I’ve been working my way back from some pretty serious mental running burnout. Having experienced both, I have to say coming back from an injury is much easier than coming back from mental burnout. I didn’t want to run for a long time, not because I wasn’t physically capable but because the thought of training was mentally overwhelming to me. I had to force myself to run, I had to start over with less mentally strenuous training plans. I went from plans that had prescribed paces and distances for speed work, tempo runs and long runs to novice training with only short runs where time doesn’t matter because just getting out the door at all felt like a victory.
My fitness, obviously, took a sharp decline. I hated that I wasn’t as fit, but the thought of what it took to achieve that fitness I love was not something I could handle.
My desire to be as fit as I once was has only recently begun to grow stronger than my dislike of what it takes to get there, but this is an important step in my mental battle back to fitness. I have to want the reward more than I hate what it takes to get there.
As I’ve worked to come back from my mental burnout I recognize that this process is so similar to what I experience when I desire qualities, virtues or actions on the road to become more Christlike. I have to want the improvement more than I dislike what it takes to get there. For example, the poor virtue patience has such a bad rap. I think we have terrified people out of praying for that virtue with our comments about what happens when you pray for patience. I remember spending a lot of time very carefully wording my prayers to make sure I didn’t accidentally pray for patience or other similar virtues.
Spoiler alert: That wasn’t a very productive practice, and it was downright prideful of me.
True, if you pray for patience, your patience will be tested. If you pray for charity, people close to you, people you’d never expect, will hurt you. If you pray for improvement you will be tempted or tried in that exact area in the specific ways you are weak. But how else do you expect to accomplish it? How will you be more patient if you don’t ever have a chance to practice and strengthen it? How will you become more charitable if you never have to love someone when they give you no reason to? How will you become spiritually stronger without spiritual exercise? If you have another solution to achieve these things, let me know. The bottom line is that I will never achieve these virtues without being deliberate about it. I will never become more Christlike if I am too scared to do what it takes to become more like Him.
My desire to achieve the goal, or the virtue, needed to grow stronger than my dislike of the process. I often start praying for something by asking for the strength or desire to pray for what I actually want/need to pray for. As the scales start to tip in the direction of desire to achieve the goal I start praying for the virtue directly. And it’s true, every time I was (am, are, will be) tested in pursuit of that goal. But there is no other way.
“Pure obedience and silent endurance are not enough. There must be a burning desire, a reaching out, a seeing, in short, an exhaustive exercise of our combined spiritual, intellectual, and emotional energies, all focused on obtaining these divine gifts.”
(The Infinite Atonement, Tad R. Callister, p. 274)
It’s a great thing to recognize how important the step of achieving that great desire for the virtue is. If we skip that step our desire for patience may not be stronger than the temptation to feel frustrated. Our desire to be charitable needs to be stronger than the temptation to feel hurt. The desire for the goal has to be stronger than the dislike of the process and the temptations involved or when we are deep in the mud of the process we will not have the perspective necessary for us to see how being deep in the mud is worth it and necessary.
I love that I get to move at the pace that is personal to me, as guided by the spirit. There is nothing wrong with not having the courage to ask to be blessed with the virtue I desperately need. If the best I can do is ask for the desire, that can be enough as long as I’m still doing the very best I can.
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
The amount of myself I invest in the project of becoming more Christlike is far more important than the pace at which the project moves. As I ask for courage, it always comes.