How to Avoid Being Busy but Barren — Part 3

August 28th, 2015

fork in the path“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” (Socrates)

Our society is addicted to busyness. We wear it as a badge of honor because we believe that busyness will eventually lead to success, which will eventually lead to happiness. We’ve become convinced that the busier we are right now, the happier we’ll be — someday. Busy today; happy tomorrow.

But tomorrow never comes.

Just more busyness.

Perhaps the worst thing imaginable would be to get to the end of your one and only life and realize you were so busy being busy that you never got around to being happy. You may have accomplished a great deal, but you never enjoyed it. You were never available to the people who matter most. I’ve never heard of anyone on their death bed saying, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

Ironically, studies are beginning to show that busyness and success do not lead to happiness as much as happiness leads to greater effectiveness — in relationships and in our careers. As it turns out, it’s more beneficial for us to shift our focus away from achieving happiness sometime in the future and toward figuring out how to access happiness in the here and now.

We’ve had it backwards all along!

Busy today; happy tomorrow — doesn’t work. Happy right now; successful tomorrow — works much better nearly every time.

Think about what your life is like when you’re only focused on getting things done. When all of your energy is concentrated on completing some task, how much of life do you enjoy? How much joy do you gain from an activity that you see as an obstacle between where you are and where you want to be? You don’t enjoy it; you put up with it. You see it as a necessary evil — something you have to do so you can get to something you want to do.

The problem with that approach is that most of us spend most of our time doing the things we think we have to do, and we hardly ever get around to doing the things we enjoy. Maybe later tonight. Or maybe on the weekend. Or maybe next summer during our once-a-year, over-scheduled and under-funded vacation.

When our days are consumed with things we must do, we have little time for the things we want to do. I realize that discipline sometimes requires us to do the things we must do in order to do the things we enjoy. But true happiness requires an understanding of the rhythm of life here. We need time with the people we love. We need space to do the things we enjoy. We sometimes need no agenda at all other than fun. We need the chance to explore and experience the world with curiosity and wonder.

All of this will require us to periodically disconnect from the world of busyness.

It’s good to have dreams and goals. It’s good to work towards those dreams and goals. Transformation does not merely come from the attainment of those dreams and goals but from the labor itself. Sometimes the effort is the reward.

But resting is often the most transformative thing a person can do. Well-rested people can create a day-to-day reality that is not completely taken up by means to ends, problem solving, or overcoming obstacles to what you really want. You could have what you really want right now.

It starts by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What do you really want out of life?
  • What can you do today that will support your deepest passions?
  • If you knew that your days were numbered, how much time would you want to spend on activities that achieve versus activities that connect?
  • Since your days are numbered, are you sure you want to do what you’ve got planned for the rest of today?

Think about that last one for a few minutes before you answer. It could make all the difference in the world.


Photo Credit: Jens Leslie

How to Avoid Being Busy but Barren — Part 2

August 27th, 2015

overgrown tractor“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” (Socrates)

The secret nobody talks about is that our addiction to busyness does not guarantee effectiveness. Checking off all the items on your to-do list doesn’t mean you’ve done them well. Getting more done doesn’t always equate to maximum impact.

In fact, squeezing more into your day often takes away from your ability to be effective. You can’t be fully present with someone if you’re in a hurry. You can’t rush a good conversation. Some things require us to stop thinking about what’s next so we can focus on what’s now.

Chronically busy people often forget the law of diminishing returns. This economic theory states that after a certain point, increased effort will not necessarily generate proportional returns.

For example, if your office has five computers, hiring ten people won’t double your return because there isn’t enough equipment to go around. Likewise, spending ten hours working doesn’t mean you get twice as much done as you do in five hours — because every hour after five causes your performance to decline. Working twice as long may be far less effective than you imagine.

The ancient Jewish people made it a law that the fields were to lie fallow once every seven years. They understood that the soil needs time to rest and replenish itself. The land itself was more productive when it took some time off.

And we haven’t even begun to think about whether the work we’re doing is actually moving us in the direction we want to go. Most of life can be divided into two activities: achieving and connecting. In study after study, the vast majority of people claim that connecting is far more important than achieving. And yet we spend a disproportionate amount of our time in activities that can only be described as achieving.

I remember years ago when my children were small. I was giving one of my daughters a bath, and she was playing around in the bathtub — just being silly. I remember saying to her, “Okay, no playing around now. Let’s hurry up and get out of here.”

She looked up at me and asked — with the sincerity only a toddler can muster — “Why, Daddy?”

In that moment I could not think of a valid reason. I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be. There wasn’t anything pressing on the calendar. I didn’t have a meeting to attend or an appointment to run off to. I was just so accustomed to being so busy all the time, rushing through stuff had become my default setting. Here I was telling my daughter to stop playing in the bathtub, because I had become addicted to hurry.

Think about what it is you really want out of life. Then examine your daily routine and ask yourself if the way you’re living is actually the most direct path to get where you really want to go. You may be able to achieve in a hurry, but you can’t connect that way. No one wants to be told, “I really want to connect with you, but can we hurry it up?”

In most of the things that are important in life, doing less can actually pave the way to experiencing more — more satisfaction, more joy, even more effectiveness.


Photo Credit: Xavi Moll

How to Avoid Being Busy but Barren — Part 1

August 26th, 2015

blurry station“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” (Socrates)

There have been seasons of my life when I fell for a lie. It was a simple lie, one that is propagated by our society, by our culture, by my religion sometimes. It seems like common sense, but it is, in fact, a dangerous and destructive lie.

It goes like this: my happiness is dependent upon how busy I am. Being busy means I’m important. Being busy means I’m using my time wisely. Busyness is worn like a badge of honor in our world. Any threat to that busyness is a threat to my hope for happiness.

There is one problem: being busy doesn’t make me happy. It creates an illusion that I’m moving towards a day when I will feel happy — somewhere down the line — when I can finally slow down and be happy.

Busy today; happy tomorrow.

But tomorrow never comes.

Just more busyness.

When I do coaching for leaders, one of the things I sometimes tell them is that they would be better leaders, they’d have better relationships, and they’d last longer in their field if they would simply slow down. But boy, oh boy, do people get defensive about their busyness. We have stuff to do, places to go, items to cross off our to-do lists, debt to eliminate, skills to master, promotions to earn, people to manage, dreams to chase. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go.

Think about the foolish idea of multi-tasking. Studies show that no one is good at it. And yet we persist, don’t we? Even when it means never being present in an activity we enjoy. We feel guilty for having unplanned blocks of time. We scour the internet looking for productivity hacks and apps. We check our email after-hours, on weekends, even on vacation.

Part of this has to do with our idea of the American Dream — the notion that our potential for happiness is inextricably linked to our freedom to pursue health, wealth, and prosperity. I read something recently that said 80% of our nation believes they will one day become rich (the reality is only about 10% will). It makes sense, then, for folks to live like they’re in a race — constantly competing to beat the odds. We believe that if we work harder and longer than anyone else, squeeze more into our day than the guy in the cubicle next to ours, if we get up a little bit earlier and stay up a little bit later, then we’ll be able to grab the brass ring and finally escape the busyness.

Life lived like that turns most of your days into something you must endure rather than something you could actually enjoy. Work is seen as a means to an end, rather than something that could be an end in and of itself. We think busyness leads to money, which will lead to happiness. Someday.

I’m not saying there’s no place for work. I want work that stretches me, work that fulfills me, work that infuses my life with meaning. But money won’t ever lead me to happiness if I’m not happy already. And I won’t be happy if I’m so busy I can’t pay attention to what’s going on right now in this moment.

We think we’ll be happier if we never had to work or if we didn’t have bills or if we had a bigger house. So, we spin our wheels trying to create a world that will allow us to kick back and breathe. Odds are, if we ever succeeded in creating such a place, we wouldn’t know how to enjoy it. We’re training ourself for barrenness through busyness.

It’s time to take a long, hard look at what the American Dream means to you. I’m pretty sure there are parts of it you’ll have to work for. But I’m also pretty sure there are parts of it that you already have if you’d slow down enough to look at your life.


Photo Credit: Damir Kotoric

Let Go of the Balloon

August 25th, 2015

lady with balloons“The sacrament of the present moment…to live as light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, responding to every moment of grace like a floating balloon.” (Jean-Pierre de Caussade)

I’ve been talking a lot lately about what a soul is, and how to take care of your soul. I think it’s interesting — and counter-cultural — that you will never find the words “soul” and “hurry” in the same Bible verse. The writers of Scripture never say, “Quit loafing around and get back to work, O my soul!”

The other day I tweeted something that got a ton of traction. I said, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap!” We can laugh about that, but there’s something to it. Sleep is sometimes a signal of how much I trust the Creator of the universe to take care of things. If my will, my mind, and my body are inert, someone else is running the stuff. Also, I’m a better dad, a better writer, a better friend when I get enough rest.

But I don’t rest enough. Instead, I live like Atlas. Remember that guy from your Greek mythology class? He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. Literally. Look at yourself. Look at the people around you. Look at the face, and you’ll see someone who looks like they’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

What would happen if you just let it go? And why do you think you have to carry it all around by yourself anyway? I think what’s often at stake here is my personal sense of worth. I want to prove to people that I’m worthwhile because look at how much of the world I can carry — or look how long I can hold it up. I believe that the worth of my soul is dependent upon how much weight I can carry for how long.

I remember traveling with a guy named Ken. He was a kind of mentor for me for a long time. I watched him speak to a group of very important (read: wealthy) people once, and I know how I would have been when I was done. I would have been a bundle of anxiety. How did that go? Do you think they liked it? Did I impress them with my wit and wisdom?

If I thought it went well — or if I could find someone to reassure me that it did — I would feel good about myself. If not, I would berate myself for the foreseeable future. How could I have blown such a big opportunity?

But Ken finished his talk and I watched him walk out to the car. He just shuffled along whistling some song. I realized that Ken just talks to try to help people, and then he lets it go. It was like watching a child with a helium balloon.

What would your life be like if you could do that? You give a presentation at work. You don’t have to worry about what people thought. You just have to try your best to give them helpful information, and then let it go.

You wonder about aging.

About your spouse.

About a child.

How is this going?

You could just do your best to be helpful in the moment, and then let it go. That’s how you were meant to live.

Jesus makes you and me a promise. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Can you imagine living with that kind of freedom? I can. At least I’m beginning to.


Photo Credit: Tatiana Nino

What Jesus Really Meant by Losing Your Soul

August 24th, 2015

sad girl“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Jesus) 

Last Friday I posted something that was pretty deep. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, I basically said that the word “soul” is an important word that we must embrace if we are to thrive as human beings. Your soul is the deepest part of you — that part of you that makes you you. You soul is the thing that integrates your will, your mind, and your body into a single, healthy, and flourishing life. Your soul is healthy with there is harmony between your will, your mind, your body, and God’s intention to bring healing to the world. That’s a healthy soul.

But what about that famous quote from Jesus? What does it mean to lose your soul?

Okay…let’s talk about sin — because that, I think, is at the root of this. Sin is what happens when you lack integrity between all those components I mentioned earlier. Sin is the dis-integration of your soul — which is the part of you that is supposed to bring integration to all the other parts of you. Sin, then, is a lack of wholeness.

Suppose I harbor resentment and bad feelings about you, but I don’t want you to know that. So, I practice the careful art of facial management. I twist my face into a smile to deceive you — even though I haven’t said a word. Still, my mind and my body are dis-integrated.

Or suppose I struggle with an addiction. I may not even want to drink, but I find myself unable to resist the compulsion to drink. My will has become enslaved to my appetites. I lack integrity.

Perhaps I’m in denial about the true nature of things. Through denial, my will causes my mind to misjudge and misperceive reality. Denial is, essentially, my will hampering my mind at a level I’m usually unaware of. I’m blind now. I don’t know reality. I don’t know you. I don’t even know myself.

Or it could be that my mind, my will, and my body are all in alignment with one another — but I refuse to participate in God’s intention for his creation — which is to bring healing to it. If I neglect the poor. If I refuse to hear the cry of marginalized people. If I objectify my fellow human beings. If I bully, manipulate, or coerce. I lack integrity, because I will not allow myself to become integrated with God’s program for healing and restoring creation. Consequently, my soul is out of whack.

Jesus rhetorically asks, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”

I used to think he meant, “What good is it if you make a lot of money and have a lot of sex but end up in hell for all of eternity.” I no longer believe that is what he is saying.

I now believe he is speaking of having a ruined soul. Imagine the hellishness of life without integrity among your will, your mind, and your body. Life disconnected from God. Living at odds with the way God designed things. Constantly sawing against the grain of the universe. The various parts of your body warring against one another, out of alignment with the purpose for which you were created.

In that scenario, what could bring you satisfaction? Where would you find any kind of meaning or purpose? There would be no goodness. No peace. No joy. It does you no good to gain the whole world and live like that. Nothing else matters once you’ve lost your soul.

If you don’t believe me, look at the Bible.

If you don’t believe the Bible, look at the news.

Look at Howard Hughes. Marilyn Monroe. Kurt Cobain. Whitney Houston. Amy Winehouse. Heath Ledger. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Robin Williams.

Look at your neighbors. Look at yourself. You know what I mean.

Jesus says if you ruin your soul — if your will, your mind, and your body are out of sync with one another or out of alignment with the purpose for which you were created — nothing will ever be enough. More money. More sex. More fame. More success. It will be of no benefit to you. It will only bring you more misery.

This is why we have to talk about this. We live on a planet of lost souls. That is the fundamental human problem, and I don’t see it being addressed much. This is not superficial; this is fundamental. This is not about getting into the right place when you die because you affirmed the right doctrine while you were alive.

This is life. This is what it means to be a human being. And nothing is more important than that.


Photo Credit: Volkan Olmez

Soul Man

August 21st, 2015

light in the church“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Jesus) 

We live in a time when we know a lot about the various parts of our bodies, but we know very little about the various parts of our personhood. We can look inside a human brain, but we hardly know what a mind is. We can identify the gene that predisposes someone to obesity, but we cannot locate the part of the person that predisposes them to destructive behavior.

So, let’s talk about the things that make a person a person. Let’s look beyond biology into the components of a person’s personhood — and try to figure out what a soul is.

First, you have a will. This is your capacity to choose. In its most basic form, you can say, “Yes,” or you can say, “No.” This is your personal power — what makes you a person and not a thing — and it’s a vital component of your personhood. This is why when your will gets violated — either overridden or overwhelmed — you suffer a loss of dignity. You feel violated as a person. Feeling powerless makes one feel sub-human.

Your will is vital to well-being, but it’s not omnipotent. I would like to think my will is running the show in my life, but my will gets gummed up quite often. I want to choose good things, but I find that my will is not running the show as much as I want it to. My diet. My workout habits. My finances. The words that come out of my mouth. What I want to do and what I do are frequently at odds — even when I grit my teeth and try really hard.

Next, you have a mind. For most of human history, people thought of the “mind” as both a person’s thoughts and their feelings — because they’re very closely connected. Your intellect and your emotions should be in synch with one another. A mature person knows what they think and how they feel — and the difference between the two. A very mature person knows what they think about how they feel and how they feel about what they think.

I wish I could say that my behavior is always reasonable and logical — the result of a carefully considered series of thoughts taken together with my understanding of my own emotions. That’s how I wish it worked. The truth is, my mind isn’t really running the show any more than my will is.

The way the mind works is incredibly complicated. Memories, values, beliefs, your conscience, guilt, humor, joy, dissatisfaction — all of that exists in your mind. We live out of this unceasing flow of thoughts and feelings in our minds. But we don’t always operate logically or consistently. We often do things we know are wrong. We do things that contradict our values. We do things that we know will create negative emotions. Our minds are not running the show as much as we want them to.

Then there’s your body. Your body is your little kingdom. The body is terribly important because, when you think about it, it’s the one place in all the universe, it’s the one little blob of matter where my imperfect will has the chance to be in charge. I can just say to my hands or my feet or my mouth, “Do this,” and they’ll do it. Your body is your little kingdom. If you had a will and a mind but you didn’t have a body, your existence would be much different. Your body is tremendously important.

Sadly, your body is full of all kinds of appetites and all kinds of habits. Of course, my Creator intended for my body to serve my mind and my will, but, often, instead of my body obeying my will, my will becomes enslaved to my body. So, for example, addictions. An addiction is when the will has become enslaved to the appetites of the body. The fact that we all struggle with addictions of some sort shows clearly that my body isn’t running the show either.

Finally, there’s the soul. Great thinkers have, for centuries, carried on a running conversation about the nature of the soul. In general, thinkers in the ancient world would look at how a living thing has a variety of functions. It can take in nourishment, it can grow, and it can reproduce. Plants can do that. Then with animals you add to that they can perceive, and they can move. Then with people they are capable of abstract reason, and they have a moral will.

So there are all these different functions, but they all come together to form one single being, a creature, a life. Ancient thinkers thought this capacity to integrate different functions into one whole life is called soul. That’s how the ancient world thought about it. There were different notions about it one direction or another, but that’s the core idea. Every language has a word for soul because there is something innate in human beings that knows, “I have one. I am one.”

The soul is the deepest part of you; it’s the summation of who you are as a whole person. This is so true that the word soul, in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and elsewhere in ancient literature, is often used as a synonym for person. Even in our day, on an airplane or ship records, there will sometimes be the question, “How many souls on board?”

Your soul is what integrates your will (your intentions), your mind (your thoughts and feelings, your values, your conscience), and your body (your actions, your behavior) into a single life. My soul is made happy and healthy when there is harmony between my will, my mind, my body, and God’s intent for all creation. When I’m connected with God and other people, when I’m aligned in my will, my mind, and my body with his overarching purpose (which is to bring healing to the world).

That’s when I become a true soul man.


Photo Credit: Baristas Co

Loving Me

August 20th, 2015

heart sun“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” (Brene Brown)

I’m big on self-improvement. I’ve read lots of self-help books, listened to lots of messages about how to be a better person, gone to conferences, invested in education, spoken with therapists. I am constantly trying to grow and learn and get better at being the me I was created to be.

And yet….

It’s one thing to seek transformation for the sake of growth, improvement, and new horizons. It’s another thing to feel so dissatisfied with yourself that no amount of growth can convince you that you’re worthwhile and lovable. That kind of self-loathing has secretly characterized most of my life. It’s like I’ve been trying to replace myself with someone better because I have never been and never will be good enough.

Ironically, I’ve taught all over the world the message of God’s love and how it infuses each of us with value and dignity. But I have not always practiced what I have preached. Instead, I have been closed off to the idea that anyone — even God himself — could find me desirable.

Truth is, on most days I keep a running tally of all the ways in which I have screwed up. All the dumb things I said, stupid ideas I suggested, unsuccessful attempts to make people like me. All the bad things I’ve done. Times when I let people down. I keep it all up here in my head.

I wish I could say that this is all a “before” picture and that I can’t even remember being that guy now. But this remains something with which I struggle. I can say that I’ve spent the better part of the last few years taking two steps forward and one step back. Before that, it was often the reverse. But I know I am making progress. The fact that I am brave enough to share this with you demonstrates that. I think.

On a deeply primal level, I long to be loved, accepted, and celebrated. I’m learning that the foundation of true joy, however, is my own willingness and ability to love, accept, and celebrate myself. That’s a really difficult thing for me to do when I:

  • Consistently apologize for who I am as if I owe other people an explanation.
  • Beat myself up when I make the slightest mistake (like the typo in yesterday’s post).
  • Obsess over my flaws and feel a sense of anger and disgust.
  • Get clingy with people who see the best in me because I find it hard to maintain positive feelings when they’re gone.
  • Tell myself I’m being selfish when I practice simple, basic self-care.
  • Repeatedly do destructive things that show I don’t respect and value myself.
  • Always find a reason to talk myself out of my dreams — as if maybe I don’t deserve to have them.

I have done each and every one of these things at various points in my life. I’m guessing I’m not the only one. Sometimes loving myself is a challenge.

It’s a beautiful thing to embrace growth and change — to recognize that I am not yet what I could be and work towards being the best me possible. But it’s vitally important for me to remember that I am beautiful and wonderful right now.

Here are five things I’m reminding myself of these days:

  1. I am not my worst mistakes. My past has shaped who I am, but I am not who I have been. I don’t need to carry around labels or sins of the past as if they define me. Whatever I have done, it’s done. It doesn’t have to continue to brand me — especially if I’m making a conscious decision to do things differently now. For the record, I have done great things in my past, too. I can judge myself by my weakest moments or my strongest — that’s my choice.
  2. I have nothing to prove. Everyone has stuff in their past that they’re proud of and stuff they’re ashamed of. We all wish people would remember more of the former and less of the latter. We all want validation. We all feel alone sometimes. We often feel alone because we believe we haven’t proven our worth. But I don’t have to show the world that I’m good enough. I don’t have to try to hide the things I’ve done that might seem terrible. My Creator offers me forgiveness. Now I need to forgive and accept myself and trust that other people will as well. Being authentic requires vulnerability — allowing others to see me and trusting they won’t judge me — and knowing that if/when they do, that says way more about them than it does about me. I’m going to be real. Those who accept me will accept me fully. I will not pretend and then have to maintain the illusion that I am something I’m not.
  3. The dark stuff is important. I have made mistakes. Who hasn’t? The beautiful part of having fallen is that I am in a position now to help others with my experience. I know what it feels like to fall. I know that hurt. I also know what it feels like to receive grace and mercy, to look up and see someone with their hand extended — not to strike me in anger but to help me out of the pit I dug for myself. Now I can reach out and help other people up when they need it. When I realize that my failings can help heal the world, they seem less like liabilities and more like assets.
  4. I matter. When I was in elementary school, an authority figure in my life said, “If I were one of your classmates, I wouldn’t be your friend.” I believed him, and for years I carried that around with me. I believed that, given the choice, most people wouldn’t like me. As I got older, a lot of people seemed uncomfortable around me, and I could never quite figure out why. As I look back, I realize I was so clingy and needy. I so desperately wanted someone to un-say that one terrible thing someone had spoken so many years ago. I could not believe I mattered until someone said it to me. I know now that I do matter. I touch people’s lives every day — even if they don’t mention it on social media. The things I do have a ripple effect that I’ll never be able to measure. It may not change my Klout score, but the smallest act of love is important because it can grow.
  5. My positive feelings and actions create more positive feelings and actions. All these warm fuzzies won’t matter if they never prompt me to get out into the world. Not to do the things I think others think I should do — but to do the things I really want to do. To do that thing that scares the crap out of me, that thing that excites me beyond measure. I’m giving myself permission to do things, even if they’re not always perfect, to focus on progress instead of perfection. I’m allowing myself to be kind to myself and to others and to the world.

Of course I have room for improvement, but my weaknesses will not define me. I will not worry about the future. I will not dwell in the past. I will remember that I deserve to enjoy the present, but I recognize that only I can make that happen.

I haven’t always been good at this. I’ve let a lot of time pass while I retreated to the confines of my mind, wishing to be someone better than who I am. But right now I’m happy with me.

This has been awkward for me. I feel like I’ve split myself open and allowed you to see something from which you may recoil in horror. I’m flawed — like we all are — and that’s not only okay. I think it’s beautiful.

Joy and peace to you — from someone who is learning the power of loving me.


Photo Credit: Mayur Gala

Drive Your Own Car

August 19th, 2015

driving up the coast“You may think that in life, a lot of things happen to you along the way. The truth is, in life, you happen to a lot of things along the way.” (Shad Helmstetter)

My oldest daughter will turn 16 in about six weeks, and, like many soon-to-be 16-year-olds, she is excited about the prospect of getting her driver’s license. To facilitate this transition, we’ve been looking into enrolling her in a local driving school. And that reminded me of all those years ago, when I learned to drive.

My driving instructor was a little rough around the edges. We listened to a lot of rock-and-roll while we drove together. Led Zeppelin. Pink Floyd. Rush. He used colorful language. We liked each other.

One day, while driving on the interstate for the first time, he gave me perhaps the best driving advice I ever received. A car came up really close to my back bumper. I began to accelerate, and my instructor asked me why I was doing that. I told him it was because the car behind me obviously wanted me to go faster. Wanting my full attention, he took control of the car immediately and pulled off to the side of the road. He said, “Look at me. I want you to remember what I’m about to say.”

I looked at him wondering what in the world he was about to say that could be THAT important.

“Never let anyone else drive the car for you. You’re in charge of this car. Not someone in the backseat. Not someone in the car behind you. You drive how fast you want in the lane you want. You speed up when you want. You slow down when you want. You change lanes when you want — and when it’s safe. Never let anyone else drive the car for you.”

Looking back I think this was more than just good advice for driving; this is good advice for living.

People have been arguing about the concept of free will for millennia. Philosophers and psychologists and theologians continue to debate whether or not human beings are free to chart their own course and pursue it, or is all of that mapped out for us by someone else? Who and what is pressing the accelerator, applying the brakes, and turning the steering wheel? Is it me? Is it my biology? Is there some puppet master behind the scenes?

Who is in control — not only of the big things but the small, everyday, moment-to-moment happenings?

This is an important question, because unless and until you decide that you have a choice — even if it’s some small say in the matter — a tiny bit of “free will” — you’ll never choose to change. You’ll just accept things the way they are. You might complain about them. You might complain quite a bit. But you’ll never make a change if you don’t feel like you have the power to do so.

I will not join the argument — at least not here — at least not now. I’m just going to reject determinism. I believe there is a guiding force in our world that infuses it and each of us with energy and life. I believe that guiding force knows the end from the beginning. I that guiding force is causing certain things to occur. I even believe that guiding force can periodically — for reasons I do not often understand — intervene in our world.

And yet….

I believe that each of us has far more power to choose than we exercise — particularly in the mundane activities of our everyday lives. And I believe that our choices determine our direction in practically everything we do. Taken together, the sum total of our choices create our success and failures in this life.

Most of what will make today a “good day” or a “bad day” is determined by who we choose to talk to, what we choose to say, how fast or slow we choose to drive, what time we wake up, how easily upset we allow ourselves to become, how quickly we choose to forgive (if we choose to forgive at all), and a host of other decisions that are in our power to make.

Granted, you may think, “Well, it wasn’t my choice for my son to stay up too late on the computer, not do his homework, oversleep, and penalize the rest of us by acting like a complete idiot!” This is true. However, you did choose to have this child. Moreover, you continue to choose to keep him. You have some say about this.

Each of us has the right as an individual to make the choices that we want to make for ourselves, and to become the master (or mistress) of our own destiny — the one and only true driver of our vehicle. No one else has the right to tell you to speed up or slow down or change lanes. Let them do what they want; drive your own car.


Photo Credit: Juan Di Nella


Let’s Get Small

August 18th, 2015

small house big sky“Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.” (Felix Baumgartner)

When I was about seven years old, Steve Martin released his comedy album “Let’s Get Small”. That’s the one that has “Excuse Me” on it. If you’re close to my age, you surely know what I’m talking about.

I had large sections of this record memorized. I could probably do bits of it verbatim right now. I won’t. But I probably could.

I was also an anxious child — which explains why I am such an anxious adult. I would lie in bed at night — blissfully unaware of just how much of a drug reference the “Let’s Get Small” bit was — and think about it. What if there was something you could swallow that made you small? I would obsess over this. I even began to feel it sometimes.

It would happen when I was still and quiet for a few minutes. I’d be standing in the outfield playing baseball in the vacant lot in my neighborhood. Or fishing from the banks of the man-made lake there. Or I’d be lying in my bed at night, drifting into the ether.

And it would strike!

I would have the distinct impression that I was shrinking, growing smaller and smaller and smaller. My body would grow taut and rigid, and my eyes would squint tightly shut. My consciousness would float above my body, hovering near the ceiling of my bedroom. I could see my tiny self down there in a ridiculously over-sized bed with gigantic furniture. Lamps and chairs and bookshelves were enormous. The whole world had grown, and I had shrunk.

And then it would end.

Who knows how long the sensation would last? Maybe 10 seconds. Maybe 10 minutes. I couldn’t make it happen; it happened to me. Honestly, I never tried to fight it, but I was never really excited when it happened. I never have understood what this was. Some sort of flaw in my design I suppose. A glitch in the system. I outgrew it. I can’t remember the last time it happened.

But I kind of wish it would — if not physically, metaphysically. I wish I could shrink — that I could lose everything that isn’t essential, shed everything that’s not part of my core, be reduced to the bare minimums. Discover the John inside of John that makes John John.

I’ve written seven books. All of them different, and all of them the same. They’re all preoccupied with the question of how to align myself with the purpose for which I was created. How do I become the me I am supposed to be? What should I start doing? What should I stop doing? What recipe of work and rest, discipline and play, study and laughter is required for me to emerge from the cocoon as the butterfly I’m meant to be? What needs to die so I can live? What needs to be fed more so I can be strong where I have been weak?

Seven books now. They’ve been all over the map. Worldview. Parenting. Cultural apologetics. Bible stories. But always this lurking in the background: I am not who I was created to be…not yet.

As a theologian, I’ve spent time studying the great Old Testament characters: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David. I’ve spent time scrutinizing Jesus and Paul. You know who I’ve never had much time for? Peter. I’m not sure why. I never found him that interesting. Lovable perhaps — in that bumbling, oh-dear-what-did-he-say-now? sort of way. But I never thought he was that compelling as a thinker or a writer.

But this guy lived for three years with Jesus, shoulder-to-shoulder in the trenches, up-close-and-personal. And then he helped Mark write his Gospel. And then he wrote two letters of his own that have been preserved for us. It’s right at the top of that second letter that Peter says something that recently floored me.

Peter wrote, “[Jesus’] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Everything. You don’t need anything more. Everything you need for life (the Greek word is zoe, abundant existence overflowing out of your ears) and godliness (the Greek word is eusebeia, a real, true, vital, spiritual connection to your Creator) is available.

The life I’ve always wanted is available to me right now. Not next year. Not after I get through this particularly difficult season. Not when I’ve learned the lessons my 40s are supposed to teach me. Not when my kids are grown and gone. Not after I see my therapist a few more times.

Right now I have everything I need to have a life of abundance lived in close connection with my Creator. It’s available to me right now.

Of course, for me to receive this I must first humble myself enough to ask for it. And receiving it as a gift means I can never claim to have earned it. It has so much of an upside, but it begins with the downside of me recognizing that I can’t do it on my own.

Ironically, I can only get bigger when I make myself small.


Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lies

The Comparison Trap

August 17th, 2015

vintage mercedes“Comparison is the death of joy.” (Mark Twain)

I was just listening to an interview on NPR. It was a replay of Fresh Air host Terry Gross’ conversation with the late writer David Foster Wallace. He was such a brilliant thinker, such a strong voice for my generation, but he ended his own life in 2008. He was 46 years old when he hanged himself. He had so much energy, so much curiosity, so much virtuosity. His writing had a playful quality, a silliness. And yet his life was marked by sadness, heartbreak, and, in the end, despair.

One of the themes I heard in their conversation was just how devastating it is to compare oneself with others. Wallace spoke of turning 30 years old and having so much more than his parents had when they were that age, but he and his peers were all miserable. They had so much education, affluence, health care, success. And yet they were all fearful, unfulfilled, self-sabotaging, and sad.

Part of what made it worse is that the more time they spent comparing themselves with their parents, the worse they felt about themselves and their seeming inability to find happiness.

Wallace also wrote about vacationing and how difficult it is to find and accept pleasure. He says people generally spend a significant amount of time while on vacation wondering if they chose wisely. Should we have gone to this resort? Do you think the people at that other resort — the one we almost went to — are having a better time than we are? 

Conventional wisdom tells us that the path to happiness requires us to stop this kind of comparison. Of course, conventional wisdom isn’t always realistic. You can try all you want to avoid the comparison trap, but when your neighbor pulls into their driveway in a brand new Mercedes or your sister-in-law brags about the time they decided to spend the entire month of July at their new beach house, you’ll probably find yourself wondering why you’re like you and not more like them.

Discontent is part of the human condition — the nagging sense that you’re missing out on something. This is true even when you seem to have it all. And it’s not always a bad thing. We’re constantly growing, evolving, and looking for new ways to amplify our impact on the world, new ways to expand our horizons. Pursuing more isn’t always wrong, and comparing yourself to others can be harmless if it allows you to learn from them.

If you compare yourself to someone you admire greatly and it motivates you to work smarter or be more innovative, that comparison improves your life for the better. If you compare yourself to someone you admire and it prompts you to volunteer or do something charitable, that comparison doesn’t just change your life, it changes the world.

It’s when the comparison thing bums you out or stifles your creativity in some way — that’s when you need to rethink things.

  • When you sit around complaining that someone else gets all the breaks instead of working harder to create your own luck — that’s a problem.
  • When you feel paralyzed because you haven’t made nearly as much progress as someone else — that’s a problem.
  • When you become convinced that something is wrong with you for not having, achieving, or being like someone else — that’s a problem.
  • When you begin competing with someone else for the approval of others — that’s a problem.
  • When you think you should “have it all” instead of focusing on what you actually want (and then coming up with a plan to get it) — that’s a problem.

Comparing can be positive if it spurs you onto greater heights. Comparing that turns into complaining is worthless.

The truth is there will always be someone smarter, stronger, healthier, wealthier, more successful, and more attractive than you. On the other hand, there will always be someone out there who wishes they were as smart, strong, healthy, wealthy, successful, and attractive as you.

Your potential, your advantages, your opportunities (or lack thereof) — none of that guarantees happiness. And that’s what you’re really after, isn’t it? We all want to find our bliss. So go find it. Stop looking sideways to find things to complain about; look in, look up, and then look forward.

Avoid the comparison trap, and go get what you want.