Escape from a Hurried Life

 

How to Escape from a Hurried Life

A friend and I talked one day about the perils of a hurried life and how hazardous it is to our souls. The more we considered how much a hurried life turns our souls into raisins and preps us to give beef jerky instead of steak to the people we love, the more we agreed, a hurried life is actually a toxic life.

Hurried is different than busy or demanding. You can carry lots of responsibility without being hurried. Hurried is: rushed, distracted, frantic, uncreative, non-present. In fact, hurried strikes me as the enemy of being fully present. It is a seductress that lures us into working alone and frantically faster. It is that state of anxiety where the next 4-5 things on your to-do list preoccupy your thoughts and make it hard to stay focused on the people or tasks of the moment.

The key to living in a different way is not primarily dictated by the quantity of things on your plate, but by how you live with that plate. Of course, it just might be that you have too much on your plate. If so, you’ll have to do some surgical downsizing.

If you are driven and compulsive and have your identity all wrapped up in your work, you probably have tougher issues that I can help with in this post. There are no ego strokes to be gained by living as a harried lunatic. However, I can tell you that, the leader who lives an unhurried and unharried life offers a beacon of hope to everyone who is buried by the endless demands of a 24/7 world.

If you are open to new ideas that might inject breathing space — the influx of fresh air — into your daily workload, I have four keys to help you get started.

#1 KEY = Linger in the Seams

The seams are those moments between appointments, that short breather right after putting one task to bed, the gap created by someone who is late, or the cup of coffee before opening your computer at the beginning of the day.

If you pay attention to them, you will find you have lots of little seams in the ebb and flow of your day. You have lots of little cracks in your day, just stop and linger in them. Embrace the shift without rushing forward. Take a walk. Don’t rush into the next thing. Take a moment to mentally and emotionally put to bed whatever you just finished doing. Before plowing forward, stop and reflect, “what matters most in the appointment or project that comes next?” And, while you are at it, pray for the person or project you are stepping away from as well as the one you are about to move into. The world will wait.

#2 KEY = Practice Being Fully Present with People

This is not hard. Every time you are with someone, adopt the posture of extreme curiosity. Ask them questions. See if you can discover something new to learn. Hold your tongue from delivering that witty repartee and instead seek to ferret out the complexities of emotions they face.

Being fully present with people will demolish the feeling of “another appointment” and take you into a life filled with meaningful relationships.

#3 KEY = Set Aside Time for Follow Up

It seems that every appointment or meeting I have requires some level of follow-up work afterward. It might just be entering a few notes into my computer for future reference. Or, it might be specific assignments that came during the course of the meeting. When I forget about this reality and don’t plan time to address the follow-up work that happens, I find that it jambs up my schedule and contributes to a feeling of hurriedness–too much work, too little time.

The solution is rather simple. When entering an appointment into my calendar, I simultaneously enter another block of time (usually 50% as long as the initial appointment) during which I can get the follow-up work completed. Once in a while I need longer than anticipated, but I am still way ahead of the game with much less schedule stress.

#4 KEY = Say NO to Something Everyday

I actually think that learning to say no is a leadership muscle that needs regular exercise in order to stay in shape. Try it. Say no to one request every day. Say no to an urgent “need” of someone who has a wonderful plan for your life. Say no to that temptation to squeeze in one more thing before wrapping things up for the day. Say no to a request to do something out of obligation that you honestly wouldn’t find much fun.

This tip may sound crazy or even selfish, but there is something powerful about exercising this muscle everyday. Try it. You have plenty of opportunities to say no to things you should never have said yes to. As you do, you will tangibly remind yourself that you are not a victim. Your life and your schedule is populated by your choices.

 

These are only four practices, I’d bet you have others.
What have you tried that actually works?
Make a comment, extend the conversation.

Besides, today is Memorial Day. Do something besides work.

The End of Life: Sacred and Awful

Life is a sacred gift.
But, some seasons are more sacred than others.

Two years ago, my Mother lived on her own, in her own house, driving her own car. Two weeks ago, she entered hospice care.

My Mom, Fran, with her dog, Rigby. (9/25)
My Mom, Fran, with her dog, Rigby. (9/25)

This is my fourth lap with the hospice-farewell process: my father, my father-in law, and my Uncle. And I have decided that the best words to describe the experience of this season in life are sacred and awful.

To stand at the end of life with someone you love and recall the stories of their life is a sacred place. To reflect on their moments of courage and vitality is to embrace the depth of who they were. To look ahead with them to the promise of eternity, to the place where pain and suffering evaporate in the presence of Jesus is to touch what is truly holy.

However, the moments that litter the pathway of this journey through the breakdown of the human body can be gut-wrenchingly awful. Our bodies were not created for death. We were created for life. Death entered the scene as part of the fall—the curse of Adam and all of us who’ve continued in his rebellious footsteps. We were never intended to experience dementia, debilitating loss of strength, or the demise of any other bodily function. We weren’t designed to feed our parents when they can’t feed themselves.

Watching my Mom wilt into a smaller and smaller version of who she used to be, I have to remind myself that she lived 87 years of healthy independence. Until two years ago, she was able to live in her own house, drive her own car, and engage in the activities she enjoyed. But, things have changed. I now need to choose to embrace the sacred transition that is taking place in right front of my eyes—a transition from this life into the next. I have to start saying goodbye while she is still here.

I am not a fan of those endless (and expensive) attempts to squeeze another short delay of the inevitable for a body that is saying, “I have had enough.” Desperate attempts to postpone death only serve to increase everyone’s sorrow and suffering.

I think we need to learn to acknowledge that it is right and good and holy to arrive at end of this life and declare “it is finished.” It is a holy thing to say like David, “I have completed God’s purpose in my own generation.” (Acts 13.36) We need to remember and declare God’s perspective: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” (Ps 116.15)

We don’t know how long my Mom has nor how things will play out at the end. Last week was a good week. The past couple days have been bad days. But, I do know that as I enter another farewell season, I choose to embrace it as a sacred moment, awful at points, but holy and good and right. It is a time to say goodbye. It is a time to bless her transition into the next life as it becomes ever closer.

 

When you have the chance to walk the same road with the people you love, I invite you to embrace this holy tension with me.

 

Your thoughts?
Your experience?

 

The Slow Admission — We’re Getting Older

Tiffany and Ryan help Margaret celebrate her birthday.
Tiffany and Ryan help Margaret celebrate her birthday.

My wife and I were born in 1955 at the peak of the Baby Boom generation. It was the year Rock and Roll went viral, Elvis Presley was king, Disneyland opened, they cured polio, and Rosa Parks took that inimitable seat in the front of the bus. It was a great year to be born and has been a great ride.

We were part of that forever young generation. For a while we said you should never trust anyone over 30. But that posture becomes a little awkward when you turn 30. So, as all of us aged, we started redefining what it meant to be young. 30 became the new 20, 40 became the new 30. We even tried to declare 50 as the new 30, but no one bought it. We fought to maintain the illusion that we were still young and hip and immortal. Even now as conversations about retirement are frequent among our friends, we are trying to recast the image of what that will mean.

So as Margaret and I turn sixty this year, although it sounds wrong and feels quite surreal, I find myself ready to take small steps in telling myself the truth. Although, I still feel like I am hip thirty-something, I am starting to embrace the little pieces of reality that interrupt my pleasant illusions.

I am ready to admit:

  • The idea of staying up all night sounds like torture. Shoot, staying up past midnight doesn’t sound fun. Why would we even want to try?
  • Going out for late-night pizza with friends at 11pm sounds like a dumb idea, unless I want a night of acid-reflux and bad sleep.
  • Going to bed before 10 sounds like a great idea most days.
  • Even basic exercise requires warming up. I can’t just pick up and do something strenuous without preparation unless I want to pay for it for a week.
  • I love being with my grandson, but the idea of parenting a young child is exhausting.
  • Sometimes I forget where I put things I was using just 3 minutes ago.
  • I hate it when someone in the store calls me “sir.”
  • My kids are the age I would like to think that I am. Which clearly means, I am not.

So, as surreal as it is to be turning sixty, it’s time to embrace reality for all that it holds. For all those of my generation who have spent most of the past three decades pretending we weren’t getting older, it’s time to own it. 60 is the new sixty.

But, sixty is not a bad thing. This is the decade of legacy. A decade for giving away the important lessons and insights to the amazing leaders who follow behind us. It is a decade that is bright and full of promise. Barring an unforeseen interruption, we have hopes and dreams and plans and adventures that stretch out way down the road for us. And, maybe, we have just enough wisdom to enjoy each day and all that it brings as it happens.

Leaders Craft Environments Intentionally

Have you ever seriously thought about the fact that the way you decorate or arrange a space changes what it feels like to work or meet in that environment. Right now, offices everywhere are decorated with some form of holiday cheer. Unless you are Scrooge himself, you like it and are probably more productive. The nature of the environment changes what happens inside of it. Consider two vastly different experiences I had recently.

Two weeks ago I attended a church service in a room that was attractively staged with fabric, art, and candles–lots of them. The music was acoustic–simple, with an interesting blend of guitar, beat box, djembe, and the occasional soft tambourine. The congregation sat in a circle of chairs a couple rows deep so they might all see one another.

Kyliah
View of Church #2
(And of my niece, Kyliah, who is truly amazing!)

Then a week ago I attended a second church which could not have been more different from the first. The room where we met was a plain rectangular box with nothing on the walls, but wine colored paint. The floor was black painted concrete. There was no art. No texture. Nothing to invite imagination or create warmth. The rows of chairs were lined up in straight rows facing one of the large blank walls.  “Up front” all you saw was two black metal music stands and a pull down screen. The guitar player/vocalist/worship leader stood at one stand and after a few announcements, the pastor of the day stood at the other. The environment was sterile and no surprise, the response and engagement of the congregation felt exactly the same.

Two churches couldn’t be more different. Both churches were from the same denomination, the same city. Both are smaller congregations, so the difference wasn’t size. Interestingly, even though the sermon at the second church service was more engaging and provocative, I wouldn’t go back there. I would easily go back to the first church.

In the same way that non-verbal cues are so important to communication, crafting the texture and ethos of the environment where you meet or work or worship or think or create will shape everything that happens there, too. Think about your own experiences. The environment where things happen:

    • Sets expectations. As soon as people walk into a room, the start making judgements about what is about to take place.
    • Communicates values. What matters most to you and what values govern the meeting/ training/ or event people are about to participate in? How the room is set up will communicate those values.
    • Creates an invitation. What you do with the space you have invites people to participate in certain ways. Church #1 invited me into a sacred conversation together with the rest of the congregation. Church #2 invited me sit, listen, put my creative self on hold, and participate if I wanted without any engagement wit others. And, these invitations were clear as soon as I walked into the room.

So ask yourself:

    • What do I want to invite people into?
    • How do I want them to participate?
    • What forms of art, color, lighting, texture, plants, or sound could create an environment that transports people out of whatever preoccupied them beforehand and into a new space that fosters the experience and participation you long for?
    • How could you arrange the seating of participants to encourage maximum contribution?  Never settle for how others left the room before you got there, move things around until it feels right.

 

You don’t have to hold back until you can make permanent changes, either. In the same way a good realtor “stages” a house to show well–bring in what ever you can to stage the room where you will meet, work, etc.

 

What works for you?  What secrets have you learned about creating an environment that invites people into a more powerful experience? Make a comment, share the love.

gary-signature

Sabbaticals — More than a Vacation

[Sabbaticals part two]

 

A couple months ago, I wrote a piece about the importance of the on-ramp and off-ramp to a great sabbatical. Since that time I have had multiple conversations with leaders who are planning to take one. The problem is, while something inside us senses the value of a break like this, knowing what to do with that time is something that eludes us.

beach vacation

Just a couple weeks ago a long time friend said, “Hey I am starting my sabbatical in a couple weeks, what should I do? I’ve never done one of these things.” As a matter of fact, right now I know of five close friends who are in the early stages of a sabbatical. So, for the four of you, and anyone else who might be interested, I offer my best thinking and observation about what makes for a truly life-giving sabbatical.

First of all, I believe we need to own the fact that a sabbatical is about our souls. Not in some hyper-nuanced dichotomistic or trichotomistic understanding, but in the sense that our soul is that essential core of who we are. It is the essence of who we really are that shows up in but is distinct from all we do. And, the reason why this matters is because it is at this level that we can run dry in the midst of the demand and drivenness of work. I want to propose that a life-giving sabbatical is one that blows fresh wind into the sails of our souls.

I want to rally against the notion—and common practice—that a sabbatical is just a different form of work under a different name. I have heard so many stories of people who took a sabbatical to write their dissertation, to write a book, to research a “this” or to do a “that.” I am sorry, but that is not a Sabbath, it is substituting a new kind of work for the old kind. Sabbatical as a word comes straight from the concept of Sabbath for a reason. Sabbath is a day to cease from our labors. A Sabbath year for Israel was just the same, a year where they didn’t work the fields. God rested on the seventh day—he ceased the work of creation and took a day to enjoy all he had made. At the same time, a sabbath rest is more than a responsibility free vacation. It should be active and creative, not weeks on end parked in an over-stuffed chair with a remote control in one hand and a cold beverage in another.

I want to suggest that building a life-giving sabbatical calls for investing in your soul through all four-dimensions of a holistic life: Spiritual, Social, Intellectual, and Physical. Specifically, I mean that you should intentionally plan to take new ground, to experiment, and to explore new endeavors in all four areas. In each one do some things that have not been part of your normal routine.

  • Spiritually: There are so many good options, consider something new. Pursue an extended study in the Scriptures of a character or section that you have long wanted to study; spend some on a silent retreat or two; memorize a few key Psalms and meditate on them; participate in ministry alongside people you normally don’t; and expand your prayer life with new approaches and new levels of quantity.
  • Socially: Ask yourself, which relationships have gone wanting recently? Carve out time for them. Invite the people of your life to pour into your life. Block extended time for your wife and your children; time to play, dream, laugh, even to serve them.
  • Intellectually: Read, but not just in the same veins that you always read. Pick up an author you have not spent time with. Study in an area that you have taken for granted. Pursue an extended theme and read multiple authors, books, and perspectives on it.
  • Physically: Get out and get physically engaged in your favorite sport. Take up a new one. Stretch yourself. Take up a new hobby. Go to the gym. Get a personal trainer. You don’t have to sign on to a new way of life for the rest of your life. It is a sabbatical and a time to experiment.

While you are exploring all these things, let me suggest that within them you also look for ways to involve the other side of your brain. If you are primarily left-brained (data, facts, logic, etc.) then experiment with something that nurtures your right-brain (paint, draw, pull out that old musical instrument, landscape your yard, etc.) If you are already right-brained, then experiment with approaches that fuel your left-brain (memorize scripture, read critical thinkers, set up new personal regimens that you stick with for a period of time.)

Sure, there may be a theme or focus to your sabbatical; I think that would be outstanding. But the best way I know to keep that well-intentioned focus from becoming a dragon that turns your sabbatical into another kind of work project is to put equal energy into shoring up and exploring afresh the kinds of things that breathe life into your soul. While you are at it, pay attention to what is life-giving and what is not. Stop doing the things that aren’t and do more of the things that are.

And, when you are near the end of your sabbatical, go away for a retreat of silence and solitude where you focus on capturing everything you discovered. (I can’t imagine something less that three days/two nights. A week would be better.)

You see, in the normal course of life, we get lost in the demands of daily responsibilities. We learn to operate out of survival and out of duty, and slowly our soul shrivels. A sabbatical is a chance to rediscover what gives you life and specifically, what gives you life now at this stage of your life.

During this final personal retreat write yourself a summary of you “Sabbatical Lessons.” In it tell yourself:

– What was life-giving?
– What wasn’t?
– What did you hear from God?
– Does anything you discovered need to become a part of your personal new normal as you return to regular life? (New rhythms, new spiritual practices, new hobbies?) Without this last question, you risk your sabbatical becoming merely a one-off experience.

It’s your turn.

Give it some thought. If you have taken a sabbatical, how does this resonate with your experience? What other advice would you give?

 

{Sam, Dave, Bob, Hugh, Todd… this post was for you.}

SABBATICAL ON-RAMPS AND OFF-RAMPS

One of the keys to a successful sabbatical has nothing to do with what you do on your sabbatical itself, but everything to do with how you transition into and out of it.

For twenty years I have watched the best practices of my peers as they have taken sabbaticals, (primarily pastors and leaders of other ministry organizations.) It is time to start sharing some of my observations and insights. I believe a sabbatical, can be a life-giving experience and it is something I whole-heartedly recommend. However, a sabbatical is not automatically helpful.

My boss, the President of CRM, will be starting a sabbatical in a couple months and over lunch earlier this week, I shared the principle for this first of my sabbatical installments: the on-ramp and off-ramp of your sabbatical shapes your entire sabbatical.

a freeway on-ramp at night.

When you are driving down the freeway and need to exit, the off-ramp is really long—in some cases a 1/2 mile or more. In fact, you start slowing down in the exit lane even though you are still on the freeway. An on-ramp works the same way in reverse. It simply takes a long distance to decelerate and accelerate without danger. Normal life is like the speed, intensity, and alertness demanded of the freeway. A sabbatical is more like the pace of residential traffic. Moving from one to the other without some kind of transition is literally impossible.

Over and over again, I’ve heard leaders who did not understand this principle talk about the frustrating start to their sabbatical. People consistenly tell me that it took a month to slow down and acclimate to a different speed. Those early weeks become the first place where the life-giving potential of a sabbatical is at risk. During this decelerating phase, people often pick up a major project to occupy their attentions simply substituting one type of work for another, even though they call it a sabbatical.

The on-ramp back to regular life is a similar at-risk phase. In the same way you cannot simply pullout into traffic that is driving 70mph, you cannot step from sabbatical speed into the full rigors of normal life and leadership without a transition—unless you want to strip all your internal gears. When leaders step back into their normal roles without an appropriate re-entry plan, they risk losing the new perspectives, new rhythms, and soul-nurturing patterns that were discovered during their sabbatical.

You see, sabbatical and sabbath come from the same root. I would argue that the genius of a sabbatical is that it affords a leader the chance to nurture their soul in a fresh way and a chance to re-calibrate the way they manage the life-giving interrelated rhythms of life-work-play.

So, lets talk specifics and make it personal.

THE OFF-RAMP:

Expect that your “off-ramp” will take about 4 weeks to fully shift gears and settle into life at a different speed. To pull this off, I suggest you start slowing down 2 weeks before it officially starts—aka. the exit lane before the off-ramp. These weeks allow for initiating and fine-tuning the systems and personnel shifts that will cover your responsibilities while you are off the clock. During this time, your calendar and to-do list need to be cleaned out. At all cost, the weeks preceding your sabbatical must not be filled with 16 hour days “preparing” to be gone! When your official “start day” arrives, the second half of your transition begins. Consider going away for a few days of retreat in solitude and if possible, take a some type of “vacation” to help formalize your disconnect from regular responsibilities.

THE ON-RAMP:

Think about the on-ramp back to normal life as a mirrored-image of the off-ramp. I personally suggest two major practices for this re-entry.

1. A Personal Retreat: During the last couple weeks of a sabbatical, get away alone on a personal retreat where you can reflect on and capture the lessons you learned over your sabbatical. Ask yourself, What life-giving rhythms were learned that need to carry over into the next chapter of life? What insights about yourself need to infect the way you carry out your daily life and work going forward? What priorities emerged for the next chapter of your life?

2. Enter back into your regular role as a spectator for two weeks. Observe, catch up, listen to people, and attend to the taking up the baton again carefully. DO NOT plan a major “re-entry” event that will require planning and attention from you during the final weeks of your sabbatical. Do so and it will rob you of good closure to your sabbatical. One way or another, other people have been carrying the ball while you were gone, they will help you re-enter if you let them. The on-ramp is about walking alongside, listening to, catching up with, and getting reacquainted with all that is in motion. Life does not remain status quo, so, some things will have changed while you were out of the loop. A good re-entry plan provides the opportunity to leverage the potential of all that was learned on both sides of your sabbatical experience. It will give you and the work you lead the chance of a new and stronger next chapter.

What are your sabbatical experiences? If you have taken one, what insights can you add to these thoughts about the transitions in and out of the sacred space called a Sabbatical?

Time is Something We Spend–like it or not!

I havent decided if this insight is actually helpful or merely frightening. But quite literally time is something we spend.

hourglassWe can’t save it. We can’t borrow it. We can’t slow it down or speed it up. However, we can invest it—not in the usual sense of an investment that grows to become more—so that it produces a larger return.

Time comes to us in constant increments every day. Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day how we choose how will spend it. Time passes through our fingers fleetingly, pausing just long enough for us to decide what we will do with it. I guess we can avoid choosing and let let others dictate life for us, but even that is our choice. And, that’s the thing. We spend time by the choices we make. Frighteningly, we only get one shot and once spent, it’s gone.

If you know me, you will know that I am constantly thinking about the way I live my life. I want to live my life on purpose, with focus and intentionality. I even have this little personal tool I created that I review and tweak every year. I call it “My Pirates Code,” and it defines my best understanding of how to manage my time and energy in light of the way I am wired and the responsibilities I am responsible for. But the notion of time as something I spend is a new twist.

Margaret, my wife, gets credit for naming this insight. On our anniversary a few weeks ago, we were reviewing the last year of our marriage and talking about the lessons we learned. The depth of what it means for time to be something we spend is one of those lessons that was big for us last year. Sure, it comes from reconizing that we are getting older, but, there is more to it. Over the past couple years we have lost close friends die too early. We have seen debilitating illness change the trajectory of others. And tragic accidents have interrupted life for other families we love.

None of us know what is coming down the road in near future. We only know that today we get to choose how we will spend the time we have been given.

So, I have been thinking, what criteria might help me make the right choices for how I spend this elusive commodity? I don’t have many answers, but I have identified three questions I want to continuously ask myself.

1.) If I do this, will it make a difference in the people, projects, or priorities that are profoundly important to me?

2.) Is this something that is life-giving for me?

3.) If I only had one year to live, is this something I would want to spend my time on?

So, how are you spending your time these days? If you read this, you just spent a couple of your minutes thinking about the importance of the way you spend time. So, what adjustments do you need to make?

Have you identified other questions or criteria that help you spend time well and live with intentionality? What other insights do you have for the rest of us that might help us steward the most significant commodity of life?

Mentoring Made Simple

Margaret was ten years old when a woman in her 30’s decided to start investing herself in young girls. There was no magic curriculum, no overly-structured strategy, just an authentic woman who loved Jesus and chose to love the girl that would one day become my wife.

Two weeks ago Margaret and I attended the 80th birthday party for that mentor. We would not have missed it for the world. Her children and grandchildren made her proud and the dozens of guests made it a success. But what struck me was the impact of Lenita’s life expressed through so many people to whom she had given herself. Margaret was not the only one. A handful of no longer young girls were present to honor the woman who helped them learn to be good mothers and deeper lovers of Jesus because Lenita chose to invest in them.

Margaret and Lenita on her 80th

When we walked up to the house, I watched Margaret sign into the guestbook. “Dear Lenita, you are my longest standing friend.”

It’s funny. Margaret didn’t write about the structure of their mentoring relationship, or the books they studied, or anything remotely complicated. What matters most is the depth and authenticity and consistency of Lenita’s friendship.

You see, I find that we get all twisted up over the notions of mentoring because of some funky ideas that mentoring is about structure or curriculum or Yoda-Like super-wisdom. In reality mentoring is about sharing your life, your experiences, and your perspective when needed. It is more about walking together over the long haul then solving a urgent problem in a perfect way.

Yes, there are multiple ways for mentoring relationships to work well. J. Robert Clinton and Paul Stanley did an excellent job looking at nine different types of mentoring relationships in their book, *Connecting*. However, the vast majority of mentoring is as simple as a relationship between one person who chooses to make his or her life available and another person who admits they have a need.

I like to keep it simple. I am responsible for my own mentoring. If I have something to offer, it is my responsibility to offer it. If I have a need, it is my responsibility to look for someone to help me. I don’t expect anyone to read my mind, I own responsibility for the mentoring I need.

So, let’s cut through the red tape. Who are you pouring your life into? What do you have to offer and who do you know that might need it? What are the areas of personal development you need to work on? Pick up the phone. Schedule a coffee. Do whatever it takes to get off the dime. Start asking questions and start sharing your life. Perhaps one day at your 80th birthday you’ll have someone sign your guestbook whose life was changed forever.

As the husband of a woman who’s life was marked forever, thank you Lenita.

 

 

Join the Conversation:

Your Thoughts? Your Mentoring Experiences?

 

The Least of These

Leaders are wired and trained to look for highly leveraged people and opportunities. We think about influence, change, courage, and about mobilizing the people who can help make things happen.

So, what about people who have nothing strategic to give back? What about the people Jesus identified as the least of these?

With my Uncle after a burger togetherAbout six years ago I became the person who looks after my Uncle. At first, it meant simply making sure his bills were paid and his medicines were in order. Then it meant taking him to Dr. appointments, cleaning out his refrigerator, and hiring in home help. Eventually he required residential care and the sale of his home. Lately, waves of dementia has him believing illusions of reality and becoming irritated at everyone–including me.

His needs are rarely convenient and being with him is never fun. My Uncle is someone like those Jesus described as the least of these. He can’t drive. He can’t hear. He has no hobbies and no real interests of any kind. He has no friends, no one who would attend his funeral. In short, there are no strokes to be gained or benefits to be earned as a result of caring for him. But, it is the right thing to do. He has no one else.

However, I have to be honest, lots of times my attitude stinks. I  am not writing this post with a dynamic climax at the end. It is simply that caring for my Uncle makes me think about a lot of things differently. While I spend most of my life working with leaders to help them shape the churches and organizations they lead, I understand in new ways that leadership is about much more than what you do in public.

Jesus said, that caring for “the least of these,” literally equals caring for him. He did not say it is “like or similar” to caring for him, but actually doing it for him. Wow. I find that so hard to believe. When I am with my Uncle, I see the face of my Uncle, I don’t see the face of Jesus. There is no glamour in taking him out to lunch and watching him eat. Can it really mean that serving someone  like him–where there is no quid pro quo, no strokes or favors to be returned–is literally an act of compassion received by Jesus?

Take a good look at Matthew 25:37-46. It will rock your world. “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers you did for me.”  … the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, those without clothes, the sick, the imprisoned.

 

I wonder, do you have someone who is the “least of these” in your sphere of influence? Is there anyone you avoid because there is nothing in it for you?

What have you learned about what Jesus meant when he spoke about serving the least of these?

My Writing Process

I had a breakthrough experience back in January. I was on a two week writing-solitude retreat, when I woke up one morning with crystal-clear insight regarding when, how, and why I get stuck when I am writing. It came in the form of the process I personally need to follow. I can’t say that these thoughts are rocket-science and I can’t claim that this is how everyone should do things. I just know that there is a sequence I need to follow and when I don’t I get jammed up–even when I am onto something that excites me.

So, in that spirit, here is my NOTE TO SELF:

Whether I’m writing a blog post, an article, a book, or sermon… these are the steps I must follow!
writing process

 

IF I AM STUCK, it is likely for one of three reasons.

#1 I am trying to write before doing the work of steps 2 & 3!

(It is classic for me to be inspired by the idea and then start writing without a roadmap—bad idea.)

#2 I am trying to edit as I write.

(Yeah, I know this is a classic mistake. But I am a master at it.)

#3 I lost my bearings because I have just been working on the micro level of words too long and need to regain some altitude and get back up to big idea level.

SOLUTION: WHEN STUCK:  GET OUTSIDE THE BOX

Step away from the computer before someone gets hurt!

Creativity and macro-level thinking happen best for me away from the computer. With pen and paper, brainstorming with post-it notes, etc.  Something about the little box of a screen kills my creative thought process.

Don’t know if this is helpful to you, but it has been huge for me. If you communicate with words very often, I dare you to figure out what your personal creative process looks like.