Preparing for Parenthood

Meagan and I are having our first child, and we’re pumped up about it.

We announced it to our families after we had a positive pregnancy test the week of Christmas. Talk about a fantastic present for both them and us. As joyful as it’s been, the first trimester (and now the second, thus far) was rough. Meagan’s been sick–really sick–throwing up all the time and continuously feeling nauseous. She’s gained an aversion to foods she used to love and a particular affinity for things like chocolate croissants and hummus. (Not together, but then again, nothing is out of bounds for a pregnant woman.)

As we prepare to bring a child into this crazy world and become parents for the first time, we’ve been wading through the emotions and questions associated with soon-to-be parenthood. Am I going to be a good father? Will I be able to provide for another human being? What if I pass out in the delivery room? We’ve spent time going through potential names for the child, gone to doctor appointments, and thought about whether it would be okay to put basketball shoes on him or her right after birth (okay, maybe that’s something I’ve thought through).

I joke with Meagan now that when we hug, we’re actually having a group hug—all three of us. Our family is growing, and someday soon, the child inside of Meagan will be born, learn to read, and potentially see this post. At that point, son or daughter, you will know your mother and I have loved you since before you were in the world. Now go and do the dishes.

As I’ve been preparing for the time in August when I probably won’t sleep much, I’ve made a few observations about soon-to-be-first-time fatherhood. I obviously have no idea what I’m doing at this point, but I’m ecstatic about being a father—and have learned a little bit in the process of waiting for our child to be born.

Trust is a big deal. Pregnancy feels completely out of our control. In most ways, it is. Meagan can take prenatal vitamins and I can run to Wendy’s to get her a frosty, but ultimately it comes down to trust. Do we trust God with this child? No matter what happens from here on out, do we surrender our desire for control? Pregnancy can incite an odd mix of exuberance and terror. When we walk into the doctor’s office, it’s easy to be fearful and excited at the same time. Look, there’s its heartbeat! What if something goes wrong? This is amazing! What if we can’t provide for this child? I can’t wait to meet him or her! What if I stink at being a dad? The questions can come flooding in, but the truth is—no matter what, God is God and we aren’t. Preparing to have a child is putting a magnifying glass to my faith and reminding me to cast my anxieties at the feet of Jesus.

Life isn’t more meaningful, but fatherhood is an essential calling. Sometimes people say they’re having a baby because they want to have a more meaningful life. I don’t buy this argument. Plenty of people never have kids and are living meaningfully. Meaning isn’t found in having kids—it’s found in loving God and loving people. Those living meaningful lives can continue to do so when they have children, but the ticket to purpose isn’t found in being a mother or father. What I am learning, however, about preparing to have a child is fatherhood is an essential calling. The world needs more dads that stick around and love well. I’m seeking this vision for my life.

My relationship with Meagan should be prioritized over my relationship with my child. Even now, I’m learning our relationship should take a higher priority than our relationship with our kid. He or she hasn’t even been born yet, but we’re already recognizing the importance of seeing ourselves as a team in the parenting adventure. She’s not just pregnant with her child—Meagan’s pregnant with our child. We’re a team.

We don’t necessarily need a bigger place to live. We currently live in a one bedroom apartment, and it’s easy to start thinking about getting a bigger place to prepare for a baby. It’s not wrong to think this way, and we probably will move to a place that’s a little bigger. But in our conversations, we’ve realized it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we stay right where we are. A baby doesn’t take up that much space, and we could figure it out. We don’t have to impulsively buy a house out of fear that we’ll run out of room. We can take our time to make the right decision for our family.

It’s okay to feel clueless. I’ve never been a father before, so the unknown freaks me out a little bit. But I’m learning it’s okay to feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. It goes back to trust—just take it one step at a time.

You Can’t Take It with You: Storing Treasure in Heaven

One of the easiest things to forget is that we won’t be able to take a single one of our possessions to heaven.

Everything we think we own is essentially leased to us by God, and we’ve been trusted to manage his portfolio. Giving our possessions a perceived attribute of permanence makes us more likely to grip them with white knuckles. We can become unable to view our things with the eyes of Christ. In Matthew 19, Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

But what does this mean?

Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t have a savings account? Is he saying it’s wrong to contribute to a 401(k)?

No, these things are important. But what he is saying is we shouldn’t put our trust in these things. Ultimately, savings accounts and investments are simply tools to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. They aren’t actually treasures themselves. When we find our ultimate security in banks, we’re treasuring temporary things over an eternal reality.

This is a truth I haven’t fully grasped yet, if I’m honest. I struggle with this concept and have found myself frequently looking at money and possessions to satiate anxiety I feel about life’s meaning.

What I’m having to learn is to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven means to invest in kingdom-focused work. It means filtering our giving, saving, and spending decisions through an eternal perspective.

It doesn’t just mean giving more to charity. It can also mean changing the way we’re spending our money. For example, when we spend a sum of money we’ve saved up for a nice dinner with our spouse, it can be either a kingdom investment or a worldly expenditure. What matters is our perspective and motivation. If the motivation comes from a desire to love our spouse and enjoy God’s gift of good food, we’re seeing the situation rightly. If, however, we believe we deserve a nice meal with our spouse and the pleasure of the moment terminates on us—we’ve spent our treasure on earth.

To store treasure up in heaven doesn’t necessarily mean we all must sell all we have and give it to the poor like Jesus instructs the rich man to do. It does mean, however, we all must be willing to sell all we have and give it to the poor. He might just call us to do this, and if the idea of losing all our earthly possessions frightens us to the point of seeing no possible way we could go on, we’re probably storing up treasure on earth rather than heaven. But if we are so satisfied in our relationship with Christ we could imagine contentment apart from our things, it’s probably an indication we’re rightly seeing our kingdom investments.

In Philippians 4:12, Paul writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” He has learned the value of storing treasure in heaven, even though he experienced both scarcity and plenty.

C.S. Lewis has a famous quote I love. “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak,” he says. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” When we let our pleasure terminate on our possessions, we’re missing the joy of leveraging our possessions for God’s kingdom through the ways we give, save, and spend.

We will always be in this battle, alternating between the allure of placing our identity in our things and placing our identity in Christ. This will be a fight we must take up daily. We will lose sometimes. I lose this fight often. But let’s keep our governing principles in mind.

When we give, may we do so with a happy heart—and may we give generously, as Christ has so generously given to us. When we save, may we save knowing the freedom from having to go into debt during emergencies or larger purchases allows us to more passionately pursue ministry opportunities. As we contribute to retirement, may we view the end goal as a chance to serve in God’s kingdom, not as a chance to be served in our golden years. As we spend, may we forgo entitlement to things and operate from a place of gratitude. May we remember that the earth is the Lord’s and so is everything in it. May we enjoy things as testimonies to God’s goodness—not just byproducts of our hard work.

We can’t take it with us, so let’s store our treasure in heaven.

photo credit: 2008 02 17 017 (from RAW) via photopin (license)

Work is Worship for Pastors and Project Managers Alike

I’ve taken a whack at this topic before, but it’s worth writing about it again because it’s easy to miss the fact that what we do from nine to five Monday through Friday is an opportunity to worship God. Not just interactions with coworkers or the chance to use the money earned for charity, but the actual vocation itself. Whether you’re a banker, artist, accountant, or craftsman–your job has potential for worship. Exerting ourselves in work is an opportunity to bring God glory.

Much has been said about finding meaningful work. This line of thinking is important, because contributing value to the world is important. But often, the nonprofit workers and the pastors are seen as the ones adding value, while the rest of the possible ways to make an impact and make money are left out of the equation. Bill Hendricks makes a great point when he notes God doesn’t really care about the tax-exempt status of the organization you’re working for.

The reality is God hasn’t ordained certain professions as more sacred than others, with the exception of the wrong ones that run contrary to the flourishing of society. He is primarily interested in our obedience to his voice, and his voice calls people to be aid workers and accountants. Peter Swann often says we’re all inherently missionaries when we’re following Jesus. We’re either good ones or bad ones, but it’s in our blood. Moving to Africa or getting paid to serve the homeless doesn’t make that any more true.

I am a nonprofit worker, and I love what I do. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, because it’s what God has wired me to do in this season of my life. Does this mean my career makes me more impactful than someone in the private sector? If I changed jobs and started working at a for-profit company, would my work contribution lose value?

Not by any means. Consider rethinking your current job—reframing your work as worship. When the alarm goes off, remember the encouragement in Colossians 3:23.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”

This doesn’t say, “As a full-time pastor,” or, “As a professor at a Bible college.” It says, “Whatever you do.” This is an all-encompassing phrase. Sure, sometimes God calls some people to work in churches. But, sometimes he calls people in churches to work at advertising firms. The beauty isn’t in the nature of the work itself, but the heart and motivation used to approach that work.

Chris Horst wrote a fantastic post about this topic on his blog. “Merrill Lynch and HOPE International. [Your employer] and International Justice Mission. In light of God and the mission he’s given to us all, we’re all on the same team, each serving uniquely,” he writes. “I don’t care if you’re a homemaker, hotelier, or housemaid.”

We were made to work. From stay-at-home moms to CEOs, we’ve all been called to exert ourselves in service to God. The meaning of work is for society to flourish, and (almost) all types of professions can participate in this mission. Car manufacturers, healthcare professionals, and janitorial staff are all essential parts of what it takes to keep our world running. So before you consider quitting your day job to become a pastor, consider the following question:

Do you believe all professions can bring God glory?

What Giving Does

When we give money away, we’re participating in more than just a transaction. We’re influencing heart-level change. But sometimes it can feel as though a small donation to a huge charity, cause, or need is just lost in the shuffle, not truly contributing much. Here are some reminders about what giving does.

It reminds us we don’t own anything. When we choose to part with the money in our bank accounts, we’re reminded again that none of it is ours to begin with. The foundation of being a good steward is understanding the funds entrusted to us are ours to manage, not own. Giving money away is a great discipline in checking the tendency we have to act like we own the things we preside over.

It makes it possible for organizations and people to achieve their missions. No matter how big or small, giving makes it possible for awesome things to happen in the world. The $20 you give Hope International will help make it possible for them to provide micro loans and saving services to entrepreneurs in developing countries. The $10 you give to charity: water will help make the dream of accessible clean water a reality for people in thirsty communities around the globe. No matter how small, connecting your giving to the larger mission of the organization helps remind you of its impact and makes that impact possible.

It makes us able to go and do things without physically going and doing them. You may not be able to personally become a professional aid worker or missionary, but by giving to them—you’re essentially with them. An aid worker can’t vaccinate people in Kenya without the money to buy the necessary medicine and needles. A missionary can’t share the gospel without the financial support they need to live. If you aren’t in a position to go, giving actually offers you the opportunity to be on the team of someone who is.

It’s fun. Giving doesn’t have to be a drag. It’s not something we should moan about as we’re typing in our credit card information on a website. We have the opportunity to invest in people and programs making a difference in the world. What a gift. Giving lets us be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and that’s a blast.

It deepens our love for people. When we invest in the dreams and needs of others, we often find our love for them grows. Financial buy in gives us a heart-level buy in, too. When Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also,” he wasn’t just offering conviction for when we’re indulging ourselves in greed. He’s also indicating the depth of love we can share with people when we give. It’s not just money going to someone else, it’s also our heart.

Giving can be a joyful, amazing part of managing the resources entrusted to us. It doesn’t have to be something we do out of obligation or guilt. This is a massive privilege.

photo credit: Money via photopin (license)

Can Christians Stand with Israelis and Palestinians, Too?

Few things spark as strong of a reaction as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, especially in Christian circles. It’s an incredibly complex issue, one I can’t completely wrap my head around—full of religious, historical, cultural, geographical, and emotional factors that are too many to list here. Wrapped up in this decades-long conflict is violence that’s resulted in incredible heartbreak and overwhelming injustice.

Just recently, a Palestinian man boarded a bus in Tel Aviv and attacked people with a knife, injuring nine. At the end of January, the New York Times reported on an Israeli human rights group that found the Israeli government’s “attacks on residential buildings in Gaza during the 50-day war against Hamas last summer appeared in at least some instances to violate the provisions of international law and raised grave legal concerns in others.” Tensions are high, and pain can be unbearable for people in the region.

The religious implications of this conflict can’t be overlooked. As Christians (and Americans), many of us have been told our whole lives to stand with Israel, to defend it at all costs. In some churches, Israel’s flag hangs on stage next to the choir. The reasons for this go beyond the scope of this piece, but culturally—we have a hard time seeing the sins of Israel, or questioning its actions, because we’re so busy defending it.

When we rhetorically construct Palestinians to be the enemy, we have a hard time seeing the humanity within them. It’s an issue that’s much easier to digest when it’s black and white, leaving little room for nuance because nuance doesn’t fit nicely into a mold we’ve created in our brains. But in order to see progress on this issue, we must be willing to see both Palestinians and Israelis as humans deeply loved by God. Both Palestinians and Israelis are capable of sin, and both Palestinians and Israelis are capable of forgiving and being forgiven.

Can Christians stand with Israelis and Palestinians, too?

Yes, we can. And we should.

“Love your enemies” is an important mantra. Consider Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin, a pair of unlikely friends. Robi is Israeli, and Bassam is Palestinian. Both of them have lost children in the conflict, but they are friends—working together for peace. At this talk given at Q Nashville, Robi and Bassam talk about the need to see the humanity in the other, to work together.

“How extraordinary it would be if we could stand on the same stage together and talk together with the same voice,” Robi says. “We can live together, and we need to share this land,” says Bassam. These two individuals are an example for us—people from completely different backgrounds coming together. They see the humanity in one another without compromising what makes them unique.

The way forward isn’t through championing the cause of Israel at all costs, neglecting to see the humanity in the Palestinian people. It also isn’t to vilify Israel to the point of objectifying it. The way forward is viewing both Israelis and Palestinians as being deeply loved by a God desiring worship and relationship with people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. This perspective sees deeper than just two cultural identities at war with one another and, instead, recognizes the humanity within the individuals that make up each group.

The Austin Stone Story Team put together an incredible video documenting the work of Daoud Nassar, an Arab Palestinian Christian. You can watch the film here. Daoud lives near Bethlehem and runs an arts camp for children, teaching them to seek peace in the region. “We want the children to understand that they are able to shape the future,” Daoud says. “We cannot think that with darkness, we can achieve light.”

Daoud gets it. He understands that peace isn’t possible without seeing enemies as people. The Israeli government in multiple ways has persecuted him. But he’s responding in another way—the “Jesus way” as he calls it. “The one who is standing in front of me, a soldier, is also a human being.”

Until we can extend compassion to both hurting Israelis and hurting Palestinians, a compassion flowing from our passion for God, we will have a hard time viewing the situation as God does.

photo credit: Israel – Jerusalem – The Old City – 181 via photopin (license)

Look for Leaders Keeping the Sheep

David’s story has always fascinated me.

I studied his story again for an Every Village devotional recently, and it struck me that God chose David to be the king of Israel from such a lowly place. When we think about leadership in churches, companies, and communities, we often go to the most visible people producing the most visible and measurable results. As much as we say character is the most important thing, it’s often easy to forget this when someone with a dose of recognition in our particular sphere says they want to champion our cause.

In 1 Samuel, Samuel visits the house of Jesse to find a man anointed by God to be the future leader of Israel. Jesse has all of his sons in the house, showing them off to Samuel as options for this position of great power. But God doesn’t choose any of these men. God prompts Samuel to question whether all of Jesse’s sons are present. Jesse admits there’s one more son. “But behold,” he says, “he is keeping the sheep.” This keeper of sheep ends up being the person God chooses to lead Israel.

David was a forgotten shepherd boy, deemed unimportant by his father. He was left out of the running for such a high calling. God, however, says to Samuel, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Man sees appearance, but God is after hearts.

Jesus could’ve come as a person in a powerful, political position. He could’ve come riding a strong horse and wielding domineering weapons. Instead, he chose to be born into a family made of seemingly average folks. He rode into town on a donkey, not a chariot. He spent his time eating with corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes. He called his twelve disciples from a variety of different trades and professions. Paul even writes in 1 Corinthians, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

God isn’t impressed with our attempts to gain popularity, possessions, or power in order to be chosen for places of influence. What he is looking for is faithful servants, a faithfulness that flows from the heart. Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”

Faithfulness. This is what’s required of us.

At our church, we have a facilities team—a group of volunteers that clean the bathrooms and get the building ready for services each week. This job carries little acclaim, but it’s an essential role in the functioning of the congregation. Our pastor often says there’s a good chance future elders of our church will come from a group like this.

He’s got the right idea.

As we think about who should lead things, who should mentor us, and who we should go to when we need help—maybe we don’t have to exclusively look at those in the limelight. Tomorrow’s leaders might just be keeping the sheep.

photo credit: Swadle Sheep via photopin (license)

Testing Marriage

We’re a culture obsessed with weddings. In fact, we spend $72 billion on them here in the U.S. every year—and each weekend, an average of 44,230 weddings take place (source).

But what happens after the ceremony—the marriage itself— is an idea we seem to have mixed feelings about. Jessica Bennet at Time wrote a piece on marriage, citing a study commissioned by the USA Network about the state of love in the modern age, a study used to help promote its slimy show, Satisfaction.

This study surveyed 1,000 people about their views on marriage. Bennet writes:

“…Nearly half of all of those surveyed, ages 18 to 49 — and 53% of millennials — thought marriage vows should be renewed, and nearly 40% said they believed the ‘till death do us part’ vow should be abolished. In other words: Beta marriages! Unions you can test and deglitch, work out kinks or simply abandon course without consequence. ‘This is a generation that is used to this idea that everything is in beta, that life is a work in progress, so the idea of a beta marriage makes sense,’ the study’s author, Melissa Lavigne-Delville, tells me. ‘It’s not that they’re entirely noncommittal, it’s just that they’re nimble and open to change.’”

A commenter on the piece, msteel271, writes, “I think our culture’s heavy focus on the wedding instead of the marriage has a lot to do with this.”

I think I agree.

We can easily be led to believe we’re entitled to exactly what we want, when we want it. I fall prey to this all the time.

It’s too hot. It’s too cold. This app isn’t free? There’s no wifi at this airport?

I, as a consumer, can believe that you, the provider, should make me happy at all costs. My happiness can easily become the goal, and I can trick myself into thinking my happiness is an inalienable right. Of course, great customer service is to be admired (and even desired), but what happens when a pursuit of a fully customized life enters the realm of marriage?

Sadly, we get a perspective built on the faulty assumption that marriage is ultimately about us and our happiness. A wedding, we can celebrate that, because it can be tailored to our every preference. But lifelong monogamy? That becomes a bit trickier to customize. So, instead of learning the importance of commitment, longevity, repentance, and forgiveness—we’re increasingly opting to move on to the next thing that can satisfy our need for a shot of endorphins and a satiation of our sexual fantasies. The problem, Christian, is marriage wasn’t designed to be a product we consume. It’s meant to be a metaphor we live out.

The findings of the USA Network tell us we’re more interested in a temporary model, where marriage is treated less as a whole-life arrangement and more like a restaurant we can stop going to when we get tired of it. The great irony here is marriage actually is temporary in light of eternity. It won’t be in heaven. We won’t need it, and we won’t miss it. Jesus himself said it in Matthew 22. “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” We’ll be in perfect relationship with our heavenly father, fulfilling—in some mysterious way—the foreshadowing marriage presents to the world of God’s magnificent beauty.

Although marriage as a covenant is temporary in the grand scheme of things, its permanence on earth is the metaphor for the relationship between Christ and his church. It’s a visible representation of a greater reality, a symbol of fidelity and faithfulness through the good times and bad. When it instead becomes primarily a vehicle for us to experience happiness, however, we take away from this metaphor by injecting the idea that the end goal is our own enjoyment. But, it never works out that way.

As any married person will tell you, marriage isn’t always producing electrifying bliss. We’re broken people with selfish tendencies. Seasons of every marriage are hard and require perseverance. Our happiness can’t be the point, can it? If it were, every marriage would be missing the target, because every marriage is challenged with hardship. But this hardship is part of what makes it so amazing, in light of it being a metaphor for the gospel, because it’s a refining fire on our lives as we become more like Christ. So instead of proposing changes to the commitment of marriage itself—why not consider changing our attitudes and beliefs about it?

Bonhoeffer famously quoted, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains the love.” He got it. The fluctuating nature of our emotions shouldn’t be the thermometer we use to test the viability of our marriages. Instead, it’s the choice of commitment that sustains it, a stable foundation in a world so often moving wherever the winds of its feelings will take it.

So what does this mean in our daily lives?

For the single person looking to marry, it means vetting a potential spouse through a different lens. It means abandoning the idea that there’s someone in the world who can complete you, as if you’re incomplete without a ring on your left hand. Certainly, there are people you shouldn’t marry. But if marriage is in the cards for you, you can change the questions you’re asking. Instead of, “Will this person make me happy?” you can ask, “Will I commit wholeheartedly to this person?”

For the married person, if you’re feeling beat down or discontent in your relationship, you can stop analyzing the root causes of your unhappiness through the scope of your spouse. Because marriage was never meant to be a relationship designed for your happiness, you can rest easy that joy is found somewhere else—in the loving arms of Christ. Instead, choose to pursue intimacy with your husband or wife, even when you don’t feel like it.

Danny Silk writes about this concept in his fantastic book, Keep Your Love On. In it, he says we’re all operating with either a goal of connection or disconnection in our relationships. When we feel as though we’re not finding the happiness we think we deserve in our marriage, it’s easy to switch our goal to disconnection with our spouse—resulting in passive aggressive comments, silent treatments, or yelling matches. By believing we deserve happiness, we actually make happiness harder to get. We can end up punishing our spouse for not providing a reality they were never meant to provide by making it a goal to disconnect from them.

Operating from a place of commitment makes the marriage no longer primarily about us. It makes connection at a deeper level possible. The relationship becomes safe, because the foundation of it isn’t going anywhere. Instead of being built on the quicksand of our emotions, it’s built on the unmovable force of covenant.

This concept runs contrary to an increasingly common belief, but the concept of marriage itself is still a popular and desirable institution. Bennet closes her Time piece with this:

Indeed, at the end of the day, whatever you want to say about the hookup generation, or millennials’ inability to commit, the vast majority (69%, according to Pew) of millennials still want to get married. We simply need a little extra time to work out the kinks.

“Getting married is so much more weighted today, I get the impulse to want to test it,” says Hannah Seligson, the 31-year-old married author of A Little Bit Married, about 20-somethings and long-term unmarried relationships. At the same time, she adds, “I wonder if this is a false control study in a way. Yes, marriage [is] terrifying, it’s probably the biggest leap of faith you’ll ever make. But you’ll never be able to peer into a crystal ball — or map it out on a spreadsheet.

Yes, you’ll never be able to peer into a crystal ball or map it out on a spreadsheet. That’s why the lifelong commitment that flows from a passion for Christ will be our guide, not the changing tides of life. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too—marriage isn’t meant to be customized like the way we order our hamburger.

We must stop treating marriage like it’s the wedding and start living into the joy of “’till death do us part.”

photo credit: Alex & Jon-214 via photopin (license)

Focus Is a Commodity

The days start to run together when we forget to take a step back and take a deep breath. Even when we’re not busy with events, our minds can be busy scrolling through updates like this one, participating in fruitless thinking, and obsessively worrying. Even when I’m not “doing” anything, I trend towards busying my thoughts with frantic fret or jumping from one distraction to the next.

Focus.

It’s a commodity in this world, one I can’t seem to get quite right. Even as I’m composing this, I’ve checked my phone that buzzed and thought about a handful of things I have no control over. My tendency to wander toward the stream of life’s craziness shows a few things about myself, things that you may find to be true about yourself, too.

1) Confronting myself can be scary. Dealing with what’s going on inside takes courage. Choosing “busyness” over honesty is a way to stay on the surface. Why deal with the bitterness in my heart when I can just scroll through Twitter?

2) Human relationship requires intentionality. True connection means going against the grain and staying present. I’ve heard it said that saying yes to one thing means saying no to thousands of other things. To be present with a person means to say yes to him or her, and no to other people and events. Sadly, I can try and say yes to a few things at once—pulling out my phone or thinking about a different project or wandering to a different place in my mind. Focus, focus, focus. Be where you are.

3) God’s voice seems louder in the quiet. This doesn’t necessarily mean the volume is down, but it does mean I hear him louder when I’m turning down the other influences on my time and thoughts. Jesus himself retreated to talk to God. When I start to feel out of touch with God, often it’s a symptom of thinking busyness—in thought and deed—is the best plan.

Let’s take inventory of what we’re thankful for today. Be in the moment. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Breathe in and breathe out. Take a few moments away from our phones. Have a healthy relationship with technology. Focus.

photo credit: booshooo via photopin cc

We’re Not the Solution

To truly care about something means to wish its well being with or without us. It’s far too easy to want to see ourselves as the solution to another’s problems more than we want to see their problems solved. Sadly, I fall into this mentality all the time.

But the savior mentality was never meant for us—that role has already been filled. It was placed on the head of a Jewish carpenter with the crown of thorns.

For us to desire the best for others, we must be willing to be a part of a solution—not the entire solution. In fact, we must be willing to be absent from the solution. If we find ourselves unwilling to allow people to find progress in the counsel of other individuals, groups, or organizations, we were never truly out for their best interests at all. Rather, we were seeking a badge to wear.

Does this mean we sit idly by and cast all responsibility onto others? No, but it does mean we should stop trying to change the world and start being faithful to the segment of the world we’ve been tasked with changing—beginning with us. As Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Maybe the first problem for us to tackle is in our hearts.

The Bible talks about each person playing the particular role put in front of them—represented by different parts of the body. When each of these roles are played, a body can function.

The world doesn’t need more lone-ranger saviors. It needs togetherness, and this requires us to truly put the needs of others ahead of our own by being okay with others having their needs met somewhere else.

Excellence Is Boring

Excellence requires a certain level of boring. To be excellent requires focus, and focus makes us predictable. It means saying no to most things and yes to a few. It means being associated with a particular skill, cause, or activity when our names come up in conversation.

Our wanderlust can be our biggest liability because it can keep us from adopting the amount of boring it takes to become great at something. This is often said of my generation, that we’re too directionless because we live off the thrill of chasing new experiences. I know this can be true in my life.

As a millennial, the world doesn’t know what to do with me. Often, I don’t know what to do with me, either. We’ve been essentially labeled by some as the downfall of America and by others, its only hope. We’re categorized as aimless, careless, and careful. We’re passionate, apathetic, and thoughtful.

In spite of culture’s inability to truly nail us down, one thing is for sure. A tremendous threat to producing great, meaningful work is our aversion to boring.

Producing a great body of work usually takes not just months or even years—it can take decades. It takes getting our hands dirty and sharpening a craft over time. It’s failing and moving on again. Over and over. It takes swallowing the embarrassment we feel when we overhear someone at a party ask, “He’s still trying to do that?” or “She’s still in that field?”

This doesn’t mean we can’t switch hobbies, jobs, or entire career paths. But it does mean we shouldn’t switch because the honeymoon period has worn off. We should switch with the understanding that we won’t become truly great at whatever it is until we commit.

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc