I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pacing, the art of adapting actions to circumstances for maximum efficiency. So often we are urged to work through the pain to achieve our goals, but that goes against my observance of the benefits of pacing, or pausing to reevaluate situations.
This weekend I wasn’t feeling very well…I have Type 2 diabetes that I have been very lucky to be able to control for seven years without medication… and I needed to get my glucose lower. My usual system to lower by blood sugar is to restrict carbs in my diet and increase my exercise. So, in spite of feeling off, I struck out on my early morning walk, just as usual. As I walked, I was surprised to feel gradually worse, rather than better. My instinct was to push through the discomfort, but something seemed to tell me that I couldn’t do that this time. I slowed my pace and, when that didn’t result in immediate improvement, I reluctantly turned around and headed home. I was shaky, weak, short of breath, and my glucose meter showed that I had actually succeeded in raising my blood glucose.
Diabetes is an unpredictable disease, with many factors affecting blood sugar levels. Drinking plenty of fluids and resting for the morning brought my glucose back into my target range, fortunately. Responding to the discomfort cues my body sent me was the right thing to do.
We have all heard stories of people who lose the ability to feel pain. These people tend to cause themselves injury because they don’t get the normal pain warnings. Rather than being a blessing, lack of pain is a curse.
Pain is like a traffic light. When we are feeling no pain, that is the green light to continue with whatever we are doing. If we begin to feel mild aches or strains, that is the yellow light signaling caution, letting us know to slow down. Acute or stabbing pains are bright red stop signs. We can ignore the yellow and red lights at our peril.
When first exercising unused muscles we frequently feel the yellow warning aches and pains. If we respond to them by careful pacing, we get the green light to work out harder, building up our strength and stamina without injury. If we misinterpret the warnings as stop signs and give up, our abilities won’t grow. If we ignore them altogether we risk serious injury.
This is also true of our emotional and spiritual muscles.
Beginning to feel empathy for the first time can cause heartaches. If we don’t force our feelings too far too fast, that initial empathy can grow into true compassion.
The first time we accept the invitation to climb out of the boat and step out in faith onto the unknown depths can be extremely uncomfortable. If we rush ahead of God’s leading we can become painfully discouraged, but keeping safe and never testing our trust in God results in failure to grow spiritually. We need to be aware of the Lord’s signals.
Sensitivity to pain is a gift and a tool to help us pace ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually.
We simply need to learn to recognize the signals and react appropriately.