We were up early on a Saturday morning to run a family 5K. My wife had to work in the afternoon, but we had four unscheduled midday hours. We put off chores and were just home.
It felt calm, but unproductive. Rest. Is this what our life has become? A sliver of peace found in inadvertently unplanned hours in between literal and figurative races and work. We wanted more.
Author Shauna Niequist in “Present Over Perfect” tells about a time when she was with friends discussing the future. “One friend said that a way to get at your desire or dream is to answer this question: if someone gave you a completely blank calendar and a bank account as full as you wanted, what would you do? The first thing that leapt into my mind: stop. I would stop. I would rest. I would do nothing at all.”
Is this what our culture has become? A longing for quiet, simple rest—a desperate search for peace.
Noah Syndergaard is a starting pitcher for the Mets. He’s young and strong, and strikes people out. He’s an energy booster to the already rushed hours of the Big Apple. During the off season he added 17 pounds of muscle and stated that he wanted to top the coveted 100 mph mark on more pitches this season.
Baseball loves flamethrowers, speed, velocity. Even at the risk of shortened major league careers because human arms aren’t made to throw 120 pitches every few nights at speeds approaching triple digits.
Still we want more. And youth baseball rewards it. And most young pitchers who throw that hard for that long in their early years are working in sales before they ever see a baseball scout.
In a recent outing, Syndergaard felt a pull, a tightening. The team recommended an MRI. He refused. Instead he went out to pitch again. He’s a “hero”—playing through the pain, ignoring the warning signs of fatigue. Synergaard’s next start was shortened as the pain pulled him from the game and further testing revealed a lateral muscle tear, his season over.
Niequist vulnerably defines her addictions to performance even when it was detrimental to her well being. “I thought I needed to be fast and efficient, sparkly and shiny, battle-ready and inexhaustible. There was, I will be honest with you, a lot of pressure from all sorts of places. I could be those things and so I was, and then lots of people told me I had a responsibility to do more and more and more. For a long time, I listened to them.” She continues, “But what I’ve learned the hard way is you don’t answer to a wide swath of people and their opinions, even if they’re good people, with good opinions. You were made by hand with great love by the God of the universe, and he planted deep inside of you a set of loves and dreams and idiosyncrasies, and you can ignore them as long as you want, but they will at some point start yelling. Worse that than, if you ignore them long enough, they will go silent, and that’s the real tragedy.”
Great stress relievers for me include running and writing. Sadly, I often turn both into performance metrics, never content with the process, always frown-faced over more miles that could have been logged, more pieces that could have been published. Never enough. There is more to do at work and at home and when you’re running crazy and keeping busy, there isn’t enough time to run and write and breathe.
I know it’s too much, not healthy and whole. Yet, things need to be done. The fields need to be harvested and the workers are few. And the busyness numbs. Like the food and the drink can, it soothes. The busyness feels a bit stressful, but eventually it makes you feel less of anything at all. It masks real relationship for plastic productivity.
And there are seasons in my life when I’ve grown accustomed to not feeling anything. Pitching through the pain. Refusing the MRI. Losing a season on the bench because I was bull-headed and prideful. The crowds always applauding me for pitching a few extra innings beyond the allotted pitch count (capacity), until I couldn’t.
This isn’t about the of number of events on the calendar, committee meetings attended, chores marked off the list, or hours logged at the you-name-it. It’s about presence and the peace that’s found in just being.
The best times cannot be manufactured, they’re organic. The memorable moments kindle, flame and bright embers fade into the starry night like a campfire. Unique, mysterious, magical, beautiful, peaceful and fleeting. They’re not reproducible. They’re God-given and plentiful, yet easy to miss.
I’ve missed many moments, enjoyed many others. This season I plan to pitch to my capacity and to ask for help from the bullpen when I need it. I’m going to try and not miss the perfectly green grass of a freshly cut infield, the smell of popcorn and peanuts at the ballpark, and the sweet crack of a wooden bat on a baseball. I won’t miss these things trying to throw 100 mph. I will be just where I am, imperfect and present.