Recently I learned from a physical trainer that many people work out hard and feel like they are getting closer to their goals of physical fitness but in reality are not. He shared this autobiographical story of when he was younger he would participate in professional fighting (karate and the like, not like Fight Club or MMA).
In the short rounds he would fight he would grow tired. So after the fights he would train by running long distances in order to build endurance. After several of these long runs, he would discover that the next fight he would be just as winded. So more running. What he later discovered after he studied and science exposed, is that in order to build stamina for the fights, he should not have been running long distances but rather many sprints. His distance runs would build his aerobic system but not his anaerobic system.
Bottom line, all that long distance runs were hard workout and he felt like he was getting closer to his goal (lasting the fights without becoming winded) but in reality he was not.
So too in the world of spiritual formation, we are working hard and feel like we are moving toward our goal however we really are not.
Ironically to the metaphor above, many people run spiritual sprints and think they are moving toward a strong spiritual life, when in reality we need to be running long distances.
We attend worship one time a week. Maybe we pray at dinner. Perhaps we fast from eating food on Ash Wednesday. We read the Bible one time a week. We pass out soup at Thanksgiving and adopt a child at Christmas. They are hard work and they make us feel like we are growing toward our goal of faithfulness. The thing is, while good, these things are sprints. Taken alone they contribute to a faith that is a mile wide and an inch deep.
This is why for many people the practice of giving up something for the season of Lent is such a difficult task. Lent really is more of a marathon than a sprint. For 40 days Christians engage in some combination of spiritual disciplines. Doing something everyday for more than a week is something that is contrary to the instant culture we live in. We live in a culture where 140 characters is the limit of our willingness to engage an issue. When you hear of someone doing P90X, we tend to think those people are 'intense'. Only the really hardcore people can go three months working out!
The tricky thing is that running spiritual sprints feels like we are working out and growing spiritually. It is difficult to realize that by only working on sprints we are not going to make it through the marathon of life.
If you find you are regularly stressed out, worried, anxious, nervous about the future, seeking to control all things, fearful, angry about things you later realize were silly, or think that everyone else is an idiot then all while trying to fit in ways to better yourself - then perhaps you are sprinting when you ought to be considering distance running.