Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #2: Ask, what can I not do today that I could do if I worked at it for five years?

Over the years, I have found myself struggling and not able to move forward. After reflection and prayer, I have come to certain principles that helped me keep going in the midst of leading a congregation, raising seven kids, earning three degrees, trying to be involved in the community, and trying to make my mark on the world. Here are some of the principles that I have found to keep me sane and productive in an insane world.

Principle # 1: Ask, what can you not do today that you could do if you worked at it for five years?

“I wish I would have learned to play the piano when I was young.” That’s a statement I’ve heard from many people over the years.

My question is, why don’t you learn now? Probably for the same reason you didn’t when you were a kid. It’s a lot of work, and there’s other things that you’d rather do that give you more pleasure right now.

This is certainly not to say that it can’t happen. I have seen innumerable people grow, learn, and change in big ways.

I also believe in the grace of God. Change is not simply up to us. God is not just letting the world go to hell in a hand-basket. The God of the Exodus and the Resurrection still intervenes to liberate people from darkness and bring them into glorious light.

Sometimes change happens in a flash of insight. Sometimes people just walk away from destructive pathologies and never return. But usually, change is hard and time-consuming, though worth it.

Our body, brains, and relationships work hard for equilibrium. Busting out of that equilibrium will result in a thousand forces working to pull you back.

Change of our character is like learning to play an instrument. It is hard, and it takes time. But if you can work at it, it is a really good thing that can provide you with tremendous meaning and enjoyment.

How People Change
So, what can get you up and sailing out of the doldrums? I think there are really only two things apart from a miracle. Continue reading “Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #2: Ask, what can I not do today that I could do if I worked at it for five years?”

Leading from Vision Rather Than Reaction

Leadership by Reaction
And now, Geometry. That was the new subject in my friend’s sixth grade class. His teacher, Mrs. Smith, walked slowly through the class. She stopped behind my friend and asked a geometry question, “What do you call two points on a line?”

Like myself and many of you, he responded, “I don’t know.”

Whack!!! Mrs. Smith took the paddle that she carried around with her and whacked him in the head with it.

Now did he know? Of course not. All he knew at that point was that he did not like Geometry or Mrs. Smith.

Mrs. Smith’s method of leadership is ludicrous, but that’s often how we try to lead. People aren’t doing what we want them to and then, whack! We respond in a way that demands people change immediately. We react by by attacking, withdrawing, or complaining. It is leadership by reaction.

When we lead by reaction, our leadership helps people move forward with about as much efficacy as Mrs. Smith’s whack on the back of the head moved my friend to new knowledge. It’s good to want people to be in a better place, but leadership by reaction is often not based on thought or reality.

Everybody has people or communities that they want to see in a better place. The trouble is that so often we pursue it by simply reacting.

Is there a better way? Absolutely there is.

The Alternative: Leadership from Vision
It’s called leadership from vision. It begins with a vision of where people could and should be. This type of leader then chooses the path that will be the best route to help people get where they need to be. Then, the leader helps people walk that path through teaching, examples, steps, and encouragement.

Take the story of Mike Lanza. Lanza remembered kids playing outside together when he was young, and he thought this was a better place for kids to be than what he saw around him. Like many of us, he was concerned about the amount of time kids spent in front of screens. Continue reading “Leading from Vision Rather Than Reaction”

The Goal of Counseling: What Is Our Vision for the People We Talk to?

Why do people go to counseling? It is because they see something in their life or the life of others that is not what it is supposed to be. They are depressed. They can’t find a job. Their financial situation is grim. Their marriage is falling apart. They are bitter. They can’t move forward from loss. Their children are misbehaving. Their work is going badly.

All these reasons presuppose a certain vision of life. This vision exists in the mind of the counselor and the counselee. If the counselee had no goal, then they wouldn’t go to counseling. If the counselor believed people were fine the way they were, then she wouldn’t try to help them.

The question is, what is that vision? How clear is it in our minds?

For many, it is simply the vision of what we might call common or normal life. This is life where you feel OK, make a reasonable amount of money, get along reasonably well with your family, do fine in your job or school, and don’t get into big trouble.

When one of these things are disrupted, people can really start to struggle. This is what leads people to seek counseling. They seek help with these problems so that they can get back to normal life. Often, when that goal is met, counseling comes to an end.

But what if the goal of counseling is not simply the common life? Then, this will have an effect on counseling from the beginning. What if counseling has a bigger vision for life than just getting along reasonably well? Continue reading “The Goal of Counseling: What Is Our Vision for the People We Talk to?”

5 Things You Can Do to Help You Start Again

In life, you will have times where you have to start again. You have to leave college and start a job, you go to a new school, you lose a friend, or you move to a new place.

Some new starts are harder than others. Three of the hardest are a loved one’s death, the empty nest, and retirement. When someone close to you dies, especially a spouse, almost everything in your life is different. They were a part of everything you did. This is similar to the empty nest. For women especially, you may have built your life around nurturing your children. That shaped each day. Now, every single day is radically different than it was before. For men, the biggest change is often retirement. You found status and meaning in your work. It structured your whole life. Now, you have to fill large chunks of time that work previously occupied. These are all huge changes!

How do we start again when our life changes so dramatically? How do we move forward when we didn’t want things to change?

There are no easy answers to this question. Adjusting mentally to new places and situations takes time, and it is not easy. Each person has to follow their own path. It’s very hard to know the exact pattern that things will follow when you move forward.

That said, I think there are some things that we can do that will help us start again. Here are five.

1. Take time to say good-bye. Our lives are so busy that sometimes we forget the need to mentally say good-bye to a past way of life. Funerals are one way we do this, but often we rush through funerals. Ancient people would take extended time to mourn a loss or mark a transition. When it comes to the human soul, fast is not necessarily efficient.

2. Be patient waiting for the new start. Even after we’ve said good-bye to the old way of life, we don’t immediately embrace the new or even see the new pattern of life. We may have to wait a long time before we get a vision for a new stage of life.

For me, I saw this happen when I turned 40. I realized that the vision for life I had had from my youth was now complete. I had accomplished everything I had envisioned: wife, stable job and finances, education, kids, etc. I started to ask, what now? A year and a half later, I’m just now beginning to get a vision for something bigger for the next stage of my life.

3. Have hope that a new beginning will come. People do adjust to new situations. It takes time, but it happens. For Christians, we have all sorts of resources from the God of hope (Rom. 15:13). If there is a passage of Scripture that particularly awakens hope within you, cling to it and let it seep down deep in your soul. Here are a few that have particularly helped me:

  • I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you (John 15:16).
  • For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
  • Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).

4. Ask: what do I really want to do and be? Most of us have rarely asked this question. In addition, it may be too hard ask this question in the midst of the pain of saying good-bye. When our head clears a bit, it’s a good time to ask it. I would also suggest that our transition will be easier if we ask these questions envisioning questions before we get to the transition. Here’s a few other ways to ask it:

  • What would I do at home if I had a completely free week without any obligation to take care of others or do a job?
  • If I could retire today, what would I do with my time?
  • What could my life be in 5 years if I worked at it a little bit every day?

5. Ask: what are my current opportunities? Here we can start very small. Who are the people we can reach out to? Who are friends we haven’t talked to in a little while? Does our garage need cleaning? Can we pick up a guitar and start playing it? As we start working on the small things and connecting with those closest to us, a larger vision eventually will emerge.

Starting new is rarely an easy or quick process. However, if we recognize that it is a process, we can smooth the way a bit. If we can even now begin to envision life in different scenarios, we will be better prepared to meet them when we come. If we can fill our hearts with hope from the God of hope, we will be less afraid, more encouraged, and more courageous when the new opportunity comes.