I’m uncomfortable the minute I step out of my warm apartment. Caught off-guard by the quick change in temperature, I shudder involuntarily. My arm hairs bristle and hive-like bumps peak their heads through my skin. Cold air blows. My hands are numb as I tie my shoes for an abridged warm-up.
The cold air is like rank ammonia as it wafts into my constricting lungs; my nose drips, my esophagus flares, my neck muscles tighten. I continue running. Ten minutes pass. Every breath hurts. My vision slightly blurs, my body tightens, my mouth dries. I terribly wish to quit, but I decide to press onward.
Patience is key when it comes to running. As your body screams, you must navigate its different signals and be aware of your threshold. Knowing yourself takes time; running is just as much a mental battle as it is physical. Denying yourself rest requires mental fortitude, and persistence demands sacrifice. An acclimated body no longer responds to harsh cold and high altitudes as it used to. Continued exposure to the elements, patience in discomfort, and persistence in sacrifice create a new normal. This is called conditioning.
Recently, I have been seeking employment for the first time, trying to cope with its draining demands through running. My unemployed dance has lasted for a little over two months—a short period compared to some—but I have never been so discouraged, disappointed, and disengaged. Loneliness and envy have crept into my headspace while my pride is severely damaged. Running helps, but offers only a temporary escape. I feel purposeless as my days are spent staring at a screen, completing forms. My constant search has availed little success. Patience and persistence are merely conspirators.
As many can attest, getting a job is like sitting in a waiting room, running in the cold, having your flight delayed, or watching crystallized honey sluggishly hit your toast. The process consumes your thoughts and challenges your sacrifice as you wait. Without a schedule, you find boredom, silence, and fear like you never have before. As you send applications and attempt to maintain emotional stability, you feel stuck, alone, and aimless. Maybe you begin to compare, maybe you play the victim, maybe you let failure drive you to impassioned steadfastness. All these responses offer a window to your own motives, allowing you to see yourself naked of power, position, and prestige. While it stings, this is what I needed.
Entitlement, superiority, and pride. Where did I learn these traits? My parents? Media? College? Probably all of the above. Regardless of their source, this brief season of unemployment has caused me to realize that, while patience and persistence are important traits to have, a heart of willingness is invaluable. Coupled with obedience, willingness recognizes that what you are persistently pursuing may actually be worth forgetting. It always exposes ‘my plan’ as not ultimate. Willingness is letting a sicker patient take your spot in the queue, going for a swim, gladly switching flights, or using preserves instead of that old honey. Willingness allows your plans take the backseat and purpose abounds.
Job or not, my purpose remains the same: love God and love people. 1 John even says that we love God by loving people. To be clear, wanting a job is not sinful; a desire to work is natural. But finding our purpose solely through employment is profane. This is what I have done for the last two months. Through my solitude and the intense reflection that unemployment made space for, I am now aware of the selfish motives which seeped through my patient and persistent job hunt. I lacked willingness because I expected my plans to succeed. I wanted my purposes to prevail. Alas, like running in the cold, my endurance has been tested. And I didn’t last very long.
Humility reveals our deep and ugly intentions, but almost always results in a more realistic view of the self. It is here that the humbled psalmist cries for willingness: “Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me” (Psalm 51:12 NIV). Pride and control do not sustain. Though they can be obscured by patience and persistence, their self-consumed cores eventually implode. The last last two months of my life are a clear demonstration.
Thankfully, humility, and a complete denial of selfish plans do sustain; releasing control frees you to fulfill higher plans. Ironically, our humbled, control-lacking selves experience joy apart from our self-absorbed egos. Submission, then, brings life. Willingness frees.
A patient and persistent life led by willingness and obedience is known as devotion. While it sounds nice, devotion hurts. Continued humility and the stripping of pride is difficult, but like continually pushing your body beyond its limits, consistent vulnerability produces new capacities within us—a new normal, both as I go on my daily run, as well as when I contemplate my future.
By Justin Brendel
Photographer & Writer