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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Hitting the Wall: A Reflection on November by Steve McKinley

I admire those folks (some of them interns and the spouses of interns) who run marathons, but I cannot say that I have ever wanted to be one of them. Perhaps if I had started serious running 30 or 40 or 50 years ago I would be a marathon addict by now, but I didn’t, and I’m not, and when you look at me you would not mistake me for a marathon runner.

I have heard that marathon runners often reach a point 20 miles or so out when they “hit the wall” and wonder if they can possibly keep going and finish the marathon. The early adrenalin high is all used up, and all this is left is exhaustion.

Folk wisdom suggests that many interns “hit the wall” about six weeks out. What were “charming quirks” in a supervisor when internship began are now, to put it gently, annoying. The desk chair still doesn’t fit right, the office is too small, the copier is primitive, the computer is ten years old, and the schedule is unmanageable. People expect you to know things and think you should be able to do things and even though you got good grades in your classes, you don’t have a clue when it comes to some of those expectations. To make things even worse, there is no syllabus for internship. You sit there thinking that it would be nice of the seminary gave you a nice little check list of the things you ought to do and how many hours you should work, but there you are, out there on your own trying to figure these things out, and some days it is just exhausting. The bloom has faded from the rose. You have hit the wall.

You aren’t the only one. Many other interns have and will hit the wall the same way you have and are. So have supervisors. When I was a parish pastor, I was always really fired up at the beginning of September, looking at the new program year and all the new challenges and possibilities ahead. But by the first of November, I was tired and the things that seemed so fresh and exciting in September now seemed like a burden.

Back to the marathon runners. I have heard that the first time you have the experience of “hitting the wall” it is easy to panic and give up on the task. But experienced marathon runners know that when you hit the wall what you need to do is to gather your resources and push on and in a mile or so you will get a second wind and will be able to endure.

Supervisors who have “hit the wall” before know the same thing. They know that there will be times of weariness and frustration, but if they tend to themselves and their spirits they will be able to keep going. Don’t panic when you hit the wall, interns. Take a deep breath. Talk to your supervisor and lay committee about how you are feeling. Take a nap some afternoon. Remember time for your devotional life and rest and friends. You can and will keep going. There is a second wind!

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