I was reminded recently about the story of the soldiers who carry the great honor and responsibility of guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It is a very prestigious assignment, and the men who execute that guard do so with great pride and formality. Several years ago there was a severe storm, and the soldiers on duty were given the option to leave their post, but decided to stay and weather the storm. It’s a great story about dedication that you can read here.
A few years ago I took my first vacation with dantheman and his hunting crew, and we traveled up to NW Colorado. We stayed up in the mountains on BLM land, living out of a few tents with only the things we had packed with us. That vacation came a few weeks after I was let go from my first ministry job of four years, and I was pretty burned out. Not being much of a hunter, I opted to camp out and spend my days hiking in the mountains. It was a great time away from all the noise of the real world, and a place where I spent a lot of time seeking God and His wisdom. One afternoon I hiked up a trail that came to a pretty steep drop off. I hiked along the rim of the mountain to the peak and spent most of my afternoon there reading my bible. After reading through the first few books of the Old Testament I decided that mountain peak was a great place to spend time with God in worship, So I built an altar out of 12 stones to commemorate my time there with God. I prayed for a long time, and for the first time in a while, listened to what God had to say to my heart.
I had reached a breaking point in my life as a minister. My passion for helping students had been overshadowed by my frustration with so many other parts of youth ministry. The previous weeks had been a back and forth struggle with wether or not to pursue another ministry position, or find some other line of work. Deep down I knew what I wanted, but I also knew that I couldn’t take another four years of heartache. My prayer to God was simple, I asked for a new start, a clean heart, the strength to carry on in ministry, and healing from the past few years.
I think on some level we all constantly battle breaking points. In some cases, It’s a person or group of people that you can no longer tolerate. In other cases it’s a situation where one too many things has happened for you to stay, or stay quiet. Or maybe it’s a trip to the DMV. Whatever the case, I think a person’s breaking point is a great measure of their character. Today I met a guy on the trail I run who, at the age of 55, decided he no longer wanted to be out of shape, so he started running. A hundred pounds later he still reminds himself of how bad he felt when he couldn’t walk from his car up the stairs to his house without being out of breath. I was at Subway for lunch and a customer after me was upset at the cost of her order (yes I have a lot of Subway stories) and started raising her voice pretty quickly. The guy behind the counter reached his breaking point too when he sluffed his responsibility off on the other employee. Afterwards, I came home and turned on the news only to hear political rants from both sides of the line and remembered another one of my breaking points.
And then I remembered the men who guard the tomb of the unknown soldier. I can’t even begin to imagine what their breaking point would be. I’m sure they would admit to having one, but I’d hate to be the person that helped them discover it.
Even Jesus had a breaking point. He turned over a few tables and took whips to tail when he saw the temple desecrated, and even gave His spirit up on the cross, when the time was right. We can also go back in and look at some pretty good examples of God reaching breaking points with His creation over the course of the Old Testament.
So what do we do? Here are a few thought on dealing with breaking points:
Understand the bigger picture. Losing your calm over a sandwich is a pretty good sign that you’ve lost perspective on what’s really important. Don’t allow yourself to constantly be stepped on, but ask yourself, “is it really worth it to lose my calm over this?” Jesus dealt with a lot of ‘stiff-necked’ people in His day, and while we know they irritated Him, it wasn’t until they had disgraced His Father that he really took up arms. He understood that there was a much larger story in the works.
Keep your commitment. I think this is the key to the guards of the unknown soldier. They understand their commitment, and that trumps any situation that might cause them to break. As Christians, we have made a commitment to follow Christ and live out His kingdom, which means that we will not denigrate to certain behaviors, and that trumps so much of what and who we encounter (so much easier said than done). In the darkest of times for His chosen people, God honored His commitment to David (among others) and set a great example for us to follow.
Strengthen yourself. Practicing patience is a workout. It only comes after testing the limits of your strength. Also, align your strength with God. He has promised that we will not be given more than we can bear, but that doesn’t mean we can handle tough situations or people on our own. We were designed to rely on the strength of the Spirit to reach beyond our own breaking point.
Lastly, reflect. What are some breaking points that you constantly struggle with? How do you deal with people or situations that test your limits? For me, these vacations to the great outdoors always seem to come at the right time, when I need some space to get away and look at my struggles from a distance. It helps me avoid running full-steam into my breaking points which almost always leaves me beaten and worn. Jesus often went off by Himself to the garden to pray, and we should too.
One love, one heart.