Archives For 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.

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?

 

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.

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.

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A sabbatical is not just a different form of work under a different name. It is all about the health of our soul. Over time, we can run dry in the midst of the demand and drivenness of work, but a well planned sabbatical should be a life-giving experience that blows fresh wind into the sails of our souls.

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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 and worst practices of my peers as they have taken sabbaticals, (primarily pastors and leaders of other ministry organizations.) 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.

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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.

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Mentoring Made Simple

Gary Mayes —  December 10, 2012 — 4 Comments

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.

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The Least of These

Gary Mayes —  October 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

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?

Can it really mean that serving “one of the least of these”–where there is no quid pro quo, no strokes or favors to be returned–is literally an act of compassion received by Jesus?

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My Writing Process

Gary Mayes —  March 17, 2012 — 2 Comments

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 in 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, a chapter, a book, or sermon… these are the steps I need to follow!

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