18 January 2016

Christlike Breathing Room

Sometimes, I am too busy. I find myself running from one activity to another. If I am not running then I am thinking about what is coming next. Work, church, friendships, family, speaking, writing, radio, board of directors involvement, time to myself.

Oh yeah, and time with God.

Often, it seems like there is more work than week. If I am not careful to set margin, it can lead to burn out. I can find myself resenting any of a number of things...or worse, people...and I don't like that feeling. I have had to try to be intentional about setting up boundaries around my time and, though I am not always successful, I wanted to share a few thoughts for others who may struggle with the same thing.

First, I have to intentionally order my priorities. God must be first, or else nothing else works. After that: Heather, my children, close friends/family, and then others. Unfortunately, too often, my order of priority becomes imbalanced. My times with God get squeezed because of work responsibilities. Time with my children becomes a quick hello over dinner while I am off to be with or serve someone else. On occasion, this imbalance is necessary, but it will not be sustainable over the long haul.

My wife and I have spoken that life sometimes feels like we are firefighters putting out relational fires all over the place. Both of us value that God allows friendships with others where we can "go deep". We seek them out. But like fighting real fires, it can be exhausting and when those activities become too much, the energy that remains for our marriage and our children dwindles. We feel it. Our children feel it.

Keeping this balance is difficult for a few reasons. For example, some needs feel more pressing than others. Frantic phone calls often supersede a child who needs lap time. There is a certain pride in feeling needed by others. It is also difficult to say no to people because I do not want to disappoint them. I once asked Larry Crabb about how to kindly say no to people who ask for time with me. It made me feel better that he also struggles with it. He has developed the skill of saying:"yes, I would love that", "I simply do not have time" or "I sure would like to, but now is not a good time." It is hard to figure out that balance.

Second, if I tell someone that I do not have time to meet with them, or if I do not meet as often as they would like to, I want them to know that it is not a rejection of them, though for many people it may feel that way. I suppose this comes back to the issue of priority. I know men who commit to meeting with other men several nights a week to fellowship, or play sports, or pray together, leaving their wives and children alone. Though all of those may be good activities, it can lead to imbalance in priorities. I have to intentionally guard against that.

Third, when I am acting from wisdom, I make decisions together with my wife. She has a better pulse on my commitments and emotional energy than anyone, including me. I need her to speak into my schedule. I have two men I have breakfast with once a week who also speak into my priorities. Too often, I am not smart enough to make those decisions by myself--my pride and my fear of disappointing others gets in the way.

Fourth, it is essential for me to keep sacred set aside times.  When I started my master's degree, a mentor and a friend told me that I would be wise to zealously
guard a day a week when I didn't work on school.  That served my family well through many years of graduate school. I accomplish that now by waking up early every morning and spending time with God: reading, writing, and praying. I also try to protect time each week when I am with my family and not "with" others. In other words, I don't answer my phone. I avoid chatting and texting. We aren't doing anything special, just living in the same space. An area that I want to grow in is to set aside more extended times each year when I can get away for a silent retreat, away from the worldly cacophony in which we live.

I think my need for margin in a busy world is one of the reasons I love Mark's gospel.  If you read Mark, you will discover the contrasting themes of immediacy and Jesus seeking to be alone with the Father. Perhaps my favorite passage is in the first chapter. Beginning at verse 32, it reads "That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. and the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various disease, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is looking for you" (Mark 1:32-37). I think part of the reason God gave us Mark's gospel is to show us how Jesus faced time pressures and how he handled them, which wasn't by always being available to everyone.

Every one of us, whether intensely introverted, or extremely extroverted, or somewhere else on the spectrum, must be intentional about setting margin, establishing priorities, and learning to say no.

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