's not a P-Funk kinda funk that causes your booty to shake; it's a funk that smothers your heart and pulls your thoughts into a thick, enervating fog. Your heart grows tired and your mind feels like the batteries need to be replaced so the light can come back on. It's stultifying to say the least.

My afflicting funk stems from the persisting and deepening financial drought we are settling into. It's feels like a fog which won't lift; it blankets our days and laces fear in our sleep. A palpable heaviness pervades it. We both talk of existential (although we don't use the word), tiredness. I know the weariness is from growing stress. Those of you who've been there know unpayed bills tend to stare at you with a withering gaze. It's no fun.

The long and the short of it is I'm just not making enough money to hold up my end of the bargain with supporting our household. imagine/Northampton is so small it can't carry my weight nor am I counseling
anywhere near enough to support  my salary.

In the midst of the work malaise I'm beginning to think God is signaling a change in my direction. It began with reading missional church guys talking about the bi-vocational pastor being the wave of the future. Much of what they write makes good sense to me. Is God calling me to this? What would be so bad about that?

As I said, my counseling and spiritual direction work has virtually dried up with just a handful of clients remaining. Tricia's is growing. The decline has been trending this way since the early summer of this year. Something has changed. I can feel it spiritually and the numbers show it. There looks no end in sight and I'm running out of time to turn things around.
What does this have to do with mental toughness?

Well, I think in my case, mental toughness, is being able to keep the mission I was called to in Northampton in firm view with no wavering while seeing the change I need to make in terms of remaining full-time paid staff as falling forward. In fact, it turns out to be part of God's taking me deeper into the mission in a way I never would have found on my own. In the quote above, Vince Lombardi combined sacrifice and self-denial with a "perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give up" I doubt I'll ever be capable of a perfectly disciplined will," this side of heaven, but I get the refusing-to-give-up character part because I'm doing that so far. I'm not quitting imagine until God tells me to.

 The Apostle Paul tells me that mental toughness has to do with enduring suffering and hardship so that godly character qualities take root in me, and hope can keep me stayed on following Christ while working to open the Kingdom to folks - hope infused with God's love.

So God can:
test my mettle,
put me in over my head,
take me to the edge of my faith,
remove all my safety nets,
and even change where I work,

to strengthen my character, making it tough enough to carry the weight of my task in imagine /Northampton's mission.

Mental toughness can also be about staying the course when God expands the scope of the mission he has given without consulting with me (as if he should!). For instance, rather than having me hold down the fort every day at the imagine/Northampton offices, or being the "Chief Communications Officer," a role I've played by temperament and default since we got up here, he gives me a job elsewhere and maybe it doesn't look like ministry at all on the surface, or maybe its in a form I didn't recognize before and would've never headed toward on my own. Just because my work environment changes doesn't mean the mission has.

More simply, mental toughness also means buckling down and helping dig us out of our financial hole even if my imagine/Northampton role diminishes considerably or has to end. I made a prior promise to Tricia to care of her that is of equal or greater worth. Integrity as a Jesus-follower includes meeting my financial obligations and doing what I have to even if it's painful. It's big-boy stuff.

Mental toughness never lets go of the cause or mission, or the non-negotiable values animating any effort of worth. The goal or cause is so compelling a person will pay the cost, fight through the pain, make the sacrifice, overcome the discouragement and hang tough when all appears in shambles. Mental toughness is the domain of those willing to go down with the ship if the ship must go down. I believe it's a virtue which ennobles ordinary people captivated by conviction.

Truth be told, it's taken me a awhile to get to the place of altering my short course to sustain the long haul. There've been "giants in the land," and I've hesitated to adjust my course far too long.  Adjusting I'll be in the days ahead. Pray for me if you think about it. I'll be heading out as a "stranger in a strange land." At least it feels that way at the outset.
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