Four Ways to Take a Vacation Today


Take a free vacation today.Vacation.jpg

Yes, free.

I once read an interview featuring a busy business executive. He spoke of his work, his responsibilities, and the stress that came with his job.

In the interview, he said that during his busy, hectic day he might call a longtime friend. For a few minutes, they might talk about a river they planned to raft or a football game they wanted to see. These conversations with friends were brief, but for him they were a breath of fresh air in the middle of a busy, stressful day.

These conversations can be mini-vacations. For a few minutes, they allow you to get away. Such conversations can be a refreshing pause in the middle of a day that is draining.

There are other ways to take a mini-vacation.

I have spent a few moments reliving last summer’s vacation. My mind doesn’t know the difference between these memories and the actual vacation. I have found this to be relaxing.

One person I knew would pause during the day and for a few minutes work a crossword puzzle.

I once knew a guy who watched old movies during his lunch hour.

Some people work out at the YMCA or another gym during lunch.

These are endless ways people have found to refresh themselves in the middle of the day.

You have your own ideas about what might be a mini-vacation for you. You might consider trying this. I am not talking about a long period of time. Try doing this for two minutes. Two minutes. Spend two minutes thinking about a pleasant hike, a nice vacation, or an evening you recently enjoyed. You might be surprised at how long two minutes can feel.

Yes, like most anything—this could be abused. One could stay on a mental vacation and only occasionally come to work mentally.

For so many of us, however, these breathers can help bring clarity and perspective to our day. When I am behind in my work, my tendency is to get more intense and more focused. Of course, this kind of focus can be useful and can spur on productivity. However, doing my work with this level of intensity day after day only makes me weary. I don’t feel creative or energized.

These mini-vacations can be very helpful. They can restore and motivate. They remind me that God has created me to be a whole person. I am mind, body, soul, emotion, etc. I am a social being. One of the greatest gifts I can give the people I love the most is to take care of myself. Selfish? No. Self-care is about being a good steward of what God has given me.

Suggestions:

1. Call a friend with the intention of talking about a subject that is very pleasant to you both. Do you both like to fish? Do you like to compare coffees? Spend a short time talking about the subject.

2. Sit in your chair, close your eyes and relive one of the most enjoyable experiences of a vacation or special trip. Seek to remember the sounds, smells, and sensations of the place.

3. Cultivate friendships with at least a few people who will talk with you about something other than your work, your responsibilities, etc.

4. Look for opportunities to laugh. One woman used to cut cartoons from the newspaper and put them on her refrigerator for her family to see. She believed her family needed to laugh more. There are days when I eat lunch at my desk in the office. I will sometimes watch a few You Tube clips that I know are very funny.

Interview With Trevor Hudson (Part 2)

The following is part 2 of a recent interview that I did with Trevor Hudson. (You can find part 1 here.) Trevor lives in South Africa. He a minister HudsonBook.jpg and the author of a number of books. Most recently, he has written a wonderful book entitled Discovering Our Spiritual Identity. I think so much of the book that I am about to teach through it at our church on Wednesday evenings.

I encourage you to savor his words below. Very important.

(If you would like to be eligible to win a copy of Discovering Our Spiritual Identity, leave a comment below or tweet regarding this post.)


Many pastors/Christian ministers have left their congregations at a low point in their lives. Marriage problems. Use of pornography. Power plays within the congregation. Some are exhausted and burned out. What can pastors and other church leaders do to practice better self-care before such a crisis becomes a part of their lives?

Seek to keep our love for God alive in our hearts! I really believe this is the deep secret of caring for our own souls. It is so easy for us as pastors to become religious professionals and forget our amateur status as followers of Christ. We keep the love of God alive in our hearts by consciously opening our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ on a daily basis. We need to find, with the help of good friends along the Way, practical ways in which we can do this. The other helpful thing for me personally is keeping myself open to the joy of God in the midst of my daily work as a pastor. For me this means enjoying special moments with Debbie (the person to whom I am married), chilling with my adult children Joni and Mark, hanging out with friends, going running, watching my soccer team and just loving life as it comes. Pastors need to be the most joyful people around, even in the midst of our very painful contexts. This is a daily challenge for me because I am someone who can easily get overwhelmed by the pain we encounter as pastors each day.


Ok, Trevor, you just touched on something very important. What do you do when you are overwhelmed by the pain of others? What do you do when you are overwhelmed by a sense of your own failure before God? (You may wonder if there is any use in continuing on with Jesus!) What have you found helpful?

Being overwhelmed is an experience that many of us can identify with. We can be overwhelmed by personal grief, the information that comes at us from all sides, the demands of our work, personal relational pain, the immensity of the needs around us and the list just goes on and on. I have found it helpful first to name my overwhelming. Naming things is a powerful act. Then I find it helpful to share my sense of overwhelming with God and at least one other human being who I can really trust. This means I am no longer isolated by my overwhelming but connected in community. Lastly I have learnt that hidden in my overwhelming experience there is often an invitation to attend to the shape of my living. Often when I am overwhelmed my life is knocked out of shape. So I need to give attention, usually with the help of someone wiser, to how I can intentionally live a more gospel-shaped life. Perhaps I can quickly add that not all “overwhelmings” are bad. We also need to open ourselves to those joyful “overwhelmings” of beauty and music and goodness that lie all around us–and above all, to the experience of being overwhelmed by the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for each one of us in Christ.


Some ministers really struggle with developing some kind of daily/weekly routine in their ministry. How can a person who works with a congregation address this issue in his/her life?

I need to be clear about what tasks lie at the heart of faithful pastoral ministry and intentionally build my days around these things. I find it very helpful to do this with my leaders so that they can encourage and support me in my intentions. In my 35th year of pastoral ministry, I am also more aware than ever of my need for “hidden preparation” for public ministry. Sometimes leaders in the congregation are not aware of this and so this need must be carefully explained. In order to do what I need to do “on the spot” as a pastor, I need “off the spot” moments to freshly prepare myself for whatever it is I must do.


Many ministers feel totally overun by the needs of the congregation and quite often, the expectations of the congregation. What can ministers do to better pace themselves in their ministries?

I don’t think I am a good person to ask when it comes to this question! Overcommitment has been my number one sin as a pastor. Consciously I desire a more leisurely way of being a pastor yet I keep sabotaging this intention by taking on too much. Reflecting on this contradiction with some good friends, and asking God to shine some light on the hidden motivations of my heart, is proving to be very helpful at the moment. Maybe this is where we need to begin if we want to pace ourselves better—with the kind of confession before God and others that leads us to attend in new ways to the shape of our living. This is what I am learning at the moment. Hopefully I will better be able to answer this question in a few years time!


Interview With Trevor Hudson (Part 1)

Trevor Hudson lives in South Africa. He is a Christian minister, author, and encourager to many. I have mentioned his latest book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved on this blog.

I recently asked Trevor several questions that might be of interest to Christians in general and ministers in particular. The following interview will appear in two parts. I will be giving away one copy of the book just mentioned in a drawing. To be eligible, please leave a comment below, on my Facebook page, or post a link on Twitter.

Hudson.jpg


Trevor, I have just read your book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved. I enjoyed the book greatly and have been recommending it. What was behind the writing of this book?

Thank you, Jim, first of all for your warm affirmation of the book. It is very close to my heart! What was behind the writing of the book? I am deeply aware that we live presently in a historical moment characterized by a profound searching for a vital and life-giving spirituality. In the midst of all this searching there is a critical need for careful discernment. Many expressions of spirituality doing the rounds within Christian congregations can only be described as foreign to the spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus. Often they are obsessively absorbed with the meeting of personal needs and reflect minimal concern for those who suffer. Alternatively, a spirituality of social struggle and involvement is frequently endorsed which avoids the biblical imperative for personal conversion and deep inner change. I wrote the book as a modest attempt to describe a spirituality that is centered in Jesus Christ, faithful to some of the treasures of the diverse streams within Christian Spirituality, accessible to those in the local congregation and responsive to the deep suffering all around us.


What do you suggest to congregations in which members desire to stay centered in Christ, but find daily demands and the needs of others around them are exhausting? How does the average Christian begin to see his/her way through?

I would say to congregational leaders, “Please be careful not to exhaust your members more than they are already!” As a pastor I want to be very respectful of the daily demands that those in my congregation face everyday. I would help them to see their daily lives at home and work and in the community as the primary place for their formation in Christ. They don’t have to be in the church buildings more in order to do mission. I would explore in our moments together very down-to-earth ways which help us remain mindful of Christ’s active presence within our daily lives—ways of turning our minds towards Christ on a regular basis, inviting him into our daily activities, remaining thankful, recognizing him in those we encounter and trusting him with outcomes. The promise of Jesus is that, as we learn to walk with him in our daily lives, we will live more lightly and freely. It is a wonderful thing when we in our local congregations can discover the reality of these words in our own experience.


(More to come)

Strengthening the Soul (10)

This morning I read a fine article by Gordon MacDonald in the November 2010 issue of stethoscope.jpg Leadership (print). The article is entitled “Your Regular Checkup.” Basically MacDonald says that if a yearly physical exam is important for people then so is a periodic “spiritual exam.”

Sometimes, after one has a physical exam, the physician will make that person aware of a health issue that had gone unnoticed. Likewise there may unnoticed issues of the soul within us that we may not be dealing with. MacDonald writes:

I have become increasingly aware of the enormous amount of activity inside of me that I neither understand nor fully control. Impressions, attitudes, urges, motives, and initiatives bubble up and out of that darkened space, and not all of it is noble. It’s similar to all the physical activity deep inside my body that I don’t know much about either. it just happens with or without my conscious consent. (p. 76)

MacDonald suggests that if one were a physician giving a “spiritual exam,” the following areas might be addressed:

1. My patient’s conversion story. After hearing this story, MacDonald would ask about this person’s current relationship with Jesus.

2. Memory. Reflect on attitudes that could be present in one’s life: “Resentments, anger, unresolved conflict, or regrets that need examination and resolution? Behaviors, attitudes, desires that are costing you the respect of your spouse, your colleagues, your constituency? How about one’s forgiveness capacity, one’s readiness to repent?”

3. Motivation. Consider your motivations. “Why are you doing what you’re doing in leadership? Do you have a sense of calling from God–a call affirmed by others who are close enough to see the Spirit of God in you? Is whatever your call is getting you out of bed in the morning with a reasonable degree of enthusiasm and anticipation? Or has your call degraded into a job, slowly sapping you of your vitality?”

4. Discipline. Finally, MacDonald says that he might ask the following question: “What are the things you systematically push yourself to do because they don’t come naturally to you but which are necessary in order to make you a more effective person and leader?” MacDonald suggests that the following categories of discipline might be considered: “physical, intellectual, financial, time management, emotional, ego, worship.”


Question:

What would you add to these reflections on spiritual health? What has been helpful to you in accessing where you are?

Strengthening the Soul (2)

I really needed to slow down. In fact, I needed to tendingthesoul.JPG stop.

Just two weeks ago, I was in Ruth Haley Barton’s class, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership” at Wheaton College. The class was not only lecture but included times for prayer, worship, and silence.

It was an opportunity to slow down. In fact, it was an opportunity to stop.

After all, it is very, very easy to stay really busy. Have you noticed this?

  • Phone calls, texting, e-mailing, tweeting, and updating the Facebook status
  • Meetings (even meetings to plan the next meeting)
  • Projects
  • Talk and more talk
  • Squeezing in several activities in one evening

Yes, most of us are very busy. I certainly am.

Yet, I have have found that constant activity day after day can leave me feeling empty, cold, energy-less, and even resentful. This busyness is all about doing and achieving instead of living, really living from the inside-out.

On Friday, I awoke early. I read the “practice” section of chapter 2 from Ruth Haley Barton’s book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership .

Take at least ten minutes to sit quietly in God’s presence with your growing awareness of what is drawing you into solitude at this time. Allow yourself to experience the hope that comes with knowing that there is a safe place for you to acknowledge what is true about you and to wait for God’s action in your life. (p. 45)

I went upstairs to our den and then outside to the little balcony overlooking our backyard. I sat still in the darkness, staring at a brightly lit moon. I sat in silence before God. After a few minutes, it became very clear what was weighing on my heart/mind. I brought this before God.

The point?

There is no substitute for tending to my soul.


Question:

Consider your own life. Now think about others who are around you. What is the constant (and even frantic) busyness doing to us?

Strengthening the Soul (1)

Last week, I was in Chicago for a three-day class at Wheaton College with Ruth Haley Barton, author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. busy.jpg

The class was great.

It was an opportunity not only to listen to Barton but to reflect on my life and relationship with God. There were wonderful times of silence, teaching, prayer and conversation. One of the blessings of the week was getting to be with the four wonderful people at my table.

Much of her material came from her book. What was incredibly helpful was the opportunity to spend time in another setting thinking my life and about my ministry.

The following are several statements that she made in class that were significant to me. (The quotes here are directly from the book.)

  • If Jesus were speaking to us today, he might also point out that when leaders lose their souls, so do the churches and organizations they lead. (p. 13)
  • These cries are gut-wrenching and consistent: there has to be more to life in leadership than many of us are experiencing. In all this listening to my own life and to the lives of others, I have become convinced that the more that we are looking for is the transformation of our souls in the presence of God. (p.14)
  • Truly, the best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. (p. 19)

I once knew a person in a church who routinely referred to the ministry of the church as “business as usual.” He spoke as if this were a good thing! Listen, business as usual is what is killing churches. In far, far too many churches, good, well meaning people are incredibly busy with church activity and yet experiencing no real life. They are simply doing what their leaders are doing. Their leaders are often good people who also are incredibly busy with church activity.

Barton is right. The best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. There is something powerful about a man or woman whose life is open before the Lord and who is experiencing real transformation into the image of Christ.

I came away from this class this week resolved to do several things:

1. I want to spend more time in solitude and silence tending to the needs of my own soul. I have just not been as attentive to these needs over the past year as I have been in previous years. I really became aware of this in this class.

2. I want to spend less time on things that just do not matter. I really enjoy this time of life. Yet, I want to spend my physical and emotional energy on things that matter. Yet, so much of the busyness of everyday life often involves doing things that just don’t matter. I find myself thinking: “Why am I doing this? How did I get in the middle of this?” So I am really giving some thought as to how I am spending my time.

(For the next few weeks, I will be posting a series each Monday entitled “Strengthening the Soul.”)


Question:

Do you sense that many people around you live with a parched soul?

What has busyness cost you?


What Story Do You Tell Yourself?

This morning I readSeth Godin’s blog and really liked what he said.

He asks a very important question:

What story do you tell yourself about yourself?

I know that marketers tell stories. We tell them to clients, prospects, bosses, suppliers, partners and voters. If the stories resonate and spread and seduce, then we succeed.

But what about the story you tell yourself?

(Read the rest of the post here.)

After reading this post, I continued to think about this. What story do I tell myself about myself? How about you? What story do you tell yourself about yourself? The stories we tell ourselves will impact what we conclude about ourselves. For instance, because of these stories some of us conclude:

  • “I can’t.”
  • “It can’t be done”
  • “I know something bad is about to happen.”
  • “I never get a break. You wouldn’t do any better if you had been through what I’ve been through”
  • “You can’t expect much from me. I am a victim.”
  • “If it wasn’t for ______, I would have done much better.”


Question:

What is your experience with this? What has been the impact of the stories that you have told yourself?

8 Questions to Ask When You Are Overwhelmed and Exhausted

I wrote this post with ministers in mind. But it really is applicable to most everyone.question.jpg

The following are some questions that have helped me in times when I have felt overwhelmed and exhausted:

1. What am I thinking about? I ask this question because I know that if I am spending a lot of time rehearsing my worries or my fears that it costs me energy. At one time in my life, I would wake up in the middle of the night and lay in bed thinking one negative thought after the other. It was like I was I was allowing each thought to have its moment on the stage of my mind. Each one would come on the stage and appeal to my anxiety and worry. Such thinking not only kept me awake at night but will drained of energy.

2. Who am I spending time with? I have to monitor just how much time I spend with negative, critical people. Too much time spent with others who are constantly griping and complaining will sure enough drain me of energy. I am not just referring to people who may be critical of something I said or did. These may be people who are voicing some of the concerns I have had about some issue. Yet, I can’t listen to (what seems like) an endless stream of negative talk because it really does impact me.

3. What am I putting into my mind? On a typical day, I talk with people (e-mail, phone call, personal conversation) about matters that are very serious. Someone has learned that they have cancer. Someone else is deeply concerned about their financial debt. Still another is wrestling with marriage issues. At the end of the day, It is easy to go home and immerse myself in the national news, which much of the time is going to be very negative.

As a result, I have to be very intentional about what I put into my mind. I can’t continue to think about sad and tragic situations all of the time. So I often make sure that I watch something funny on television. Or, I might be sure to watch a good ball game of some kind. I might read a biography, especially one that is not filled with tragedy. What I think about really does matter.

4. When do I re-create my body? I generally work out at the gym four times a week. My motivation for doing this is not my weight nor is it because I am a health nut. My motivation is rooted in the way it makes me feel when I am regularly working out versus how I feel when I do not. If I am not getting some kind of exercise, it really does impact how I feel. Not only do I feel more sluggish, I tend to have less energy and motivation particularly in the afternoons.

5. When do I rest? Some ministers get their emotional strokes by talking about how hard they work. They go on and on about what everyone has asked them to do and how busy they are. There are ministers who do not even take a day off. Very, very unwise — in my opinion. Not taking time to rest, to get away, and to recharge will eventually catch up with a person.

6. When do I empty my mind? I have learned much from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. I have learned the importance of emptying one’s mind (or doing a “Mind Sweep“. That is, taking everything that is going on in your mind and putting it on paper. Several years ago, I was in one of his workshops. One of the exercises that we did that day was to take a clean sheet of paper and write down everything that we were thinking about. I remember thinking, “This won’t take long, I am only thinking about a couple of things right now.” We took about ten minutes for this exercise. I began my list and could not believe all that I wrote down. I put down everything from “Get the tire fixed” to “Got to call Steve on the way home.” Each time that I wrote something down, I then seemed to recall one more thing that I had stored in my mind.

Allen’s point is that if we do not regularly empty our minds, then stress is the result. He says that you must have a system in place where you can empty your mind and then know that you will come back to what you have written this down and deal with them.

7. Who am I resenting? Unresolved conflict and resentments can be such energy drainers! It is amazing how much energy I can spend thinking about a person who I am frustrated with or angry with. Occasionally I need to ask myself, “How much time do I spend thinking about old resentments or things that long ago should have been forgiven.”

8.   Who am I depending on? I deliberately saved this one for last. This is one that I have to think about occasionally. Am I trying to do this ministry in my own power or in the power of the Spirit? Am I depending on myself or on God? Nothing is more exhausting than to try to do ministry via human power and human ingenuity. It will always be inadequate for the task at hand. That alone is exhausting!


Question:

Which one of these eight questions do you especially need to consider? Why?

   

Choose to Move Away From Anxiety Producers

Some people seem to specialize in passing on their anxiety to others.    worry2.jpg

Years ago, my dad had a heart attack and was admitted to Baylor Hospital in Dallas. His doctor did a coronary angioplasty on his heart, which is a procedure used to open blocked coronary (heart) arteries. The procedure greatly improves blood flow to the heart. The procedure had been done that morning. That evening, about 6 pm, a friend of his came into the hospital room. My mom and I were in the room. This friend was from their church and evidently had come by to encourage my dad.

The friend leaned up against the wall. He was talking to my dad, who looked rather weak after having had surgery that morning. The guy then said, “Oh I see you had the balloon surgery. Well I sure hope yours goes better than my brother-in-law’s did.” My dad said, “What happened to him?” The friend replied, “Oh his procedure didn’t hold. He’s DEAD!” My dad looked pale as he lay in the bed. At that point, the guy said, “Well I had better go.” He then left the room.

What a visit!

Encouragement? Not really. In fact, this friend dumped a load of anxiety in that hospital room and then walked away. Some people are like that. They have a way of leaving their anxiety behind.

  • Perhaps it is the minister who is always upset about something in the church. Yet this minister never goes to the person involved in order to deal with these issues. The minister typically goes to the office and bad mouths the church member.
  • Perhaps it is the mother who is always complaining to her best friend about her teenage daughter’s behavior. Yet, she never deals directly with this daughter.
  • Maybe it is the husband who is frustrated with his wife over her spending habits. Yet, he never deals with his wife. Instead, he constantly and anxiously talks to anyone who will listen about how little money they have.

Meanwhile, some people dump a load of their anxiety on those nearby, other people have a way of magnifying even the smallest anxiety. Perhaps you know these people. Maybe there is a discussion in a group or in a meeting. They have a way of magnifying and exaggerating the smallest anxiety, until it becomes huge. Consequently, they typically bring anxiety to a group instead of calmness.

The following has helped me with these kinds of people (those who pass on the anxiety and those who magnify it):

1. I have chosen to limit time with those who regularly want to dump their anxiety as well as those who seem to magnify and exaggerate anxiety. It just wears me out to hear someone go on and on about some person (not present in the room) and then gripe for a while about someone else. I can’t spend a lot of time with someone who has a way of blowing up the smallest anxiety into something large and overwhelming. Suppose someone makes a comment in a meeting. Later, a person who was in that meeting begins to rant and rave about how stupid the remark was. He tells the story again and again. Every time he tells the story, you can just see the anxiety in the faces of others.

I choose to limit my time with such a person. Yes, I want to love the individual and will spend some time with that person. However, I choose to not spend an extended amount of time with someone like this. When I have been around this kind of person too much, I become anxious and begin to process life through the same kind of filter as that person.

2. I have chosen to focus on managing myself. I want to bring to any group a sense of calmness and focus. For me, this means that I try to prepare myself early in the morning (See “Learning to Dodge the Anxiety Traps.“) This calmness is important in one-to-one conversations, meetings, and even in preaching. A long time preacher heard a person preach on the grace of God one evening. He said that by the time the sermon was over, he was a nervous wreck. Why? The preacher’s manner was so anxious. In fact, my friend said that he felt as if the preacher was looking for a fight. Yet, he was preaching on the grace of God.

I can’t overstate the importance of managing myself because to not do so, impacts not only myself but others as well.

Question:

Do you have someone in your life who tends to dump their anxiety? Do you know someone who magnifies their anxiety? What helps you in dealing with such people?



Book Nuggets: Leaders Who Last

“We can in fact manage ourselves, if we choose to. We cannot control others. But we can offer our point of view, challenge them, and give them room to respond.”leaders.jpb.jpg

Not long ago, I read Leaders Who Last by Margaret J. Marcuson. The book is helpful, not only for those in a formal leadership role, but for anyone who is in a church environment and trying to navigate the various relationships. The book is a fine discussion of Systems Theory as applied to a church context. However, the principles in the book are applicable to many other contexts as well.

The following are some quotes which I think are particularly meaningful:

Here is the heart of what it takes to sustain leadership. We move from the impossible — controlling others — to the merely difficult — managing ourselves. When I hear leaders begin with a question like, “How can I get them to . . . ? then I know that different questions need to be asked: “What is my part in the problem? How can I clarify what I think on this issue? How can I clearly communicate my own point of view?” We can in fact manage ourselves, if we choose to. We cannot control others. But we can offer our point of view, challenge them, and give them room to respond.” (p. 3-4)

We need a sense of self apart from the response we receive. When we are less dependent on the approval of others, we can be more effective in our ministry. (p. 6)

Learning how balance is maintained in systems, how people create triangles, and how ways of relating are passed down through the generations will help us sustain our leadership with less frustration and more clarity. (p. 6)

When leaders take a stand, people react automatically. But over time chances are most will come along if the leader calmly stays on course while nurturing relationships with the congregation. (p. 13)

An overfunctioner takes too much responsibility, while an underfunctioner does not take enough responsibility. (p. 13)

Overfunctioners are common among clergy and lay leaders. They look at underfunctioners and think, “If they would just shape up, everything would be fine around here.” (p. 14)

Leaders make a difference by the nature of their presence in the system, not by anxiously trying to fix everything and everyone. (p. 16)