As we age, our capacity to keep our inner buckets filled changes. It’s really that simple. This metaphor, helps me grasp some of the deeper ways and shifts I see taking place in me—in my emotional bucket.If you've not been following me on my thinking about repositioning my life and work, here's a chance to catch up! I've been writing about my own shifts in how I see my work--my mission and my purpose. You can read about the first blog on my respositioning here. You can read my second blog-- about the shift from an 8-lane freeway to a 2 lane road here. This is the third of my entries on my own growing exploration to answer this question: When is enough--enough? And by that word "enough" I mean--work.What mattered to us in our 20’s simply morphs. We shift. No one in their 60's is like they were in their 20's---are they? We grow, mature, gain wisdom and more life and God experience and we let go of some of the stuff that seemed to consume us in our 20’s. I think this is a very good thing. I'll explain below. Please keep reading!When I married, my bucket shifted again. There was another person that filled up a big section of my bucket. Her needs. Her story and her desires shifted my own capacity. When we leave singleness—we experience shifts inside. Love stretches us—transforms us and makes us jettison false ideas about shallow kinds of love and affection for the deeper truths that come when we go through hard times, challenges and health scares. The vows I spoke to my wife in my 20's have a depth now in my 60's that I simply could not understand. Shifts happen when you actually go through "sickness" and hard times. The shifts in life deepen the love we thought was love when we were younger. This is an important shift that time teaches us and the God of time reveals to us.When we have children, our emotional buckets shift again. Those little mixtures of ovum and sperm shift our priorities--don't they? Who is ever the same after the birth of your children? Love deepens and so does responsibility. Slow Saturday brunches shift to soccer games, baseball practice and swim meets. Our reality has a way of re-arranging what is important in life. And here's the truth--we'd never want it any other way. The shifts are good. The shifts are necessary. They shifts are needed to help us become all God intended for us.Our inner buckets shift in our vocational journey as well. Our dreams and passions propel us into high ideals and lofty ambitions. We are driven. We are in a hurry and we are impatient with others who move too slow. We try on our varied vocational clothes to find meaning and purpose. We try this job--then we try another one. Maybe the next job will be "it." It takes a while--meaning several jobs--to find the right fit. We shift in each job as necessary mentors to teach us who we need to become. We change jobs like migrant workers change fields and climates. We move—become transient seeking a dream status that we believe awaits us. Every shift is needed. Every shift is important. Every shift is an invitation to become more of our true selves.Some of us--when introduced early to the harshness of life, find ourselves shifting far ahead of our peers. Pain in life-- like labor pains in birth--forces us through the dark canal of pain into a new stage--a new shifting. Our bucket gets knocked over through tragedy, divorce, the death of a loved one, something unjust happening to us and more. Emptiness and brokness, come to find out are the real agents of any shift we experience throughout our lives. The spiritual masters tell us that apart from pain--we simply will not shift. We will not change apart from being broken. These are the real teachers who can morph us into being old souls before our time--before we would ever want to. Without pain and struggle, some of us simply will not shift. We will hold on--refuse to change--clinging to the same old stage--the same old beliefs. Some of us are so white-fisted about changing that we live immoble--and truly dead before we ever really live.Our aging parents take a place in our emotional buckets like never before. We have to care in ways we never thought about. It’s called being in the “sandwich generation” because we’re squeezed on both ends of life—our own kids and our own parents. Priorities shift. We get stretched in time and money. We are giving out more than we are ever taking in. We long for a shift--for relief perhaps.About this same time, our vocational journey takes on grand importance because we have a sense that we are making a difference. Long hours and good results keep an inner fire stoked inside. We are challenged by our time---thinking we can justify our lack of time by calling some time quality and other time quantity. We will learn later in another phase that this is simply not true. Time is time and time, more than any other factor in our life shifts our emotional tank.My Grandchildren Shifted My Heart Like Nothing Else!When I had my first grandchild, I knew a shift was happening. My inner tectonic plates shifted in a way that was shocking. It was as if a conversion as big as Paul’s falling off his horse in Tarsus had happened to me. Scales fell off my eyes, just as they fell off Paul's eyes. I was once lost--in a way--but my grandchildren's arrival on the planet gave me new sight and vision. My first grandchild brought an awakening—a waking up that is still happening—even after my 10th grandchild is just now announced but still in utero. I care deeply about these souls. I care so deeply in fact, that I want to show up more and be in their lives in a deep way. I’m shifting. I think my four sons see me shifting and are left scratching their heads--perhaps. My emotional bucket is shifting-- pushing other less important matters out of my bucket—giving more and more room to these little souls who seem to thrive on having time with me. Here's the truth: I cannot keep piling things into my bucket. Something has to shift. My bucket can literally only hold so much. Are you at your limit? If so, it may be time to shift somethings around--perhaps putting some thing out of your bucket.Through time and in time, I am shifting. My emotional bucket is changing its capacity. I cannot carry everything I use to carry in this bucket of mine. Some things will have to go. Somethings will come into my bucket that are not only going to re-arrange my life--but shift my inner life.Let me try to explain this shift more personally now.I am aging. I'm not 20 anymore. I"m not 40 anymore.I am changing.I am shifting.I am not only aging—I am "sage-ing."I am arriving at a plateau where I can finally look out and see the horizon but also see some drop offs and dangerous cliffs.I may not need to take another mountain. I use to talk this way. Every challenge was something to conquer. Now, I'm seeing things different.I see the need to be careful. I sense the need to be wise--really wise.I do not want to make a mistake chiefly because there is no longer time to recover from a big mistake.I am seeing shifts in my emotional bucket that are going to inform my life in a different way than I ever thought before.I am growing wise and the shift in me is this: I want to give my wisdom now to only those who really want my wisdom. I no longer feel the need to convince, persuade or coax people to drink from the same cup I am drinking.I am thinking I can relax a bit more by not trying so dad-gum hard--all the time.I want to be available to those who are thirsty—to those who are hungry. I don’t want to have to motivate anyone to change their life unless they WANT to change their life. That’s a shift in me for sure.I'm realizing that only God can shift us anyway. All change is in God's arena. I see a shift in the writers of our Scriptures.As I have read the second letters of Paul, Peter and John, I have found myself liking their second letters far, far more than than first letters. Take Paul for example. He said some things in I Corinthians that were…well—harsh and hard. As he ages, I’ve seen a remarkable shift in his own bucket. He softens. He’s more mellow. He’s far, more pastoral. Luke tells us about the emotional bucket shifting for Paul in the final verses of the book of Acts. I’ve sat with Acts 28:30-31 for a couple of years now. I’m drawn to how Luke narrates Paul’s inner shift. Here’s how Luke hints at Paul’s shift:“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!”Paul started as a religious zealot as a young man. His zeal was fierce. His energy was extraordinary. He traveled widely. He suffered greatly. He was resilient. Yet, as Paul aged, he shifted and in this passage, we learn that only two things were on his mind and heart: He told people about the Kingdom of God and he told people about Jesus. These two things consumed the final two years of his life. Not church planting strategy. Not leadership development seminars. Not mapping out world evangelization. He simply shifted as an older man to tell people about the two most essential truths: God’s rule and God’s Son. Complete. An amazing reduction of decades crusading for doctrinal purity. A distillation of many things to just a few things. His bucket shifted. I wish that more and more preachers would shift to how Paul shifted rather than being so cantankerous--like I am sure I was. Can we major on the majors? Can we please major on the majors and let these minors pass away with our childish ways and childhood shifts?Peter too! 2 Peter is just a nicer book than 1 Peter. I learned this while spending a year in 2 Peter when I wrote my book, Inside Job. Peter morphed from a fiery, reactionary wanna-be leader to a real pastoral type. He’s much more passionate from a deeper place in 2 Peter than I see him in his first letter. This morphing—shifting—changing his own emotional bucket led Peter to become the head of the church—not as a young, fiery leader but as a sage like leader. I’m glad to see his shift and it gives me great hope for my own shifting inside.As we go from decade to decade, we simply must shift inside. We must keep growing—keep shedding old snake skins to have soft hearts and wise eyes. We cannot do it all. Perhaps we are not meant to.When we hear the stories of the great men and women in Scripture, we see them shifting. All of them shifted as a matter of fact. No one stays the way they are in their 20’s. Seriously. Would anyone even want to? I doubt it.Preparing for our Final ShiftI am glad to see my own shifting and be a witness to this shifting to you. I hope my words—my shifting may give you words to your own feelings—your own inner rumblings of a change that is not only good—but necessary.All shifting in our lives is only preparation for our final shift into eternity. If we can shift well now--then we will be prepared to shift from our final breath on this earth to the first breath with God. Now, this is a shift that, more and more, I look forward to making. How about you?
Ever since we were born, we knew we had to grab, hold and cling. From our mother’s breast; to clinching our toys that we enjoyed, we all learned to hold on to what mattered to us. We all learned to hold on to what we thought would give us life--what did give us life. As we grew and matured, our sense of holding, clutching, and grabbing did not seem to develop. It seems to be something we all do to survive—or at least we are shaped to think we must cling to live.We held on to our positions. We clutched possessions. We did not let go of unhealthy relationships. We hoarded experiences. We amassed a lot of stuff. Yes, we’ve got the holding on to thing quite down.Through life and in life, we learn that-- [tweetthis]The key lesson all of us will learn is this: We will all learn that we have to let go.[/tweetthis]Parents let go of their first grade child feeling that life has somehow shifted when school began. The memory of me taking my first born son to university and dropping him off is forever etched in my memory bank. I vividly remember holding back my tears as we made trip after trip to the car taking what he was holding on to—what he felt was necessary to clutch as a freshman. When the last load was delivered the deathly sense of dread overwhelmed me. I said to my son, “Blake, I need to get out of here. Let’s make this quick.” We hugged. I kissed his forehead and we waved. That was it—until I closed the door of my car to drive off. Then the tears came. Not just a tear mind you but deep waves of rolling emotion that I had so far successfully manged to keep down, deep inside. I let go of my son and to be honest in that moment of letting go—nothing has been the same. That rite of passage became a season of transformation that changed him and changed me.We let go of our health. An accident might take a limb. A disease my take a lung. A cancer cell my have lodged in a vital organ. A hip or some other piece of us might break and need to be laid aside.Every letting go is a letting go of some part of us that is necessary to let go of in light of the next step on the journey.I’ve seen people hold on to their status and position and use every principle available to tightly grip what seems to have given them significance in their life. I’ve seen pastors hold on too long. I’ve seen CEO’s hold on too long. It takes a lot of inner work for someone to let a position go that has defined them; shaped others and provided for them in life. Some of us may hold on too long. We can’t let go. I’ve seen this played out with powerful executives who try to retire and then put their power at work in Home Owner’s Association. It happens all the time. I’ve sat with women who have lost their possessions in a fire or learning that all their possessions were lost at sea due to storage unit falling off a tanker in the Atlantic Ocean. What seems devastating to us at the time of such a loss helps us realize what is really important in this life and the next. We learn this if we are curious, open and as we learn to hold lightly what needs to be held lightly and to hold tightly what needs to really be held on to in life.If we live long enough, life reveals to us that we can’t take anything with us as we pass through the doorway into the Kingdom that awaits us. At that door—the door of death—we lay down everything—even and including our final breath. The Hebrew word for breath is “ruah.” It is the breath God gives to us when our butts are smacked by a doctor to make us cry—to breath. In the end---and for some of us, our end seems far, far too abrupt and sudden—our breath is laid down. It is given back.When I turned 60, I was struck like a slap in my face that my time was going to be short on this planet. Before that particular birthday, I never gave much thought to my life line. But somehow that day marked much of my thinking now about how I need to live my life now; what I need to let go of and how to live lightly and freely for the time I have remaining on this planet.I am learning at 62 that evey act of letting go is really this---it is practice for me to learn to let go of everything until eventually I will have to—need to and want to—lay down and give back to God the “ruah” he gave me in the first place. For me to learn this lesson, I’ve had deep spiritual conversations with a wise, sage 10 years my senior, whom I go to for monthly conversations about what I’m really thinking and what is really consuming my head these days. Those conversations are now like cairns which are marking my trail and the trail behind me of how to lay down much in life as I continue my long obedience in the same direction. I have had to lay down this big thought: I can’t do this by myself. I am not wise enough. I need help. By laying down my independence, I am finding a new freedom that I simply am enjoying.I have had to practice this letting go thing recently with a possession I valued so incredibly much. I lost my journal. I kept my journal in a gray backpack and took it everywhere. In that journal, I recorded my thoughts—my inner world markings that were etched on my soul. I wrote about my grandson’s death. I wrote about my marriage with Gwen and the biggest fight we ever had two years ago. I wrote the outline for a book that I felt God had given me a new message to write about. It was lost. I felt lost. I had to let go.It’s interesting that I as I was lamenting over this most recent loss and my efforts to let go of it and to lay it down, my journal showed up. The story of how it showed up is another story. But suffice it to say, I remain happy and thrilled to have back what I thought was so important to me. Sometimes, this happens. We seem to get back or to be given what seemed lost. This happened to the father in Jesus story of the prodigal son. The father got back one son---yet in some ways he lost the son that had been sort of with him all along.There are many levels of letting go. Letting go is probably rooted in each of us at a cellular level. Attachments form early in our life and for some of us we never really quite seem to work through being hooked by what doesn’t really matter at all in life. This letting go thing is deeply rooted in the Christian faith. God let go of his only son. The son let’s go of his closest associates and friends. All of life, when properly understood is deeply grounded in this birth, death and resurrection—this life, laying down and finding what really matters through life revelations.Here are some practices that might help you let go and begin and continue to let go in life.
- Hold every thing lightly in life. Things are things and all things can be replaced. When things grip our hearts, we find we have too much clutter but inside and outside.
- Hold the people you love and value tightly. When people die, no one ever asks to hold an antique; an heirloom; a book or checkbook. When we pass into our next home, we want someone’s hand. We all want to be held at life’s most defining moments. That hug, embrace, kiss seems to mark those times as sacred because people are sacred—things are not.
- Become curious about your attachments. What would you grab in case of a fire and run out into the streets with so thankful you saved this thing from loss or destruction. Who are the six people that will carry your casket to the final resting place? Who matters most in life to you and why?
- Embrace letting go as a new spiritual discipline. The new book Essentialism has helped me think this through though a Bible verse or Jesus is never mentioned in the pages, it is filled with a challenge our generation needs to hear. Some of us need to let go of the boxes of our faith to experiences in life that is beyond our boxes, we have constructed doctrinal statements we have written and more.
- Mark times of letting go with words, rituals and ceremonies. Find songs, poems, pictures and rituals that help you know—without words—what is really happening inside of you---inside of “us.”