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Coronavirus: The marathon you didn’t sign up for
Pastor Mike Novotny
by Pastor Mike Novotny
March 26, 2020

The Corona 5K officially turned into a marathon.

I could almost see the finish line of my 14-day, post-Israel self-quarantine when the news dropped. The governor of Wisconsin declared a 30-day “safer at home” order, meaning the race for this Wisconsinite is not even close to over. What our family thought would be a unique 5K experience is turning into a distance that none of us signed up for.

Ugh.

If you’re like me, the “quality time high” has worn off just a bit. As much as I adore my family, all of us are ready to get back to sharing space with other humans. And if we feel that way after 11 days, how will we feel on day 26? or 31? or 40?

Which is why I’m so grateful that I know how to survive long distances.

I’ve run four marathons over the past decade, some as wisely as King Solomon and others . . . well . . . not. The ones that went well followed the running world’s time-tested wisdom, and the ones that crashed didn’t.

What is that wisdom? Head. Legs. Heart. The best distance runners know you run the first part of a race with your head, the second part with your legs, and the last part with your heart.

Let me explain why you need that wisdom in the days to come.

Head
When you’re standing at the starting line of a race with thousands of people and Metallica’s “Fuel” pumping in your earbuds (just me?), it is SO tempting to sprint like a Kenyan. I tried this once, attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon despite not being anywhere close to prepared for that pace. Convincing myself it was all about heart, I took off . . . and miserably crashed at mile 16.

That’s right. Mile 16. Meaning I had to limp 10.2 miles just to finish.

Smarter runners use their heads and pace themselves. They refuse to use up their energy in the first few miles, even though they have energy to spare.

I’d recommend you do the same.

When the coronavirus hit, I found myself wanting to do everything all at once. Write blogs about anxiety/fear/faith/GOD/giving/outreach/sacrifice/Jesus, record devotional videos for my church and for Time of Grace, donate money to ministry and the poor and my neighbors and my friends, watch every Star Wars film with my kids (no, seriously), play every board game in our house (no, seriously), and text every church member in the directory to see how I could pray for them (no, seriously).

When a crisis hits, our savior-complex kicks in, and we fly around single-handedly attempting to rescue the world from all its problems.

But don’t. Please don’t. If you do, you’ll look like I did at mile 16, which resembled JarJar Binks if his face got stuck in a wood chipper. Sorry, the Star Wars references are fresh . . .

Instead, assume the coronavirus will last through the spring. Assume you’ll need energy to cook three meals at home in late April. Assume friends will still need your texts and time in early May. Assume there are good things that you can’t get to just yet, but you will in time, God willing.

Even Jesus took time away from the crowds and spent time alone to recharge, reflect, and connect with his Father in heaven (Luke 5:16). It’s no sin if you do too.

Use your head and pace yourself.

Legs
As runners get into the middle miles of a race, it’s time to run with the legs. This is where you trust your preparation, the habits you established over the months leading up to the race. Running 10 miles after you’ve just run 10 miles seems daunting, but the body is wonderfully wired to remember its training.

What does that have to do with you and the coronavirus? Tap into the power of habits.

One of the most unnerving things about the early days of self-quarantine was the total lack of familiarity. As a creature of habit, I was used to my coffee at my gas station before doing my work in my church office. Then, corona distanced me from nearly everything I once knew. Man, I miss my gas station coffee . . . (shout-out to Kwik Trip!).

Thankfully, my wife is the poster girl for planners. She quickly developed new habits for our home, allowing us to settle into reliable rhythms each day. Soon, my mind settled down, and I started to be more productive. Wake up, Bible time, run, breakfast, shower, write, lunch, family time, work, dinner, puzzles/movies, text friends/church family, bedtime, repeat.

How about you? Are you still taking it from day to day? With the ever-changing restrictions, I don’t blame you. However, I would strongly urge you to set up a schedule ASAP. Whether you’re a parent trying to figure out this distance-learning thing with your kids or a family member trying to keep in touch with your loved ones or someone battling depression or an addiction who needs a support network to stay sober and sane, write down your new normal.

Our brains love autopilot. Routines save us mental energy and keep us fresh for the challenges and decisions ahead. So schedule as much as you can, as quickly as you can.

If structure is not your gift, ask an organized friend for help. In speaking of different gifts/talents, the apostle Paul wrote, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). If the Holy Spirit has gifted a friend with the ability to bring order to chaos, lean on that friend. After all, that gift was given “for the common good.”

Use your “legs” and get into the habit(s).

Heart
There’s a little person who lives inside of every runner’s head. Most of the time that little guy hides in the quiet corners of the mind, but after 20-some miles, he crawls out and starts to scream: “Stop running! You’re going to die! Look at that green grass over there—you could lie down. Those people are grilling out—you could join them for a beer-soaked brat. Who cares about some medal? Don’t you want to stop running?”

Or maybe that voice is just in my head . . .

The final miles of a marathon are all about heart. It’s when you dig deep and tell that little voice to sit down and shut up, that you’re going to finish this thing no matter how much it hurts.

I have a hunch that you and I will have to do the same thing on this corona journey.

There will be times (or maybe already have been) when you’re just done. Done with trying to write professional emails while your toddler says, “Momma!” for the 826th time. Done with giving your full attention to another digital meeting (when camera off + Facebook scroll = much more fun!). Done with making wise choices about social distancing from friends and family. Just done with doing the right thing.

In those times, you will have to tell that little voice to sit down and shut up. Forgive my strong language, but that’s exactly what it will take—you must be strong.

Thankfully, your God is exactly that, even when you feel so weak and worn out. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). Through faith in Jesus, the God who spoke the stars into existence is right by your side. No virus can keep his all-powerful Spirit at a distance. That God can provide the endurance you need to love people, no matter how long this lasts. You are not powerless. You can do this. You can do all things through the Savior who gives you strength (Philippians 4:13).

So talk back to your head. Don’t let the devil’s lies lead you astray. Use your Spirit-filled heart and finish strong.

I’m not sure, but I have a hunch that corona’s finish line will be better than the best runner’s high. When we gather in church that first Sunday, hug our friends at that first dinner party, fill the bleachers at our first high school game, I bet our smiles will be bigger than ever before.

Trust me—few things are as euphoric as finishing a race. With Jesus, that’s exactly what we’ll do. By his power. And for his glory.

Head. Legs. Heart. That’s what marathon runners can teach us about surviving this race.

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1,2).