Don’t Stop Living Before You Die!

Man relaxing in a reclining chair

I knew a man who was alive and vibrant in his church in his 30s.  He seemed to grow and connect with others in a meaningful way.  However, something happened in his 40s.

He found his recliner.  That became his location for much of his life.  Sitting and mindlessly watching hour after hour of television.

Then there are others who seem to live vibrant meaningful lives until the day they die.  Don’t misunderstand.  For many of these people, life is anything but easy. They might have family struggles and health challenges.  Yet, these people are fully alive.

So what can a person do to stay fresh all of her life?

  1. Build rhythm into your life (Luke 4:40-43; 5:15-16; 6:12-13).  Many have no rhythm at all.  Rather, they respond to every distraction (Facebook, Twitter, texts, e-mail, for example) that might come their way.  People with rhythm understand that they must determine the priorities in their lives and manage their energy, or the distractions will consume them.
  2. Practice some of the spiritual disciplines to help with your formation.  There are numerous spiritual disciplines available and various resources that might be helpful getting a better handle on this.  However, two very important disciplines are prayer and Scripture reading.
  3. Invest in your family – even if they are grown.  There is something life-giving about serving one’s family.
  4. Be aware of your own emotional maturity.  Some of us carry baggage from the past into our marriages and the church.  Many people have sought professional counseling and have received tremendous help.  Grappling with these issues can take time, but will ultimately bless your relationship with your spouse and children.
  5. Be a good steward of your body.  My entire being is impacted by exhaustion, and a lack of sleep.  This, coupled with little exercise, is a recipe for fatigue and lethargy.  Ignoring my physical body impacts the rest of my being.

We don’t all live forever, of course.  However, I would like to stay vibrant as long as I am alive physically.  So much of this has to do with intentional decisions that you make today.

When Men Leave Emotionally

(The Frustrating Silence of Emotional Withdrawal)

basement_series_sadness-500x332What does a man do with pain?

Many men simply leave.

No, they don’t necessarily leave physically. Rather, they leave emotionally.

I recently heard a friend of mine talk about this as he reflected upon a very difficult time in his life.  I could identify.

Many men have learned that the safest place to take one’s pain is within.  While withdrawing may be one’s default for dealing with pain, it is not conducive to connecting with another.  In fact, to family members and friends it can feel like the person has “gone away.”

Most men who leave emotionally do not do so maliciously.  I don’t believe most have the intention of being difficult or hurting their family and friends.  Rather, this may be the comfortable default that has been a part of one’s life for many years.

So when we leave one another emotionally, where do we go?

  1. Some of us just stay very, very busy.  We lose ourselves in our work.  Maybe we can stay so busy that we are not preoccupied with the pain we feel.
  2. Some of us look for substitutes.  Alcohol.  Drugs.  Pornography.  Or, a man may lose himself in his children so he doesn’t have to address the issues of his marriage.  Or, he can volunteer for numerous activities at church.  It may be hard to argue with someone who is heavily involved at church.  Yet, this can be a way of not dealing with pain.
  3. Some of us retreat to a room within ourselves which may seem safe but actually serves to disconnect us from the people we love most.  This “man cave” might be a place where we occasionally revisit the moments of shame, humiliation, and disappointments in our lives. Perhaps it is the place where we house the pain we experienced as children.  Or, it may be the place where we occasionally sift through the ashes of our hurts and resentments.

As a result, many men live with an anger that quite often comes to the surface.  Or, such men can experience depression.

What People Who Live Well Do Differently

livewellWhat do people who live well do differently?  What do the people who finish well do that others don’t seem to do? What do men and women do that so many others seem to ignore or pay little attention to?

People who live well live in the present instead of the past.  Yes, they may have had hard times in the past but they learn to move on.   They may have experienced recent successes but they don’t keep reminding others of the way life used to be for them.  People who live well learn to lean into the future while they learn to navigate the present.

People who live well don’t keep making the same mistakes that have derailed so many other people.  Satan would like for us to believe that we can play with fire and somehow everything will be all right. 

  • A young married woman is paying a lot of attention to a male co-worker who is single.  She reminds herself that she has done nothing wrong and she is just enjoying the mutual attraction.
  • A college student roams through porn sites nightly.  He tells himself that he is really not a bad person and no one is getting hurt.
  • A woman in her 40s has been taking office supplies from her work and bringing them home.  She tells herself that the company has other areas of waste and they sure won’t miss a few items.

People who live well learn from the mistakes of others.

I Am Not Worthy

Worthy-Main-StarsShe sat outside our auditorium.  She sat in a folding chair, practically doubled over as if she was in pain.  She rocked and rocked.  Little did I know that she had a gun in her purse.

She was deeply troubled.  She had been an alcoholic for many years. That night her eyes were bloodshot. I presumed she had been drinking.  I approached her just before our worship service began. She said that she wanted to remain outside the auditorium in the hallway.

“I am not worthy.”

My Most Important Hour

Of all the hours in the day, the hour after I get up in the morning is probably the most important.

For many years, I have practiced an early morning discipline of preparing for my day.  This takes place before anyone else in my family awakens.

I am convinced that this hour helped me to become a better man, husband, and father. At times the hour helped me thrive in my growth and development. At other times, the hour simply helped me survive the turmoil.

I generally get up about 5:00 AM. For years, this worked because I knew our children would not be up at that hour. Long after our children have grown up and married, I continue the same general schedule now.

What I do each morning is not magic, unique, or a secret known only by a few. The power of this practice is that it is a daily discipline that I usually practice the five days each week.

What I do during this hour varies, but I have continued the same basic practice for many years.

w-Giant-Coffee-Cup75917What I do during the first hour of the day:

1. Emptying my mind. Generally, I sit in silence for a few minutes. I keep a notepad nearby and often begin making a list of whatever occurs to me. Quite often things come to mind that I need to do that day or have been trying to remember. I have found that writing down these thoughts frees my mind. This may take only a few minutes but is very helpful. I keep the pad in front of me during the hour in case anything else randomly comes to mind.

2. Practicing spiritual disciplines.  I read Scripture, pray, and read anything else that feeds my soul. Most recently, I have been reading through the Psalms in The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. At other times I might use Phyllis Tickle’s, The Divine Hours. During this time I will often practice some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. Basically, I try to vary what I do during this time.

I write in my journal during this time. I might reflect upon a scripture I just read or something that happened the previous day. At other times, I might write a prayer in my journal. There are also days when I write nothing.

3. Planning my day. I think about my goals and priorities. I consider the progress that I would like to make on two or three projects. (The tool I am currently using is Donald Miller’s Storyline Productivity Schedule. These are available here.)

Remember, the point is not that you need to get up at 5:00 AM or that you need to do exactly what I do. The point is that a habit/practice such as this can be very useful regardless of your age or circumstance in life. Many mornings I will spend about an hour with this. Most mornings, it will be about an hour and a half. Again, the time is not the point. Find what works for you.

 

Soul Starvation

soul_550When Christian leaders are not regularly nourished, burnout can be the result.

Ministry can become something that one gets done by sheer willpower.  There is no longer any sense that one is drinking from strong and deep spiritual wells.

This can become deadly.

The demands of life and ministry become intoxicating.  Our lives are fueled by an adrenaline rush that results from feeling needed and important.

The pressures of life and ministry can become intoxicating.  There is no sense of rest, silence or recreation.  Instead, we find ourselves thriving on the pressure.

The appearance of spirituality can become intoxicating.  We can put tremendous energy into creating the illusion that we are spiritual people.

This intoxication is deadly.

Maybe the place to begin is by praying that God might nourish and water the parched soul and that the demands of life and the church will not be allowed to take precedence over what is essential to the soul.”

Moving Past Weariness

tired_kidGordon MacDonald tells of a time when as a child he was traveling with his family on a dusty, deserted road in Canada. It was late, and the family had been traveling the entire day. They were lost, tired, and were becoming irritable with one another. They could not find a motel, and the few cabins that they did see had “No Vacancy” signs in the window. The trip had begun with excitement, but all of that had worn away as they pushed ahead thinking that down the road somewhere there had to be a place to sleep. MacDonald continues by saying:

I have often recalled the feelings and frustration of that late-night, dark-road experience whenever my life seemed to momentarily turn into a mindless or spirit less journey crammed with events (not experiences) and contacts (not relationships). In such confounding periods, my sense is that one feels like my family did that night in Canada. Where is all of this going? What does it mean? And, how will I know when the destination has been reached? Why has this exciting trip suddenly turned into a wearisome journey? Where will I find tranquility again?  Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, pp. 7-8

I can relate to this.

There are times when life has left me feeling tired and weary. These feelings are not the result of one incident or disappointment. Rather, weariness seems to be the result of numerous difficult situations stacked on top of one another.  The compilation of these situations over time can be draining and exhausting.

Does this describe where you are or where you have been?

Prolonged weariness can leave one feeling tired, depleted, and feeling as if you have not made much progress. If you are like many, you may even come to a place where you become numb to what is happening in your life.

During times when I feel particularly weary, I have found it helpful to pursue simplicity in my life again.  In other words, I re-visit my purpose for being alive and getting out of bed in the morning.

Some might push back and say, “My life is complicated.  You are not telling me anything I don’t know by suggesting that I return to my purpose.”

I won’t argue with you.

Doing this, however, has been very helpful to me.  Focusing again on the purpose for my life, my family, and my work can bring clarity and help life the fog.  Eventually, I am in a better place to take the next step toward keeping my life in line with my purpose.

The following are a few realities I try to keep in mind during such times:

1.  I have absolutely no control over so much of what happens in life. I can’t control the decisions and choices that others make.  Very often life is very, very hard.  Yet, I do have control over the choices and decisions that I make (Joshua 24:15).  I can choose my attitude, my outlook, and the direction of my life.

2.  I need to trust in God.  I need to depend upon God for my life and my future.  God is never weary or depleted.  If I am not praying, it may be because I am either overconfident or my view of God is too small.  I’ve noticed that the quality of my prayer life typically reflects my view of God.

3.  I need to be proactive instead of passive.  Stephen Covey encourages us to “choose with the end in mind.” Clarify your life’s mission. He suggests that we write eulogies that we would want our friends to read at our funeral.  Proactive people step into life while passive people spend their lives waiting for something to happen.

 

Question:

What is particularly helpful to you during seasons of weariness?

 

Refuse to Settle for Being Half-Alive

alive_bigI came across this powerful line in Patrick Morley’s newest book Man Alive (p. 13)

You don’t have to settle for being half-alive.

I thought about this for several days.  I think it stayed with me because I’ve seen so many men and women who shut down long before they actually died.

  • The man who sits in his recliner at 40 years of age and complains about being old.
  • The woman who seems to have shut down once her children left home.
  • The man in his 50s who constantly talks about the years in which he played high school football.
  • The minister who sounds bland and bored as he speaks to the congregation.

So what do half-alive people look like?

Ministry Inside.88

CoffeeBar_rephotography_011Each Thursday, I write a post that is designed with church leaders in mind. Many of these Thursday posts, however, are applicable to those who are not church leaders.  Church leaders and lay people both may find today’s post useful.

During July, I sat in a restaurant with a wonderful man in his 80s.  He is a former college professor, administrator, and minister.  He continues to think, grow, and make a difference.  I asked him to lunch because of particular questions I had about life as well as ministry.  I have always valued his wisdom from a distance.  This conversation, however, would be in person and last about an hour and a half.

My friend was generous with his time, his insight, and his wisdom.  After the conclusion of the lunch, I wrote several pages in my journal, carefully recording his answers to my questions.  I have read through these notes several times.  The conversation was one of the most valuable experiences I had in July.

One of the most important practices of my ministry has been creating the opportunities to learn from various people by simply asking questions.  I will ask someone to coffee or lunch and then ask questions about life, ministry, or leadership.  I have learned so much from these conversations.

I continue to seek out people whom I can learn from.  Let me encourage you to do the same.

4 Critical Areas that Need Your Investment

attentionOne of the greatest resources that you and I have at our disposal is our attention.  There are many demands for our attention.  Yet, every day far too many of us squander this valuable resource due to our own distraction.

We have difficulty giving our full attention to what really matters and being fully present in the moment.  Many of us skim along the surface of most any experience, like a bass boat speeding down a river.  We are in perpetual motion but our lives never get beyond the surface of the moment.

Consider what clamors for our attention:

  • A text appears on your phone.
  • You have a new e-mail message.
  • The phone rings.
  • Someone wants to Skype.
  • You are invited to be a member of a committee.
  • Your child is invited to be on a team.
  • You see a new Tweet from someone who interests you.
  • Your friend updates her Facebook status and you want to respond.
  • You watch television and are bombarded with advertisements.

Each day, somebody somewhere wants your attention.  If you are not intentional about where you direct your attention, others will likely get your attention simply because you are living passively instead of proactively.