The Eight Lane Freeway of Our Working Lives

Living life can sometime feel like driving fast on an eight-lane freeway.It’s busy.It’s intense.It’s stressful.It requires intense focus to stay in your lane.You have to monitor the dashboard of speed limits, fuel gauge and timing.You have to watch out for crazy drivers and the inherent possibility of road rage at any moment.It’s fast.It’s slow too much of the time it seems.Even when we're driving hard, we sense the need to multi-task--to do more work. To get 'ur done!You can feel stuck because the off-ramp is 10 miles away and your sitting idle. I know few people who actually enjoy spending time on freeways. When I hear people talk about taking a nice Sunday afternoon drive—they are never describing this motif: “Let’s get on the freeway where we will experience the exhilarating times of intensity, stress and a high likelihood of getting stalled or stuck in insane traffic." No, when people envision a nice drive, they are thinking of a country road where they can take in the scenery of forests, vales and rainbows.I’ve sat with this metaphor for some time now—trying to discern my future. Ever since I wrote my initial blog on this heart-felt theme, THAT (Read THAT blog here) blog has been the most read article of all time for me. It’s received the most SHAREs on social media and people are writing me; calling me and stopping me to say, “You took the words right out of my mouth. You described my dilemma perfectly.” I’m glad my own attempt to figure out my next phase of life might be giving words to so many inner rumblings. It seems many of us are restless—no matter what age and stage of life we are in. Many of us want to “reposition”. I hope we can and I hope my encouragement to simply articulate some of my inner world might help you.Metaphors are helpful because they actually help us envision and picture something real and explore what this image stirs inside. An image opens our mind and heart up more than a Powerpoint presentation can. We need more than linear facts to make sense of life. We have more than a left brain to give inform us of meaning, purpose and conviction. Metaphors were the masterful way of how Jesus taught. He appealed to the right brain to help us envision the life he came to show us how to live.  Friends, this is precisely why, the teachings of Jesus were so revolutionary and life-changing. People could actually come to "see" the life he was describing. He used the everyday symbols of dirt, trees, bushes, birds and storms to help people explore their inner geography. Jesus was brilliant in his efforts to help us look inward by using the outer world and draw parallels.When I think of staying on an eight lane freeway for the next season or chapter of my life, my thoughts do not go to a good place. I have, to be honest, a sinking feeling.   When I listen to people talk about “How much longer can I go?” or “I just want to finish well”, I picture the eight lane freeway. Is finishing well running out of gas and pulling over to the side of the loud, busy traffic and just say, “I’m done. That’s it.” Is an abrupt exit off the freeway the only way to do this? What does that term, "finishing well" really mean? Does it mean more work? Harder work to get to a certain place so that you can work again? There are many questions we need to look at. There are many rocks that need to be turned over to expose the Rollie-pollies of our illusions about work and life as well as God and faith.What I’m sitting with goes like this: moving from the eight lane freeway to a 2-lane road. I want to continue but I do not want to continue at the pace, speed and intensity I have been traveling. If you've lived so much of your working life on an eight lane freeway---something might be pulling you to consider an alternative route--a route that is more than just thinking about the grass being greener on the other side kind of thing.It seems reasonable to me, at this stage of my processing the next chapter of my life, that I and perhaps you need to sit with these questions:

  1. What is the lane I want to be in for the next season—the next stretch of my life?
  2. Where do I really want to go and feel the need to go?
  3. What would it look like to find my lane—the lane that converges all my passion, experience, desire and gifts? Then, this question, how do I take an off-ramp to get in the lane I simply want to be in?
  4. What is it going to cost me to get off the freeway that I have traveled for so long?

This thing about work is deeply etched into the soul of every Protestant. Work is a part of the fabric of our lives. We are so enmeshed in our work that many of us go through some culture shock even musing about NOT working. We can’t imagine it. We don’t really have categories or training to help us find a lane upon which we can live without work.It’s the ethos called, “the Protestant work ethic.” Well, Catholics have this too--the feeling and the need to work hard, remain faithful to be saved. In this ethic--our worth and dignity come from our work--not our essence. There must be no slaggards in the ranks. People who don't work are bums. This belief and ethic needs to be looked at deeply and it is really the work of the soul to do this work now while we are working and considering our alternative lanes. We can find where these messages lodge in our story. We can explore how our experiences of work shaped our soul and who modeled this kind of living and narrative for you? What a fascinating small group this would be—a group formed to hear each others shaping experiences about work, the value of work and how our working parents and friends lived their life out in their work.Let me just say this briefly, our worth and dignity do not come from our work.  Our worth comes from knowing we are created, formed and shaped by God because of our identity as sons and daughters of God. We are the Beloved of God--apart from our work. That's the core foundation to healthy living and a healthy soul. Miss this and you miss nearly everything.Our world has shaped us into human doings. It’s precisely here though in our being—not our doing that we must redefine and reposition our selves and our lives. Most people I sit with are afraid of stopping their “doing” because of the deep seated fear that they will simply not know who they are apart from their work. Here’s a good question to ponder with a friend: Who are you apart from your doing?Start this kind of inner work now—the inner thinking and reflective work now—before you get off the freeway—before you take an exit—before you quit-- before you start pulling off the freeway. Thinking about this now will help you actually know and recognize when it’s time to take the off ramp to the road you actually want to drive on—for a while.Take your name tag off—take your lanyard off which gives your position, worth and dignity—and who the heck are you? Who are you without your “doing”?  This kind of thinking may well be--the exit ramp you've been looking for that is just ahead.

Re-Thinking Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.”—Matthew 5:7

Do you think she ever showed herself mercy and self-compassion?When we think of a merciful person, images of Mother Theresa squatting by a dying man under a bridge in Calcutta may come to mind. It’s rare to see a merciful person in politics, business or even church life. We live with a dogged tenacity “to get ‘ur done” and to press on in the tyranny of the urgent and competing demands of our lives to show mercy. We’re often too busy to show mercy—or what we even think might be mercy. We’re too pre-occupied with our own agendas to slow down and consider the plight of someone else. We may want to be merciful. But to WANT to be merciful and to actually be mercifully may be two different things.Here again, Jesus offers us a radically different paradigm about how to live life well. How to live well and how to be well—that’s our goal, right?At the root of the word “mercy” is the term “merc” which is an exchange. We get the English word, “mercantile” from this word. A mercantile is a place of trade where goods are exchanged. There is a giving and there is a taking and this is precisely the renewed understanding of mercy we need in our lives today. A merciful person is someone involved in both the giving and the receiving. Both are at the core of being a merciful person.How can you show mercy to yourself after a stressful day?Perhaps the greatest arena of need for us to explore how to be a merciful person is with ourselves. If we don’t learn how to show mercy to ourselves, we soon find ourselves living on empty and the “check engine” light is coming on in our souls. We simply cannot give, give, and give all the time. There must be a receiving. There must be a merciful exchange which says this: Those who give—must be given to. Because I have given a lot today-this week—now… I am going to exchange some time and care for myself. To live in this merciful rhythm is life and it is life giving.The single greatest violation I see in leader’s lives is right here! Most leaders, regardless of where they serve—violate the principle of this great, Sacred exchange. They give. But they will not learn how to receive—how to receive mercy for themselves. We’re confused here. We have few good models and we need help.[tweetthis]Being merciful is never a selfish act. It is a true exchange of understanding that those who give—must be given to.[/tweetthis]Showing mercy to oneself is the art of living in the rhythm of giving and receiving.

  • How will you give mercy to your body who has literally carried you through all the grueling tasks of today—of every day?
  • What would it look like for you to give mercy to your body---to care for your physical well being? I have to admit here that this is a insight that I am so glad to be waking up to. If I am what I eat—then I need to eat in a merciful way to show mercy to my body—to honor my body as the address of my soul.
  • How could you be merciful to yourself in your time and how you spend your time? Are you always in a hurry? How might you slow yourself down and give yourself more margin—more room for an interruption that will not send you into a implosion because some interruption occurred that you did not plan for this week?
  • What would mercy look like to your mind because you have called your mind to engage in spreadsheets, emails and texts matters all day long? How can you let your mind come down--and rest?
  • What would mercy look like to your emotions that have engaged all day long: anger, excitment, fear, angst, stress and so much more. How can you let your emotions relax and come down off the steriods of people, stress, stock markets and disappointments?

Mercy, when correctly understood, begins with ourselves. It’s just as Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The bottom line is that you matter! True love is living in the exchange of giving and receiving.As we first live with a recognition that we, ourselves need to give mercy to ourselves, then we find we are able, ready, eager and willing to extend mercy to others. It is an ebb and flow—a give and take. Both are needed and necessary.Most folks in leadership positions, however, are violating this exchange. They either don’t know about the needed, life giving exchange or they ignore it—thinking that they are the exception to the way life works.Mercy has no exceptions. We all need mercy and at the core of every living soul is the need to receive acts of mercy—a touch, a drink of cold water, a short respite under a shady tree where we are sheltered—if only for a short time.When we live this radical paradigm that Jesus offers us, the ripple effects begin to make waves around us. We are living well—and others will live better around us. We are showing kindness to ourselves—and that kindness radiates to those in our sphere of influence and even beyond.To be shown mercy is to be shown a better way to live than we are perhaps currently living right now. To be shown mercy is to be shown that life is an exchange. Healthy folks are not narcissistic. They give and take. As we live as merciful people, we live in a natural, God-ordered way of living that promotes life at the very core of our existence and the existence of every living thing.