Five Benefits of Vacation

There are at least five benefits of taking time off and being away. I'm talking about the wonderful deposits we place into our souls when we take a vacation. I’m returning from four weeks off of work. Four weeks might seem like an extravagance that you cannot afford. I understand that. But for me—for us—we simply had to take this time off and had to be away. Here’s why…

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Re-Thinking Our Lives: Using the Language of Repositioning and Discernment

Allow me to share my own personal reflections about what I am thinking regarding "the rest of my life." As I think out loud regarding my own life, it may give you a portal into your own life. Through what I share, it may become a window for you to stare into regarding your own life and future.  My hope is that these reflections will give you some language and tools to help you navigate your own choices ahead and to help you reflect back on choices you made in the past--be they good and healthy choices or decisions that you can know glean wisdom from which become an invitation to choose more wisely in the future.Here, I may offer you some language which may be a bit different than you are accustomed to now.  Some of the language, stories and insight I will share here are the fruit of my year long path of discernment.  So I am your companion in this journey to both understand and explore discernment and finding great clarity about our future pathways.  I"ll tell you about this later.When we travel in a foreign country and hear a different language, it can take a while to learn a few basic sentences to navigate our way through that foreign and distant place. Learning some basic language about the landscape of repositioning is key in not only growing in our own self-awareness and God-awareness but also in terms of knowing where we are right now and where it is we want to head out to next on this incredible journey called life.When it comes to knowing God's will for our lives and how to "do" God's will; how to make wise decisions and move with some sense of inner assurance that what we have decided, is in fact--God's best for our lives--this is what this is all about. So my hope is that this will help anyone at any stage or season of life that wants to live with a greater sense of confidence; a deeper sense of peace and an inner knowing that we are truly not alone in this journey--but that we can deeply sense God is with us--every step of our way.So, the language of our soul, caring for our soul and discerning our future lives in some respect is warranted not matter at what intersection your find yourself at right now. You may be single, thinking of marriage. You may be married, considering children. You may be in your second job realizing that this job is not what you signed up for and you want to hunt again for the right fit. You may be newly divorced, a widow or just buried a parent. You may be full or energy or experiencing burnout. You may be, like me on the threshold of what is called, “retirement” but somehow knowing that you don’t want to quit—you really want to reposition yourself to do what you’ve felt drawn to do for a long, long time. But, before we set out on a course and lock in our GPS on a new direction, let’s first, get some language and some new tools down to help us make wise choices and sense that God is in this deeper work of what I am calling repositioning. Re-Thinking Our LivesAll of us, to one degree or another, are re-thinking our lives. As the world changes, so we do also. Just think of it—the iphone came onto the scene in 2007 and look at how all of our lives have changed with the times. We may not all like what has happened but nevertheless, we are all citizens of this globe we call home and we all need more light for some of the dark paths we must navigate. With the advent of email, technology and social media, all of our lives have been impacted to some degree. In the light of current events, nuclear threats and such hatred going rampant, the world is not the same as it was. It feels more tense; more fragile and more dangerous than at any other time in my life time. There’s angst. There’s fear. There is uncertainity. All of this combined with our own personal circumstances, needs and desires. All combines, I'm not sure I have met a person who is not--at some level--re-thinking their lives.It’s important to realize that when I speak of repositioning our lives. I am not speaking of a linear, programmatic and cookie cutter way to do this—to reposition our lives. To reposition one’s life begins with understanding some language of the soul—the kind of terms and vocabulary that every soul knows deep down inside. This language is what this book is about. It is about like a reading primer that some teachers used in our early grade school experience when we were introduced to words, phrases and finally sentences and paragraphs to begin to learn to read.To learn to read the deeper movements of the soul—the shifts, urgings, longings, aches and consolations of our soul is all apart of what we will explore. What “repositioning” means:Let’s begin with getting our minds and hearts wrapped around the word: “repositioning.”The word, “reposition” means to shift—to adjust. Our internal shifts happen in us as we journey through life making modifications and adjustments. We have been told that the “only constant in life is change” and with this reality, then we are the ones who must make some shifts to reposition ourselves.This adjustment—this amending of our lives—this re-thinking of our future direction is what I call “repositioning.”We are seeing major repositioning of people groups around our world who are forced to reposition themselves physically because of threat, war or persecution. We call such people refugees. They are fleeing one place and in route to a safer, more hospitable place. They may be forced to flee. They may not want to flee. They may dread the entire journey of fleeing but nevertheless, some kind of physical shift is necessary. But, long before these people groups began to move physically from one place to another, there began an inner shifting—a changing of the tectonic plates of their worlds that motivated them to shift from one place to another.  They came to their senses; they somehow intuitively knew; they had what we call a "sixth sense" that informed them that they needed to go. They were under pressure—perhaps pressure they could not take any longer. They were seeking a better life—a better way to do their lives. Their anxiety over what might happen motivated them into action. And also, most refugees do not flee alone. They band together and move in mass to a safer new world.My ancestors immigrated to the United States from Ireland. Something in their souls was stirring. Something inside their hearts was pulling them forward to both leave something familar behind but also to reach ahead for something that was "not yet".  As they repositioned their lives--my very life right now stands on the shoulders of men and women, who stood up and moved out and ventured forth.  As you think back on your own ancestors, perhaps you will be able to grow in a deeper appreciation of what they did--of what they did for you.Clearly it is one thing to have to be a refugee and a whole other concept of repositioning one's life.  But what is important to remember that somewhere along the way--whether one is a refugee or is simply repositioning one's life--there was first some kind of inner movement that gave birth to an action--an action that required a shift, change, new season or new beginning of some form or another. We are all on a journey. We are all pilgrims. The language of the Bible offers us a word that helps define who all of us are as refugees, white-collar migrant workers, blue collar machine workers, medical professionals, pastors or global leaders—we are all pilgrims. We are all on a journey—a journey that defines us throughout our lives on the long road to heaven. The Psalmist knew this language well when he wrote;“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”—Psalm 84:5 (NIV).Pilgrimage best defines our lives on planet Earth. We start out at in utero in our mother's womb; following a path in our formative years; build travelling companions or friends and navigate the many paths ahead of us. There are the choices of a spouse or not, the kind of job that we feel like that fits us and we are gifted for; where we want to live out of all the choices before us and the pathways of parenting, living out of lives through seasons, trials, joys and sorrows. Each of these seasons are really times of repositioning ourselves for the next leg of the journey.  From womb to tomb, we wake up to the fact that we all are pilgrims on a journey.When author and scholar, Eugene Peterson finds the right and descriptive words to translate for us the Psalmist’s intent in his sacred poem, Peterson helps us with these words:“And how blessed all those in whom you live,whose lives become roads you travel;”—Psalm 84:5, The MessageOur lives are the very roads that God travels. You you imagine for a moment what this might actually look like and feel like? God is on this joruney with us--sometimes a silent companion; sometimes a companion who might pull the rug out from under us to get our attention in some way; and in all ways God is present whether God is seen or unseen. Our own lives are the pathway that God hovers about and within on the long road home. God is our Companion on this pilgrimage and as we age, as we journey forward, this awareness grows deeper and deeper within us to truly know—God is with us. He is not only “with us” but God is in us---moving within us to awaken us; give us keener insight and understanding about our journey.As we shift; as we transition; as we reposition, we can be assured that God is moving on our inner roadways of longing and desire; lament and grief and fears and peace. Knowing this—is like recognizing some road signs that are posted along the path we’ve been trekking.  When we reposition, we can learn to pay attention to the inner road signs--the inner movements of God within us to nudge us this way or that way.  Discernment is about knowing the inner trail markings that can and do offer us the invitation to follow with clarity and certainity. ( I will continue this in future blogs and I would invite your comments, feedback and insights! Please consider posting your thoughts and reflections here on the blog to allow others to have insight and encouragement!)

Soul Care in Busy Times

The holidays and life itself have been great reminders for Gwen and me about the need for soul care. It has been a lot—perhaps too much. Busyness. Full schedules. Sickness. Exhaustion in the midst of joyous times of family gatherings.In the midst of all of the busyness, how are we to care for our souls? For us, we were with all of our kids and their kids. We traveled to some while others came to us. Travel brings its own stress these days dosen't it? There were meals to prepare; presents to open; and hanging out with one another. It was full. It was sweet and it was a rich time. But we came away exhausted. We need to re-coup! I need to find “my” life that I seemed to have lost in a busy family time. But what if there’s no time to re-coup? That’s a problem!During December, Gwen and I barely had time for a conversation between ourselves—much less pray or take some moments for ourselves. I have some regrets. I didn’t read like I wanted. I wasn’t able to reflect back and forward into the New Year like I wanted. We were cramming in time and the gift of being present with each other. Much of the past few weeks feels like a blurr—not a blessing. I’m not complaining mind you, but trying to present some reality that stands in the face of caring for my soul. 0ther things happened which complicated our lives and health.A 24 hour “violent”—(is that the right word?) spread through our family while together. We watched our grandchildren drop like flies leaving us to meditate upon “We’re next!” more than God. Both Gwen and I got sick—something we did not want or invite. Interruptions happen—those events that face us that we do not want to face. Life is too full for the unexpected to drop in on us and mess up our already overly-crowded lives. When there is no space or margin in our lives, interruptions can send us spiraling. How will we ever be able to recover when we have to just buck up and move on and through? The unplanned things of life happen simply happen whether we are ready for them or not.When we think of our every day lives, we are busy, checking our lists and moving through our days. Diapers to change. Dishes to wash. Bills to pay. Groceries to be bought. Meals to prepare. There’s always more—always!In our work with people of all ages and in all seasons of life—one of the biggest pushbacks we hear is this: “I don’t have time to care for my soul. How can I fit THAT in upon every thing else I have to do?”Caring for your soul is learning to live with eternity in mind and in the heart. It requires a paradigm shift of how we look at our hours, days, weeks and years. Living with eternity in mind is at the heart of Jesus’ message: “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). It is at the core of Paul’s epistles: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2). While it is true that God has indeed set eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11)—our minds are filled with the tyranny of the urgent and this is where the wheels of the bus come off in regard to caring for our souls.  So, soul care is learning how to maintain eternity in the midst of our crowded lives!Caring for our souls is a daily practice that keeps first things first. A mindless wandering through our days leads most of us to enter the hamster wheel where we simply spin and spin. Soul Care requires an intentional exit from the dizzying spinning and speed of life and to live with eternity in both of our minds and hearts.Annie Dillard reminds us so well that “how we live our days is how we live our lives.” Days upon days of survival foster a survival culture at home and in work. So, if we want to live better days and more full-filling weeks, we must make the choice every day to live with eternity in our hearts. The abundant life is a daily life which begins every day. Every day we have the opportunity to live with eternity in mind and heart.Here are five choices to cultivate eternity in your heart:

  1. Choose to live slow one day a week. For one day a week, make a choice to resist speed. The cult of speed has infected most everything we do. For one day—life more intentionally; live more from the heart—where eternity is rooted. Walk rather than drive. Park further away from your destination to make you walk just a bit. Cook a slow meal, not "fast food" on this day-- involving family and friends. Savor the time with music, story or read a chapter out of a book together. Some might call this a Sabbath but moving slow is more than taking a day off. Moving slow sets the culture of your heart to wake up. By eradicating hurry from your life, I believe you’ll find greater joy than ever before. After you’ve made this choice and lived slow for one day a week, take some time and see if you’re inner contentment meter has moved in one direction or the other. Is there more inner peace? Why or why not?

2. Choose to live with your soul and the soul of other people in mind—not moving into robot mode to produce, accomplish and succeed. Living with the soul in mind is keeping eternity alive rather than going into a catatonic trance of survival. To live with the soul in mind and heart is to foster dignity for others and yourself. If you’re exhausted—rest. If you’re sick—ask yourself “Do I really have to push through not feeling well?” Living with the soul in mind is living with your own sense of well-being and the well-being of others. Being present and not preoccupied with technology in conversation is one way to live with the soul in mind. Leaving our stresses of work outside the home—sort of detoxing a bit before we enter the doors of home can help. 

  1. Choose to be healthy. This daily choice requires us to monitor three vital areas of our daily lives: sleeping, eating and moving. It’s really not that complicated. These three areas: sleeping well, eating healthy and moving more all work together to help us become more healthy. Healthy living requires this trinity of a way of looking at our lives and giving our bodies what our bodies need to be healthy.

 

  1. Choose to have silence every day for 10 minutes. The only antidote there is to our busy lives and busy minds is being quiet. Sit BY yourself and WITH yourself every day for 10 minutes. Consent to the presence of God within you and around you. There is nothing to do but to be still. The only way for a shaken jar full of mud and water to settle is stillness.

 5. Choose to read only the “red” letters of Jesus. Rather than trying and trying to read the Bible through in a year—try something more realistic and doable. At the most stressful times of my life, I make a choice to read only the words of Jesus. I have found a comfort, peace and hope in his words that really help me focus and give me hope. Sometimes, it’s the simple things we do that can move us forward when we’re stuck. For me, finding a “red letter edition” of the Bible and focusing on what Jesus actually said helps. Start with Matthew 5—where Jesus begins his infamous “sermon on the mount."  Read it in a new version or translation that gives you the space to be offered new expressions and intent.

Journey, Wilderness and Comfort: The Movements of the Spiritual Life

At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him.”—Mark 1:12How is it that in one single verse, Mark explains the journey of the spiritual life? It’s fascinating to simply sit with this solitary verse recorded in Mark’s Gospel and to sense the movement, undertaking and activity that Jesus experienced. Friends, in this one, single verse, there is a great movement that needs to be understood. I say “movement” because the spiritual life is a journey from one movement or place in life to the next. We never stay static. We are invited to always to learning; always be growing and always being transformed.First, let’s recall the context of Mark’s powerful singular verse. This verse comes immediately after the wonderful story of Jesus' baptism and being told that Jesus was the “beloved of God.” That moment in the life of Jesus, and in the life of all of us who follow Jesus, is crucial and essential. We all need to hear those same words for ourselves. Each of us needs to know that we, too, are the Beloved of God. I have come to understand that,in this historical event in the life of Jesus—the entire trajectory of his life shifted. Nothing was the same for Jesus when he heard these words—and nothing for us can stay the same when we hear these same words for ourselves. Prior to this, Jesus made furniture. After this event, Jesus made people. He freed people caught up in their own web of religion and offered them freedom. He compelled people to leave their boats, their careers, their people groups and their tribes to enter a new phase—a new place and to have a new understanding of God in their lives. This was his mission. Through his teaching and his life, he offered a different way; a different truth and a different life. This is still true today.The Journey of Discovering Who We Really AreThat’s what happens when any of us hear our true identity from God about who we really are. God told Jesus who he was. Today, that same Voice tells us our true identity—that we, too, are the beloved of God. Until we know this for ourselves, we will live into the lies of life that try to convince of us three lies:

  • I am what I do.
  • I am what I have.
  • I am what other people think of me.

These three lies form a web of sorts, that catches  and snares every person on the spiritual journey of life. By attaching our hearts to just one of those lies means that we will discover the sticky residue that each of those lies manifest in the human heart. Those lies accumulate untruth within us. These lies do great harm to our hearts. We will lean into our doing. We will acquire too much stuff and positions to prove we are really somebody. We will be co-dependent about our reasons of living is for what you will think of  me.God knows that there must be a powerful force to help us get free from such lies. These lies have wedged their way into me. They are in my story and I believe they are in your story as well. This web seems to be able to catch us off guard and in times when we thought we were “done” or “through” with that lesson or insight. For some of us, we keep on returning to re-learn the deeper truths of these same, timeless truths.Rather than beat ourselves up that we feel remedial or stupid or forever broken, we can also learn to be gentle with ourselves.  Being gentle in how we learn lessons in the spiritual life is key. There's been too much harshness imported in our teaching; too many loud voices screaming at us; too much information and too little love.What’s interesting here, is to note that the three temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness are actually, the three temptations that Satan confronted him with. These temptations were about his identity, power and to do spectacular things in life that would hinge to his mission. But there’s more to this story.Does God push, force and drive us?Mark’s verse here tells us that the same Spirit that rested on the physical body of Jesus was now not resting but actually: “pushing,” “forcing” and “drove” Jesus out into the wilderness.  Read the verse again before you move on. We move too quickly sometimes in reading the Scriptures that we miss important insights that could actually help, free or heal us.   As you read the verse again note that these are the literal translations in the ESV, Message and Amplified versions of this verse. Jesus was pushed. He was forced. He was driven.Jesus was pushed. Jesus was forced and Jesus was driven by God’s Spirit. We may feel initially uneasy about the descriptor words about the power of the Spirit that Mark is offering us. We may prefer a softer, more gentle—way of the Spirit. But Mark uses real, tangible and powerful words to show us how God operates.  When I look at my own story; listen to hundreds of stories of modern day followers and read the ancient accounts of men and women, who through the centuries gave a written witness to their own spiritual journey here’s what I’ve discovered.There are times in our lives when we simply feel compelled, duty-bound, coerced, pressed or even forced to do something. This “feeling” that I want to attempt to describe is a sort of inner mandate that we simply “have to move,” “have to head in a whole other direction, have to step out in faith that somehow we just “know” what we have to do. I “ought” to do something and I know it and I cannot NOT do this thing that I feel so ought-driven to do.We have to simply go. We sense we have to leave. We must make a break.My Own Journey of Being PushedI have experienced several of these kinds of defining moments in my life. Allow me to share five of these times of feeling what Jesus must have felt:

  • When I first met Gwen at a party, I just “knew” that I would marry her. I did marry her. I felt compelled. I felt driven to pursue her with wild abandon. I am so glad I followed that inner sense of “oughtness.”
  • When I came to the realization that I was not a card-carry denominational man. That I had never been comfortable with my roots anchored in a particular way or system that defined me; shaped me and molded my thinking that was truly not me. I left the denomination. There was such a clear, distinct sense of “oughtness” rising up ---that I discovered I could NOT –not do what this sense of being driven to do was telling me. I remember feeling that really, I had no choice in this. I would live a lie unless I left. There are many implications to think through in regard to this in today’s world.
  • When I was preaching a sermon in the church that I led, I had a deep sense of feeling “pushed.” It was in the fourth Sunday worship service in a very large church and I had a sort of private, quick epiphany or panic attack perhaps which rose up with me and informed me saying “This is not you. This is not where you belong at all. I want you to get out.” I got out. I felt as if I was living in a smoke filled room and I could not breathe. I could not find my breath. I felt trapped. I felt like I was imploding or would implode if I did not “get out.” When I left, I began to breathe again and I came alive again—but in a different way than before. I felt really alive—like a sort of new birth.
  • When my first grandchild was born and the subsequent birth of all of my grands, I sensed this same urging rising up with me. “Seize this role, Steve. Rise up and be the spiritual influence this child needs. This is your role. These people are your true legacy.” I was flooded about my real role in life and my real legacy that would define me as a man. IT was powerful and life-altering. Much of my “repositioning” today is a result of the tectonic plates of my inner world shifting. I suspect many of you can identity in some way, shape or form.
  • I am having this same inner "pushing" right now as Gwen and I attempt to "reposition" our life and calling. We agree that we simply "must" do this for reasons we alone know and a deeper sense that this is right for us. We are not being pushed away or out.  It is an inner sense that we are recognizing as an invitation--not a commandment. We could ignore or suppress this. But at this stage of our lives, we feel a sense of "oughtness." We ought to do this and walk into a new chapter waiting on us.. a chapter off the 8-lane freeway of a busy ministry and to live the life we speak about, write about and want to live.

As you read my own accounts here, though brief and succinct, I wonder what may rise up with in you about having a similar sense of being “pushed” out to a whole new terrain—a brand new landscape that had your name on it and you did what we all have to do when this comes, we get up and enter this new place---that we don’t even know the real name of yet.The Wilderness We All Must Enter in LifeThis brings me to Mark’s words again of this place where Jesus was pushed to go. It’s called—wilderness. I once heard Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard and Richard Foster state in unison and with one voice that “wilderness” is the predominate metaphor of the spiritual life. I remember a visceral reaction when what these three spiritual magnates were really telling me. I didn't like this lesson and what's more I resented them saying such a thing. But in time, I have come to agree. I believe what they shared is really true. I, along with each one of you, would need to embrace the idea and concept of wilderness to understand the spiritual journey. We would need to go into wilderness and let wilderness do what wilderness does to the soul.In wilderness, we are stripped down. We have to face our illusions that we may have long held to be true and right. We have to let the long days and lonely nights of wilderness begin to de-construct belief systems, rigid box like thinking and false narratives that we have clung to—thinking them to be really true—only to have our boxes fall apart. Things fall apart in the wilderness. Perhaps this is their God intended purpose.. We let go of things, hard-held beliefs and even convictions handed down to us by parents, political parties and denominations. We are stripped. We have to come to terms with a whole other reality that we discover and are, in fact, discovered by in wilderness times.Ask someone what they learned after their spouse died and a wilderness happened? Ask a corporate woman what they experienced after being fired from a highly esteemed job—a wilderness. Ask anyone who has failed at something they really wanted to accomplish in life. Ask anyone who has divorced a spouse having clung for so long that divorce would never be an option. Ask anyone who has lost a child. Ask anyone who as trekked into a wilderness uninvited, unwelcomed and unwanted. Ask anyone who has transitioned to another country and had to endure that long, lonely season of having no friend, no family; no church, no community and who has left all the food, people and place that comfort gives. We don't have to look far around or far within to find that wilderness is actually everywhere. As Paul says, we are always carrying the death of Jesus within us--even while we are living. Strange isn't it?  Not really.  Let me explain a bit more.Jesus was driven into a wilderness. And from this verse if we say we want to be followers of Jesus, we must embrace our own sense of being driven into wilderness times where we give up security, all that we know to be true and enter a deep, dark time of testing. It is the way of God for such times. Jesus could avoid it and never can we. We can’t go around a wilderness. WE can’t go over a wilderness. We can’t go under a wilderness. We all, just like Jesus, have to go through a wilderness.The movement of the spiritual life is moving and living; then moving into a wilderness--then emerging into a sort of "promised land".  This is the classical understanding of the spiritual life and it is really hinted at, if not explained here by Mark.Facing the Wild Animals WithinMark reminds us that the first things to show up in Jesus’ wilderness times were the wild animals. I recently read a study showing that in 1st century Israel there really were no really “wild” animals. There were no loose and wild lions seeking to devour people. There were no bears. So what kind of “wild”animals was Mark referring to that confronted Jesus? A wild dog? Maybe. A herd of wild boars? Maybe. I’m not sure actually.But what I know is this. The wild animals that always seem to assault me are the inner ones. Voices of shame. Lamenting voices speaking about my failures. Wild voices that are self-condemning and always self-critiquing. They are always trying to literally pull me apart from the inside. It is these voices that always seem to show up for the hundreds of people I listen to when they are alone, hungry, afraid and tired from the journey of life. These wild voices seem to fall into one of three categories jeering us about what we have done; what we really want in life; and what will really satisfy us in life. Right here, in one of these three wild voices, we will be confronted with what we truly believe and about what is really true.It’s in these dark wilderness times that we make inner resolves about how we will stand in the face of such wild voices. This is what Jesus did. He resolved in each jeering taunt the truth that he knew and the truth that would compel him forward and out of the wilderness.In the contemplative life, we are offered a beautiful lesson. Those who want to live a life marked by inner peace and a sense of shalom are not immediately granted the fruits. It takes time---and I read this week a year of learning to transition is not too long to think about when we are leaving one place on our journey and entering a new one.  I can tell you that in my own journey and understanding, I have had to embrace the fact that my journey is taking a whole lot longer than I thought and even wanted. I must simply walk through some wildernesses to understand some of the fruit of the life I am hoping to cultivate. It takes time.Finally, Mark reminds us that after—and only after, he had gone into the wilderness and faced the wild beasts and even Satan himself—that Jesus would find comfort.  Comfort comes--that  is the good news for us. But it is in the wilderness that we find the comfort we actually want.Friends, these are important words that can encourage us right now in whatever desert we are living in or through. There is comfort. Mark tells us that the “angels attended him.” Other translations tell us that Jesus was cared for. Jesus was "ministered to"…that the angels "continually ministered to Jesus."  Think about this.  Comfort came and does come to us as well.As we move through our own wilderness times, there comes a sense that we are not alone; that we are not forsaken; that we are not in this by ourselves. We get to experience—and yes, the word I’m saying here is “experience” the loving comfort of the love of God. Perhaps this is what Paul had in mind when he says he literally “prayed” that we would experience a sense deep within us of God’s love. This kind of comfort, Paul explains “surpasses our understanding” (Ephesians 3:19). This is the kind of individual and personal ministry that God is about. This kind of beautiful, specific and unique comfort is what really defines the heart of God. It is the kind of love that we, my dear brothers and sisters are invited to taste as the beloved children of God. This is the kind of love and experience that actually defines the kind of God we love and serve today.At Potter’s Inn, Gwen and I have walked with many people who come to us in their defined time of wilderness. They are tired, worn out and beaten up by many things in life—including religion. But what we are witnesses to, is this: As they walk through their wilderness times---wilderness of their own vocational journey; wilderness times of feeling like mis-fits in church; wilderness times of being so worn down that they feel ‘dead on arrival’—that comfort comes. Peace is fostered. Inner contentment is realized. It’s uncanny and it’s true.I hope that this may encourage you in what ever circumstance you find yourselves in and that when you feel that are you are being ushered out and into a wilderness that you may remember Mark’s powerful, singular verse and may this one verse bring great hope to us all in a time of political, relational, ecclesiastical, vocational, or physical wilderness that we will have to walk through.If you’re in a wilderness defined by disease or diagnosis: take heed.If you are in a vocational wilderness and are living in the land of in-between, take heed.If you are a liminal space—a space of wilderness defined by geography, emotion or relationship, or even a spiritual wilderness-- take heed.There is movement. Trust the movement. Trust that comfort is on His way!

Facing the Scarcity Dilemma

Deep inside many of us, there is a scarcity—a lack—an insufficiency that gnaws away within us. It begins within us due to something we missed and would be better off if we had gotten. Like our thirst for water when we're really needing a drink, we know that it is the water that will satisfy us. Nothing else will do but water. There is another scarcity however that concerns me for all of us.When we go through our lives sensing an inner absence; a starkness to how we were raised and how we were loved, we set out on a pilgrimage to fill his hole and fill this shortage.This is how the country song writer said it best, we “look for love in all the wrong places. We look for love in too many faces.”  This song has become the National Anthem of so many of us who live with an inner scarcity--an inner need for love.In hearing the stories of men and women and in research now available to us, we can clearly see what this scarcity is all about and what we need to begin to do to move towards not only our healing but also to experience the life Jesus described as a more “abundant life.”Our inner abundance is formed early in our lives by three shaping influences. I call these the Trinity of Selfhood and this Trinity of Selfhood forms the base for a rich and satisfying life—one that is lived without nagging inner turmoil and perpetual desolation. We know about the Trinity about God. But do we know about the Trinity of ourselves? Let me explain.First, every living soul needs self-esteem. Self-esteem is the sense that I matter. It is the confidence in one’s own worth and dignity. Early in life, we are signaled about our own worth through the eyes of our parents. If a baby sees their mother’s eyes, the father’s interest in giving them attention, their self esteem is birthed right there. In the profound book, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van de Kolk, MD , we read the evidence of how the scarcity of self-esteem in a baby’s life is so formative right from the beginning. If a mom is busy on her social media while she also is breast feeding her baby, the baby is simply not getting the mother’s eyes—the mother’s delight—the mother’s focus of attention.  The constant and repetitive distraction; the emotional absence; the starkness of some of our formations have left us with an inner scarcity--an inner thirst for what only love will satisfy. The baby senses this and somehow knows that “I am not the delight of their attention.” This is where the scarcity dilemma begins and then continues a long, long journey of trying to be delighted in by someone, something or anything that will tell me that “I matter.”In ancient Egyptian art, the eyes were always portrayed as large—the largest facial feature on the face. This is because they believed that the eyes are the windows into the soul.  Come to find out, they were right. Through the eyes, we learn if we matter or not. We see through the pupil of someone to discern if we are a bother; if we are being tolerated or if we really are being delighted in.Second, our self-concept forms which tells us who we are to others. Our self-concept is how we construct how others view us and regard us. Self-esteem is how I view myself. Self-concept is how I believe others view me. Some of us grew up and now live as adults believing lies about ourselves. These lies were information we gathered from our earliest days about ourselves, other people and whether people and God were both good and safe or dangerous and not to be trusted. The spiritual writer and priest, Henri Nouwen has said, “ First of all, you have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am a chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”Here I confess that I, too, hear those lies every day about myself. Don’t you? Don’t we all hear the voices around us and within us re-enforcing what is not really true about us? These are the lies that need to be de-bunked and exposed. These are the lies I can hear when I am working; with my friends, at church and alone. These are the lies that tell us stuff that is not true about ourselves and how life and God really do work.  These are the lies that must be dismantled until we find our core truth—that we are the Beloved of God and his eyes are upon us and that God is truly delighted in each one of us as his child. He told Jesus his core truth. God told Jesus that Jesus was the Beloved of God and since we are his own sons and daughters, we need to hear this message for ourselves. Until we do, we will live in this scarcity dilemma.Self-Efficacy forms the third shaping member of our own trinity of understanding ourselves. Self-efficacy is about our competence, our ability and our confidence in ourselves. This is the fruit of healthy self-esteem and a self-concept that is rooted in reality and love. Our self-efficacy is the galvanizing within us that we have what it takes to not only live but to make a difference.I see Jesus offering these three important ingredients--this important "Trinity of Self-hood" to everyone he touched. He offered dignity to the woman at the well. He offered a redefining of the self-concept of Zaccheus as a “wee little man” and showed him that he mattered. He called up Peter as a generic fisherman to a new self-understanding of being the anchor to his teachings and the pioneer of the Christian church. When you see the life of Jesus in action and read his own words, you can see, how his modus operandi was to give love and dignity to people who were enslaved to the yoke of religion without any regard to their inner life—their own scarcity of abundance. This is why, I believe, the message of Jesus really is good news…a new so deep and so revolutionary that we need to revisit his teachings regularly because if we don’t we really have no other choice than to believe the lies the world is telling us.How do we go about dealing with this inner scarcity if we are wakening up an inner sense of lack? Here are five considerations:

  1. We must anchor ourselves in the core truth of our true identity as God’s beloved. This is a daily work and not a one-time fixes all sort of thing. Reading, Henri Nouwen’s “Life of the Beloved” David Benner’s “The Gift of Being Yourself” are the two “go-to” books I read and re-read often.
  2. Do the inner work you need to dismantle the lies about yourself. This may involve talking with a trusted friend, working with a counselor and having a spiritual director you can process with. Processing your own lies with and listening to some feedback from a wise source is essential. Having someone who can mirror back to you your own lies and help you embrace the truth about yourself no matter who wonderful it really is--is just crucial. Read my last sentence again... "no matter how wonderful" you really are....Be courageous and begin or continue this good work.
  3. Attend a church that not only helps you know God but will help you know yourself. John Calvin, the reformer of the church in the 16th century said in is famous “Institutes,” that “the greatest way to know God is to know yourself and the greatest way to know yourself is to know God.” A church that is committed to both self-knowledge and God knowledge is a church that is committed to real health and true health and growth.
  4. Consider using the new online and DVD resource we produced, "Soul Care 101". Here's the link to the 8 DVD versionHere's the link to the Streaming Version available world wide and right now!  In this 8 session study, Gwen and I expound on the core need of every soul to be loved, to feel safe and to belong. It's important teaching and material that you can explore in a group or with a friend.
  5. The journey of becoming our true self is a journey of being and becoming. We realize that we are loved--but because of the fact of so many and redundant lies, we are always on the journey of becoming the beloved. Both aspects of this journey are important.

   

The Slow Work of God

This morning, I sat with the verse in Luke 2:52, where the medical doctor and Gospel writer tells us that "Jesus increased in wisdom (in broad and full understanding) and in stature and years, an in favor with God and man" (Amplified version).Here we see the whole spiritual formation of the Lord Jesus. He increased and Luke then tells us the categories of how Jesus grew and increased.I read this in the Amplified version because, in this version, we see how wisdom is defined--a broad and full understanding of life and faith. Oh, how we all need this kind of increase. May we all increase in a broader understanding of life and faith. May we increase in real knowledge both of God and ourselves. It was John Calvin who explained that "the greatest way for a person to know God is to know themselves and the greatest way for a person to know themselves is to know God." When I think of Jesus growing in this kind of knowledge I can understand his formation and my own. Step by step; year after year, we grow in understanding God and knowing ourselves.But this kind of knowledge takes time. There is no substitute for time. We cannot microwave or speed up what we know and how we know it. There are issues in the first half of life we learn and we can't really know the issues or themes of the second half of life until we transtion into the second half and that happens in time and through time.Since January, I have been reading and re-reading a wonderful poem. Read this poem. Read it slowly. Think about each line.Patient TrustAbove all, trust in the slow work of God.We are quite naturally impatient in everythingto reach the end without delay.We should like to skip the intermediate stages.We are impatient of being on the way to somethingunknown, something new.And yet it is the law of all progressthat it is made by passing throughsome stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time.And so I think it is with you;your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,let them shape themselves, without undue haste.Don’t try to force them on,as though you could be today what time(that is to say, grace and circumstancesacting on your own good will)will make of you tomorrow.Only God could say what this new spiritgradually forming within you will be.Give Our Lord the benefit of believingthat his hand is leading you,and accept the anxiety of feeling yourselfin suspense and incomplete.—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJChardin unpacks how we have to have patient trust. We cannot skip the intermediate stages. We can't get to the end before we go through the middle. We can't skip seasons, years or events that will shape us.I've found great comfort and encouragement in this wonderful poem. The world we live in now is so demanding for everything to get things done quickly. Yet in the spiritual life, we cannot skip the stages; seasons or events that will shape our soul.Jesus couldn't either. Each year of his boyhood; each festival he attended; each sabbath he enjoyed; each walk with his mother and father; each time of playing with his cousin John and more---shaped his soul.As Jesus increased in time, may we do the same. May we exercise the slow work of God in our lives and through the world with patient trust!-----------------------------------------------The Potter's Inn Soul Care Institute has two new cohorts--two new opportunities for you to grow your soul and deepen you walk with God. Check it out at The Soul Care Institute----------------------------------------------Looking for something to study and learn to help you care for your soul? Check out Soul Care 101: Spiritual Conversations by the Crackling Fire with Stephen and Gwen Smith. Here's the link: Soul Care 101: Spiritual Conversations with Steve and Gwen Smith

Anxiety Abounds! There is a Remedy!

Underneath the surface of the Earth are shifting monumental plates or tectonic plates. Far, far deeper than we can see, these moving tectonic plates form part of the foundation for continents, oceans and countries. When these plates shift, earthquakes happen. Fault lines surface up to the outer shell of the surface of our planet. These fault lines reveal a fragile physical condition of our planet.It is apparent that not only are the deep, massive tectonic plates within the Earth are surfacing but the tectonic plates of our life and culture is shifting as well. Things are changing—perhaps to never return to the life, as we have known it, once was.People have developed what is called a Doomsday Clock. It is a way of looking at what people believe is the time we have left on this earth, before something of doom—something catastrophic, will happen. The Doomsday clock takes into account the combined threat of a nuclear holocaust, Climate change and other factors of unrest. Just last month, January 2017, the Doomsday clock advanced two minutes leaving only 2 ½ minutes until Doomsday.As we survey or personal worlds and spheres, there is much unrest to be experienced as well: health crisis for someone you love; political upheaval and discord, the constant busyness of our lives and our many failed attempts to seek to balance our lives as we confess a “spinning out of control” kind of diagnosis. Underneath the surface of the souls of many is an inner anxiety—a sort of growing angst that something is wrong---really wrong.Some of us are happy with these shifting movements. Others of us are not. It does not matter whether we are happy or upset. What matters more is this: How will we navigate the tectonic plates shifting within our own souls? How will we allow ourselves to be affected by such seismic shifts in the world we are seeing and experiencing? Can we maintain some form of inner stability, contentment and well-being by such much outer stress happening outside and around us? Does everything HAVE to be so upsetting all the time?A sponge soaks in what it is sitting in. Place a simple sponge in dirty water and it will, in fact, absorb the dirty water. Our souls are like sponges and with all the discord, shifting, violence and expressions of such strong beliefs and convictions, will we lose all civility, decency and order to our lives? Will our inner life become as chaotic as our outer world?Our predicament is not new to God. Down through the eons of time, there have always been crisis, problems, upheavals, wars, crisis and tragedy. The world's residents have witnessed a lot of unrest throughout time. Think of the wars, genocide, tragedy, unrest and unjust things that have always been a part of being a global citizen. But also down through time, God has invited us into a way not only of coping but of an invitation to grow in our own awareness of his deep, compassionate love for those of us on the up and those of us who find themselves crashing to the bottom of their lives and landing in a pit—perhaps another pit.A Shift In My SoulFor the past two years, I have been on an inner journey surveying my inner tectonic plates. This journey has been an inward one and an outward one. Because things are shifting in me, and let me remind you that I am at present 62, these inner shifts are causing outer change. In short, my journey has been to learn how to pray.Before you roll your eyes and say, “Oh, here we go….” Let me just say that I’ve both read a lot of books and written some but on the subject of prayer, I realized that I knew very, very little. I was taught acrostics on prayer. I was taught to pray in many different ways: intercessory, prayers of praise, prayers of inner healing; prayers to change an addiction or deep flaw and more. They all seemed somewhat canned, if I am to be honest. Even though I, myself told and coached people to prayer, something felt amiss.But two years ago, Gwen and I took a sabbatical from our work and the focus of our time off from work was to take time on to learn about prayer. Like the disciples who followed Jesus, we both realized that we needed a teacher to teach us. They turned to Jesus himself and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We turned to a Christian, spiritual master who was steeped in prayer. We took an online course. We began to practice prayer in a whole, new way. What matters here is that I not go into what this is called or where do you sign up for the course we took? What matters is that I simply share that these two years have greatly helped both Gwen and I in a greater and deeper awareness of God; the love God has for us and for all his children. Prayer has helped us maintain some sanity. It has helped us stay connected to our deepening roots. It has helped us to live a better life than we were living prior to this shift. It is helping us learn to detach from distractions, old patterns of attempting to smear happiness over us like make-up to cover up blemishes. This movement with us is helping us to grow in a greater and deeper awareness than I had thought possible. It’s helping me understand in a deeper way, my place in the universe. It is helping me face my inner wounds and find wholeness in the grace of God. In short, I am more content.Who would have thought that something like prayer—and practicing the presence of God could have shifted my tectonic plates to such a place of inner peace? I was not prepared. I needed to submit my educated self to learn something I simply did not know.Prayer is not a program you master, at least I don’t see it this way. It is becoming more and more awake and aware of God in me and around me; in the shifting tectonic plates of the world outside of me and how that clamoring discord I hear about in the news can be lived through.Some people are just too quick to quote verses from the Bible; paste emoticons on your status—without digesting what I am trying to say here. A spiritual master I have read wrote, “Everyone of needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy—then we need an hour” (Francis De Sales). There was a long, extended season of my life and work when I quoted things like that in a way, I suppose to manipulate or quilt trip people to pray more. But now in my sixth decade of life, I am more and more understanding what De Sales is saying. By sitting quietly in your room or office, you might way to begin to pray by saying less and listening more. That is a good starting point to learn to shift what you thought you knew about prayer to praying in a deeper way—a way that can bring an inner quietness and soul satisfaction.There are turbulent times indeed. And our sponge like souls have soaked in a great deal of toxins. The remedy is not as complicated as we might have thought.

Re-Thinking Our Capacity

 endofropeThere is an ever growing thinness to the souls of people I encounter.  Besides the fact that we are busy, over-committed and manage rivaling priorities, is this fitting diagnosis:  we’re tired, worn out; teeter tottering on burn out; always recovering from some one, some thing or some event. There’s never enough margin to make like work as we secretly think it should. We have resigned our lives to attempting to survive successfully—whatever that means. To survive successfully seems to be enough admist the ever present voices that we will all have to do more to barely survive and we can forget about thriving. The word, "thriving" can go the way of the dinosaur, VHS tape and family dinners.Underneath our malaise is a gnawing sense of never feeling as if we have enough capacity. We are made to feel in most situations we find ourselves—be it church, work, community involvement, raising children, caring for aging parents and in marriage that we need to be doing more.So from an early age until this very moment we find ourselves on a hunt for more and doing more while neglecting a deeper, more soulful discussion about our understanding of capacity.Organizations, business, churches and non-profits seem to categorize us into silos where we are rated according to our abilities, performance and aptitude. Some of us are told we are “high capacity” leaders. While others are “mid-level.” Some have given us colors, symbols or animals to understand our place in the order of things. We are the color: orange, assigned a number like “5” to help us aspire to become a 7 or another number we are told is better than the one we are at present. We could be a roaring lion or an playful otter. But it doesn’t matter what color you are or what animal others perceive you to be if you’re always left with a suspicion that to move up; we must always be doing more. To do more and be more becomes the stressful cadence of how we do our everyday lives. And in the living of our over-committed lives, our humanity leaks from us as air from a red ballon with a  slow, steady leak. One of the reasons that we leak so much is that we have not understood our capacity.When we begin to re-think our capacity, we find a new and life-giving platform upon which we can stand; build our lives and live with a sense of inner satisfaction marked by words such as peace, joy and well-being.Re-thinking our capacity involves several aspects of re-thinking our lives and how we see other people. It's not just about how much MORE work can we do? It's about being human and keeping our humanity in tact so we do not morph into working machines giving off fumes of burned out oil in the already polluted world we are living in at this moment.

  • Understanding our limits. If we adopt the idea that our calendars do not need to dictate our capacity we will then begin to understand our limits and our capacity. To live well means that we need space between our meetings, conferences, presentations and sessions to reflect, ponder and gain the meaning we can for ourselves. We are not helping machines. But we can become shaped to feel as if we are a mere cog in the wheel when we do not learn to schedule space between our meetings, intense conversations and crammed schedules. I blogged about understanding our limits earlier and discussed it in my book, INSIDE JOB.
  • Be present with who are you are present with. When we are emotionally distant and vacant, we may have left the building and the room in which we are meeting someone--perhaps someone very important to us. Our body is there but are hearts are somewhere else.  I explored having a father who was emotionally distant from me at breakfast in my childhood in THE LAZARUS LIFE. We shared cereal together but not much else. I coined the phrase, "the cereal stare" to give words to that terrible gap between our chairs at the table and our hearts inside. Capacity means having the ability to be present—to be engage—to be focused with one’s heart and attention. When we are over our capacity, we see people like things and conversations like work. We can work, live and make love in a trance while missing out on the real, live encounter with the person who is sitting across from us or lying next to us in bed. To be present means being available—all of us being available to the person we are working with, engaged in a meaningful relationship or caring for in some degree.
  • Being Aware. When I book meetings close together; when I meet back-to-back to make “more happen” than it probably should, I lose my awareness of what I’m doing in the meeting and lose my perspective on who it is I’m actually talking with. Being aware requires taking a few moments to breath; to think and pray, “God let me be aware of what is about to happen. Keep me in sync with my own heart, reactions, gifts and ability to love this person.” To lose sight of who it is we are with is to lose the capacity to be real, authentic and to be fully human. We lose our humanity when we try to do more and more with less and less time. Our losing our humanity begins with losing our own awareness of ourselves and the dignity each human being offers us in any kind of meeting or situation we find ourselves. In short, our availability does not equal our capacity. We may give someone the time they are asking for but we are not really there with them. Our body may be present but our mind is off in a distant, far off land and we are offering them a shell of ourselves. We all have old ways, patterns and addictions about the nicks, wounds and bruises of sharing life with someone who was not present or aware. But there is recovery for all of us and all recover begins with this first step: being aware of my real condition and the real people around me.
  • Extending Hospitality. Extending hospitality is as simple as taking the time to really see they person coming to you for what they really are: a seeker; a person trying to make life work as we are as well; and that every person who we meet with is really the invitation to experience the Presence of God in them. Years ago, I went to meet a famous monk who I had gotten to know through his writings. I was so intent on meeting him and what I would say, that when I went to the monastery, I didn’t even realize it was the monk who I wanted to meet that actually opened the door for me to enter the monastery. He greeted me so warmly; embraced me and offered me a refreshment. All the while I was wondering how it could be that I would meet the famous Monk—Richard Rohr. When I asked in the bookstore if I could meet him, another brother- monk smiled and said, “You already met him. That was Father Rohr who greeted you at the door.” I was embarrassed and ashamed. When we are so intent on doing our work; accomplishing our tasks and checking off our lists, we can miss Someone in everyone. Extending hospitality is one of pillars of some businesses and ministries; while others are consumed with services, events and the next thing. We think of hospitality in the wrong way when we think of dinner parties and entertaining. Extending the incarnational love of God through our own presence and reactions to others is true care and true love.

 Our capacity is more than what we can ascertain in books and seminars about doing more and moving from being good to great. Our capacity is learning what it means to be human; to recover our humanity in a rat-race world marked with moving ladders of success and accomplishment.Our capacity is found in re-thinking what kind of people we have become and reclaiming a notion of the kind of people we want to become.

Understanding Your Capacity

uturn3I've been rethinking my own capacity and I want to invite you to re-think your own capacity. In the next few blogs, I'll be exploring my need to re-think what my own capacity is; Why I am having to re-think my capacity and your need now to re-think your capacity; my progressive revelation of the fallacy of such terms as "high capacity leader" and most important is this--if we do not understand our own limits in this life, we will never be content, satisfied or happy!EXCEEDING OUTPUTOver-extending yourself is stretching your physical, emotional, financial, vocational, and relational boundaries to the point of depletion. Have you ever heard the expression someone says when the money is running tight. It goes like this: “There is too much month for too little money.” Translated it means, “I’ve run out of money to pay all my bills and it’s only the middle of the month.” That’s what happens when we overextend ourselves; there’s more being asked of us than we can give.This overextending causes stress to accumulate: the stress at home, in the workplace, during travel, it all piles up like a huge stack of dirty laundry. Stress, as we all know, is deadly to our health. Every doctor and therapist will tell you that unresolved stress is going will “do you in.” Stress works itself out through our blood pressure, and attacks our vital organs. Stress releases a toxin that when built up leaves it’s marks inside of us. We live with a tyranny of the urgent mentality with drives us, manipulates us, and sucks life and passion right out of our marrow and veins. Everything must be done now. Everything has to be quick.Professions that call for high emotional investment in people, otherwise known as “helping professions” need to take note. Examples include ministers, counselors, social workers, nurses, doctors, teachers. The principle that anyone involved in a helping profession needs to uphold is this: Those who care must be cared for. No one is the exception to this, not even you! An important step in learning to live your life within limits is to confess, “There are no exceptions to this principle. Not even me!”In the military world, men and women who have repeated multiple deployments, living in harms way for extended periods of time apart from loved ones, experience signs and symptoms of the burn-out and depletion I am describing. I have three sons who serve as officers in the United States Army. When they are deployed, I see firsthand the stress on their wives, children, and in their own souls. I also sense my own stress rising when they are deployed. Sometimes, I can’t sleep if I know they are truly in harm’s way.I’ve worked with numerous people who work in the area of disaster relief and in crisis situations for large organizations. After flying overseas or travelling to a site where a hurricane, earthquake, or human plight has developed, they go into fierce action-mode, doing everything possible to save lives and alleviate suffering. IT always takes a toll. One relief worker who is employed by a United Nations relief agency came to our retreat and introduced himself with these words: “I’m DOA. Dead On Arrival. I’m spent and have no idea where I left my heart along the way.”PREVENTATIVE CAREMost people in the developed world know to wash their hands before eating. By washing your hands, you are preventing the spread of germs that can make you sick. In developing countries, many cross-cultural workers will teach people about drinking water that is safe. They say, “Urinate over there and keep this area clean and pure so nothing bad will go into the water.” Again, it’s a simple truth to keep people healthy. Learning to live within your limits is a simple preventative principle that will help you stay healthy. All aspects of caring for yourself are really preventative work. Preventative care is an important part of the work within the work. It’s never a selfish act to care for yourself! Never! In the bigger picture of life and health it is stewardship.I tell people this simple proverb: “Know before you go!” and what I mean by that is you need to know some basic life principles before you go and give your heart away for a cause, a mission, an organization or a company. This by far is the most identified regret of my entire life.To explore your own limits, consider these categories that will help you as you begin setting realistic limits for yourself.First, consider how you can conserve energy, as in “your” energy. We need to learn some conservation skills. We simply cannot give all of our energy all the time. No one ever told me this. I was taught to give my all and that my all was needed, if not demanded. I was also taught, via sermons, and books, and stories, that even God expected my all. Now I know this is simply not true. Even Jesus did not even begin his thirty-six month mission on earth until he was thirty years old. With the kind of thinking that was ingrained in me, I found myself wondering “Jesus wasted a lot of time. What if he had begun earlier in life; hung up his tool belt by age 18 and started out then…look at how much MORE he could have done.”Winston Churchill, the undeniable leader of the Free World has much to teach emerging leaders here on the “know before you go” principle.In Paul Johnson’s biography of this legendary British hero, Churchill, we read these words:In 1946, I had the good fortune to ask him a question:“Mr. Churchill, sir, to what do you attribute your success in life?”Without pause or hesitation, he replied:“Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.”Johnson then goes on to explain the idea of conserving your energy on an every day basis:Churchill was capable of tremendous physical and intellectual efforts, of high intensity over long periods, often with little sleep. But he had corresponding powers of relaxation, filled with a variety of pleasurable occupations, and he also had the gift of taking short naps when time permitted. Again, when possible, he spent his mornings in bed, telephoning, dictating, and receiving visitors.Second, embrace the idea of living life in rhythm, not in balance.As we have already seen, the idea of balance is a lie. It simply cannot be maintained. Despite all the seminars, books, and TED talks, balance is bunk. Rhythm is doable and allows you to develop your own understanding living life in limits. I have a friend who is a Registered Nurse in a Cancer Ward at a leading hospital. She works three days “on” and four “off.” Her three days on are twelve-hour shifts that sometimes extend to 13 hours—even 14 some days when there is so much documentation needed. Her first day “off” is useless to her. She is so tired, so exhausted, so “spent” that she told me, “On my first day off, I’m no good to anyone. I just sleep, “veg” and eat. By the second day off, I’m sensing who I am again, and go out for lunch or dinner with a good friend.” It’s a necessary limit and rhythm that she has come to understand about her own life and need for recovery. In my book, THE JESUS LIFE, I explore rhythm in three important chapters. Order it here!Third, steward your output by mentally and emotionally disengaging after you work. I coach leaders to leave their work at work and do not do work in your home if at all possible. If you work at home, define a definite workspace. Hint – this should NOT be your bedroom. In defining work areas, you actually create mental and emotional space.My wife and I do not speak, mention, or chat about the name of our work, people we work with, or issues relating to space on our days off or in our home after work hours. To talk about our team is to talk about work. We’ve set high boundaries here and limit our conversations to issues pertaining to us, our kids, grandkids, close friends, and vacation plans. We literally try to set our mind to ease by saying “This is not a Sabbath conversation. Let’s talk about this tomorrow.”After every great output of energy, plan and schedule a time for input. Give yourself what brings you life. Give yourself permission to live and not just work. After you spend enormous time and energy involving yourself in a project or travel obligation, know that you need some recovery time. You cannot simply give and give and give. This is a deadly mistake that will lead to burnout and depression. You have to replenish.I travel internationally and after doing this for several years, I’ve learned that just the trip alone and the changing of time zones and the stress of waiting and delays and security issues requires that I need to set aside calendar time to re-coup. Last year, I traveled to India. I flew all night and half of the next day to get there. I arrived and was whisked away in a taxi to give a talk. It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I was completely zoned out. Now I know better. I “know before I go” and build in a day or two to get adjusted, to rest, and to have time to collect my thoughts.After a time of intense work, how about taking a couple of days for yourself—to go see a “sight” or to have some life giving experience? Could your spouse join you for an extended time “off” knowing that you’ve been “on” so much lately? By thinking like this, you will insulate yourself from the crisis of cramming too much in and doing too much. Build in your time off before you go. Work this out with your boss and team and call it “Compensatory Time” or something that will give you permission to take good care of yourself. This is vital and key to learning to live within your limits.Fourth, face the truth that you cannot do everything and do everything well. We cannot burn the candle at both ends. Jesus wisely asked three penetrating questions to his followers—not to people who were considering following him—but to those who had already signed up. His questions were:Are you tired?Are you worn out?Are you burned out on religion?These three questions give us permission to know our limits and grow in our own self-awareness of how we are really doing and to care for our souls. So many people are living in one of these three unhealthy spheres that Jesus describes: physical exhaustion, mental anguish involving guilt and shame for not doing more, and then the big one which leaves us totally worn out - being burned out - that state where we live like we’re fried without the hope of recovery.______________________________________________The above is taken from the chapter in Inside Job titled: Understanding your Limits: Learning to say No in order to say Yes! Check the book out here: Inside Job