This past week, my “landscaper” neighbor who trims my shrubs and mows my lawn, planted a Jatropha tree outside our master bedroom window. The original tree in that spot died about two years ago. I’m thrilled that this empty space is now occupied by flora that blooms all year and tends to attract both butterflies and hummingbirds.
The planting of a tree made me remember a Greek Proverb that goes like this, “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.” In my situation, I’ll most likely get to sit in some of the shade from this tree. At the least, it will shade the southern exposed master bedroom windows next summer and beyond. But I love this proverb. And here is why.
There is a grim absence of visionary shade-tree planters in our culture right now. Most are living for their own moment, with little thought for the future of others. We see it in record-high personal financial debt and record-low personal savings. It is a prominent theme in a lot of governmental decision-making. Leaders of companies, non-profits and religious bodies seldom develop plans for succession and the future value of their organization. Parents rarely keep the end in mind while raising their children.
Five years ago, I wrote a “Forward-Thinking Leaders” blog. It was based on the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. Visionaries like President Wilson, President Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Stephen T. Mather created pristine places for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of America and far beyond.
Take inventory of your own life. Am I just thinking about myself? Do I only plan for today, this week, this year, or even just for my lifetime? Am I setting up the next generations for blessing and success? Am I investing my life to leave the world around me a better place or am I just a consumer, taking all I can get? Will my grandchildren have more to enjoy or less to enjoy because of my decisions today? These questions are just a start for our self-evaluation.
I love this scripture that puts it all into perspective. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). It is so easy to get caught up in only what we can see at the moment. We must be very intentional if we are going to focus on things that aren’t in our immediate vision. My heart and desire is to help build a great community that plants “shade trees” that I will never sit under. How about you? Will you join me?
Since a recent blog called “Here’s to Good Health,” I’ve had multiple people wonder how I could just get away for two weeks at a time and take a “real” vacation. Then they usually go on to excuse their own inability to get away by making note of my older age and assume that I’m “sort of” retired (that’s a whole other topic) and therefore can more easily take time off. I’ve been reflecting. Why is it that some, especially those higher up in organizational leadership, have difficulty getting away from work and keeping a healthy pace that includes vacation time?
There could be multiple answers to the question I’ve raised above. It might be a seasonal matter. Peak times of demand. A temporary shortness of others to cover their job. A type of work that is done by only a few with a very unique skill set. And there could be another answer. One of my favorite bloggers, Carey Nieuwhof, recently wrote about why some leaders never get a break. It was spot on. This is a trap leaders fall in to. I’ve fought my whole life trying to stay out of it. It’s hard. The more successful you become, the more difficult it is. It comes down to one basic thing. A need to be needed.
Nieuwhoff writes about the signs to look for in yourself and your organization if you can never seem to get away and take time off. A look in the mirror might be what is needed most. We’ll look more at that in a moment. But two things happen when you can’t take time away. It can add up to a big personal cost over time. And, it can put a lid on your personal growth and the growth of your organization.
So what are some key signs that you might be a leader who needs to be needed. Carey mentions five:
You Have a Hard Time Taking Time Off – You might be a leader who needs to be needed if you either don’t want to leave or something always comes up to disrupt your plans. If you are a part of every decision and needed for everything, maybe you haven’t given away enough responsibility and authority to others around you.
You Like to Be Liked – Most healthy people like to be liked. But, let’s be honest. Many unhealthy people would rather be liked above everything else so they inevitably won’t do anything to disappoint people—like not be available for a week or two or even a month. If everyone else’s emergency or lack of planning controls your schedule, maybe you need to look inside as to why you allow that to happen.
You Don’t Like Quiet – Silence makes you nervous. You are an adrenaline junkie. You feel something is missing when things are calm and not running at a frantic pace. I know people who are on vacation who check in with their work just to see what’s going on because they can’t disconnect and enjoy the solitude or the change of pace. Frankly, that’s an internal problem that I would explore with a counselor.
You Have a Hard Time Delegating – This is hard for a lot of leaders. It’s nearly impossible for leaders who need to be needed. We have our reasons. People rely on me. I have no one who can really do that for me. I just don’t have the team yet. Yes, I’ve built an organization from the ground up. All of those can be true. But it’s a tape that plays repeatedly with leaders who need to be needed.
You Want to Know Everything – This is a huge challenge for us who founded organizations. And it’s a problem for small organizations. Actually, it’s one of the main reasons organizations stay small. But, if you are going to grow an organization, it has to change. The top leader is ultimately responsible for what happens, but you don’t have to know everything that is going on. I had to let that go multiple times in multiple ways so I didn’t become the lid for the organization I started. Nieuwhof rightly concludes, “If your need to know is bigger than your desire to grow, you won’t grow.” And, I will add, you won’t be able to get away and take some time off, missing all the health benefits previously mentioned. And eventually, it will cost you: personal health, family health and organizational health.
Now that you’ve had time to do a little self-reflection, what are your next steps if you discovered that you have an unhealthy need to be needed? Self-awareness is always the first and most important step of growth. A next step might be to do some reading by Dr. Steve Rose who discusses this topic quite a bit. And, I always find it helpful to talk with a skilled professional counselor who can help me sort it all out. Most often, the answers are within me, I just need some assistance finding those answers. Maybe you do too.
QUESTION: How have you battled with the “need to be needed” over the years? I’d love to know what steps you would advise others to take. Please share with me in the comments section below.
The next two weeks, I’ll be on vacation. Most of us, look forward to vacations. I sure do. This vacation is extra special in that it’s the third one of our “7 Year-Old Grandchild Trips.” This time, with our grandtwins, Noah and Haley.
We started the tradition with our oldest granddaughter when she turned 7. Now, she is nearly 16. A trip to Oregon, alone with Grandpa and Grandma. Given that all five of our grandkids live in Florida, even the seven-hours of flying diagonally from corner to corner of our country is special and unique. And, it is one entire week when it is all about them. Listening to the pounding surf of the majestic Pacific Ocean. Riding a hot-rod open sand rail on the steep dunes of the Oregon Coast. Playing in the snow of the Cascade mountains. Seeing the taller than tall fir trees of the Northwest. Hiking in the woods to a hundred foot plus tall series of waterfalls. It’s magical. At then at the end, the “grandpaparazzi” photographer and his assistant (my wife), create a custom-made photo book for each grandchild with the photo highlights of their week full of special memories with their grandparents.
And for a bit of background. Why Oregon? I grew up in Oregon. All my family still live on the West Coast. So, my grandkids who have grown up in Florida, get to spend precious time with my mom (their great grandmother), my siblings (their great uncles and aunts), and a myriad of cousins they haven’t met before. And, it’s all in a totally different climate and environment that is very dissimilar to southwest Florida. Mountains instead of flat land. Thunderous towering ocean waves instead of a lake-like Gulf of Mexico. Cool nights and warm summer days that remind them of a Florida winter. Tall evergreen trees instead of tropical palms. And more.
This is one of our family traditions for making memories. What are yours? I hope you will get some time this summer to make some memories of your own. Do you go to a cabin in the mountains? Do you go camping? Fishing? Boating? Beach? Theme park? A road trip? Do you go visit relatives in another state? Do you travel to a new country or a new part of our country? It is very important to take breaks. Get away from work and the daily routines of life. Will you be taking a vacation this summer?
People in the U.S. are working more hours and taking less time off, bringing on various mental and physical health challenges. I recently read that 212 million vacation days get forfeited annually. There are incredible benefits from taking vacation time. Especially during the past year of stress-filled pandemic uncertainties, a vacation may just be exactly what you need this summer.
Here’s why according to Dr. Kathryn Isham:
1. Improved Physical Health – Stress can contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure. Studies show that taking a vacation at least every two years compared to every six will lessen the risk of heart attacks. If that is true, why not take one or two vacations every year?
2. Improved Mental Health – Neuroscientists have found that chronic stress can alter your brain structure and bring on anxiety and depress. Vacations relieve stress and allow your body and mind to heal in ways it can’t while your are under pressure.
3. Greater Well-Being – According to a Gallup study, just three days after a vacation starts, physical complaints, quality of sleep and moved improved compared to before vacation. These gains were still present five weeks later.
4. Increased Mental Motivation – Many who return from vacation are more focused and productive. Taking time off is like getting a brain tune-up.
5. Improved Family Relationships – Spending time enjoying life with loved ones can strengthen your relationships. A study in Arizona discovered that women who took vacations were more satisfied with their marriages.
6. Decreased Burnout – Employees who take regular vacations are less likely to experience burnout, making them more creative and productive than their overworked, under-rested counterparts.
7. Boosted Happiness – Research shows that even planning a vacation can boost your happiness. Some people experience an elevated mood up to eight weeks before their time away.
The bottom line is, take a vacation this Summer or Fall if you possibly can. When you take time away, you will most likely improve your physical, mental and relational health. On top of it, your job performance and perspective toward work has a good chance of benefitting too because you have been recharged and refreshed. If you haven’t scheduled a time away, start planning now because, even that, will get you started toward more overall satisfaction and all-around good health.
QUESTION: What are your vacation plans this summer/fall? I shared some of mine and I’d love to hear yours in the comment section below.
This past week marked the 35th year of an adventure that started with the arrival of our chock-full rental truck, three young children and a God-sized vision for a new church in a new city. Milestones are a great time for reflections and musings. Musings are dictionary-defined as “your thoughts or comments on something you have been thinking about carefully and for a long time.” So, here are 3 musings—35 years in the making.
GOOD THINGS TAKE TIME. Sylvain Saurel wrote an article called, “Overnight Success Exists, But it Happens Only for Those Who Build It Daily Over Years.” That’s definitely true in the founding of Cape Christian. When we arrived in Cape Coral, FL on May 7, 1986 to begin the adventure of “planting” a church, that was just the first day of over 12,775 days of hard work, action, discipline, risk, failures, sacrifices, changes, resilience, consistency, lack of sleep, persistence, patience, stress, struggle, late nights, disappointments, doubts, motivation and more. Good things take time. To grow a church from three couples to three thousand regular participants involved all of the above multiplied by decades of time.
Guests who visit Cape Christian often look around at a 14-acre campus that includes an auditorium filled with hundreds of worshippers, a student center full of teens, a preschool, a café and a park with laughing children enjoying its playgrounds, splash pad, basketball court, play field, as well as people-filled benches and tables under blooming Crepe Myrtle trees connecting with each other as they enjoy the soothing sounds of fountains and waterfalls… and our guests ask me or my wife, “Are you surprised?” Our standard answer is always, “Not surprised. Always in Awe.” We’re not surprised because we know all of the words listed in the paragraph above were our constant reality over three and a half decades. We had setbacks, resistance, criticism and mountains to climb. But good things take time. Success happens only for those who build it daily over years and decades.
GOD ALWAYS PROVIDES. Looking back over the years, I can assure you that we had times when we didn’t know where the money was going to come from or if people would show up. I’ve learned, God always knows what we need and in what order. People that had specific gifts that were needed to go to the next level, have always had a way of non-chalantly appearing when the time was right. We have repeatedly watched people and financial resources provided at strategic times in the growth of Cape Christian. Even when a person with leadership gifts or significant financial resources moved on to other pursuits, I’ve observed God fill the gaps with someone or something that had even greater capacity for what was coming next. I’m very grateful for God’s constant, exceedingly above and beyond provision.
PASSIONATE OBEDIENCE BRINGS SIGNIFICANCE. My wife Linda and I are frequently filled with a deep sense of satisfaction and significance. We find peace in knowing that we’ve been living out our purpose for many years now. We can physically observe the legacy and the harvest of fruit from seeds we planted decades ago. We view God-transformed individuals and families that have shaped the outcome of the present and future generations. We don’t have to wait for the “well-done good and faithful servant” phrase to be spoken at our funerals. We hear and see it nearly every day. And we are reminded that using our unique gifts and passions has had its rewards. For the times we were tempted to take short-cuts because some decisions were difficult to make, we are most grateful now that we were obedient to the God-nudgings and whisperings. We’ve discovered that passion coupled with obedience, always leads to a destination of significance.
Milestones are always a good time to reflect, muse and give thanks. Thank you to each one of you who had a small or large part in walking with us the past 35 years. All of it matters. You matter… to God and to us. Thank you.
QUESTION: Which one of three key musings speaks to you the most at this season of your life? I would love to hear from you in the Comment section below. Thanks!
I’ve felt it. You’ve most likely felt it too. Especially during the last 12-14 months of pandemic stress. It’s that feeling that is hard to describe. My sister in-law has been calling it “meuky” the last seven years since her husband died of cancer at age 59. I call it “The Blahs.” But it turns out, there’s a name for that feeling.
New York Times contributing opinion writer, Adam Grant, titled it, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’ve Been Feeling: It’s Called Languishing” in a recent article. Grant said it isn’t burnout—when we still have energy. It isn’t depression—when we still have hope. It’s a joyless and aimless feeling. I call it “the blahs.” My sister in-law calls it “meuky.” Dr. Grant calls it languishing.
Dr. Grant says, “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.” Grant writes, “languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing—the absence of well-being.” Whatever we call it, it is the feeling that we aren’t firing on all cylinders. We aren’t quite functioning at full capacity. Our motivation is a bit dull, we aren’t totally focused.
As I reflect, I’ve felt these same feelings in multiple areas of my life—physical, spiritual, emotional, my work or in my relational life. And, not all at the same time. The research shows that when we start languishing in multiple arenas at the same time, we are more in danger to start on a downward slope toward depression. Dr. Grant says, “Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.”
What can we do to make sure we are flourishing? Here are a few things that have helped me and others.
- Identify What You are Feeling – Psychologists have reminded us that one of the best ways to manage our emotions is to name them. Name what you are feeling—anger, grief, languishing, sadness. We taught our children (and now our grandchildren) to summarize their feelings with three questions at the end of each day: What made you sad today? What made you mad today? What made you glad today? What if we adults actually got better at naming our feelings beyond the word “fine” when someone asks how we are doing? What if we could get comfortable enough to instead say, “I’m languishing today”?
- Give Yourself Uninterrupted Time – Fragmented attention is the enemy of engagement and excellence. That means we need to set boundaries. Years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. When engineers managed the boundary themselves, 47 percent had above-average productivity. But when the company set quiet time as official policy, 65 percent achieved above-average productivity. Getting more done wasn’t just good for performance at work: We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress. The constant distractions and interruptions of email, texts and social media alerts contribute to languishing. If you struggle to focus, you will feel unproductive. Lack of productivity leads to less enjoyable work and ultimately discouragement.
- Disrupt Your Routines – A couple weeks ago, my wife and I literally left town for two and a half days for a change of scenery. Going to the Everglades for a boat ride, a sunset dinner on Key Largo, a snorkeling excursion and a relaxed meandering drive back home was just what we needed to recharge our souls and our relationship. Monotonous routine can be the enemy of renewal and refreshment. With photography as my hobby, I took my camera equipment for a walk through a nature preserve, shot a sunset, captured a Supermoon rise—3 times in the last 3 weeks—all for the purpose of preventing my coast into “the blahs.” I plan to take a two week vacation next month.
- Be Intentional to Get the Right Chemicals In To Your Brain – It has been researched many times. Certain activities release the “feel good” chemicals of Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin into our bodies. Exercise, fresh air, prayer, meditation, healthy foods, strong relationships and more contribute to the positive chemical dump into our brains that energize, motivate and calm us. When we are intentional, our bodies, minds and spirits reap the benefits. Our intentionality will protect us from languishing and put us on the path toward flourishing.
My goal is to help you be in tune with your life and the lives of others around you that you lead or have some connection with. I really believe that some of the ramifications of remote work and hybrid schedules that the pandemic has forced has impacted us more than we are aware. The unpredictability of the last months have caused a level of fatigue, a depletion of reserves that is most unlike anything we’ve walked through or led through before. Can you relate? I’m praying you will have clarity and the courage to take some next steps to make sure you are flourishing and not just languishing.
QUESTION: What are the clues you notice in yourself which alert you to languishing? (Share them in the comment section below)
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The third Monday of every January. Not many people get a holiday on the calendar. A group of Presidents got one. Jesus got a couple of them (Christmas and Easter), the Independence of our Country has a holiday. Mothers and Fathers each have one.
The reason we have MLK Day, is recognition of the impact of a courageous leader who left a legacy, trying to bring equal rights to all. He helped the United States of America restore many rights to black Americans, but the civil unrest since last January, loudly proclaims we have a way to go.
This story below, written by my wife, came out of a discussion on the importance of this special holiday. I proudly introduce my guest blogger, Linda.
(Circa 1959-1960 Youngstown, Ohio)
I heard the cries in the dark distance of our back yard. “Mr. Augsburger…. Mr. Augsburger!” I had gone outside to retrieve something from our family car and heard the cry for help. I promptly went back into the house and told my Dad, (Mr. Augsburger,) that someone was outside crying for help.
A few minutes later, my father walked into our kitchen through the back door, assisting a distraught, muddy, fur stole wearing, black woman carrying a suitcase. The story soon unfolded. The woman had been abused by her husband, and taking all the cash she could, she was leaving him in the dark of night. Walking through the back yard of our home and the neighbors, she slipped in the mud and needed help getting out.
Looking back as an adult, I am fascinated that in the middle of the Civil Rights Era, and the racial tension in our country, this black woman was calling out to the white “Reverend Augsburger” for help. What made her think this white family might help her out in her time of need?
This is the beginning of the story…
My parents moved to Youngstown, Ohio in 1953 with two little girls, ready to plant a church in the inner city. Beginning in a store-front in the dusty, dirty steel mill section of town, the church was born. By 1959 a small church building had been erected a block from our house. I was born in 1954 with a brother arriving in 1956 and another sister in 1962. Our family was one of just a few white families in our neighborhood. This was my home. I did not see a difference in any of the children I played with. There was no color…just kids having fun. I did not think about the fact that I was a “minority.” Our family did not see “color.” The church my father pastored did not see “color.” Sure, I knew we looked different, but what we saw were people created in the image of God. There was no “us” and “them.” I was “them.” We did life together as kids, unaware of the turmoil that was occurring daily in our country, in the still segregated South and the “unsegregated” North.
Now as a 5–6-year-old, on that dark night, I was witnessing an event that is forever burned into my memory. Our parents tried to send us children upstairs and off to bed. But I am so glad we peeked around the stair wall. There by the kitchen table, my mother Carolyn got on her knees with a pan of warm water and washed the cakey mud off the feet and legs of our night stranger. The memories blur, but I can still see tears streaming down the face of the unnamed woman. Why was she crying? I didn’t know then, but I do now!!
I see the police standing in our kitchen, not as a threat, but to assist the woman to safety. I am not sure how much time passed, but my next memory is of our unnamed stranger walking into our living room to leave by the front door to a waiting cab. There we had an old upright piano, with a swivel stool that adjusted to any height so the musician could easily bring music from the ebony and ivories. She stopped and said, “wait a minute.” Sitting down on the swivel stool, I can still see and hear her playing the piano and singing…
Bless this house O Lord we pray. Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout. Keeping want and trouble out.
Bless the roof and chimneys tall. Let thy peace lie overall.
Bless this door that it may prove ever open to joy and love.
Bless these windows shining bright letting in God’s Heavenly light.
Bless the hearth ablazing there, with smoke ascending Like a prayer.
Bless the people here within. Keep them pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be fit O Lord To dwell with Thee.
Bless us all that one day we may dwell O Lord with Thee.
We never saw the unnamed woman again. And now as an adult reflecting on this memory, I am unraveled with tears. I now understand why she felt our home was a safe place. I understand her tears as my mother washed her feet. I understand the gratitude that brought forth such a beautiful song written by the great Mahalia Jackson. I am filled with gratitude for people like Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Fred and Carolyn Augsburger, who led the way in equal rights and value for all human beings.
I am currently reading two books by Pulitzer Prize Winner, Isabel Wilkerson. “The Warmth Of Other Suns,” and “Caste…The Origins of Our Discontents.” I am undone with emotion. The Civil Rights Movement was needed. The unfair, unequal decisions, attitudes and actions of thousands in the history of our country over the past 400 years in this “land of the free,” wrecks me. Ebony and ivory make such beautiful music when blended together. We have much to be grateful for in America, but we have missed some of the best “music” in our country that comes from the blending of black and white. And not just black and white…red, brown, yellow and all the colors that skin comes in. Beautiful music waiting to be played!
Forgive us…and Bless this house…O Lord we pray.
(By Linda Augsburger Gingerich, January 18, 2021)
Pictures below from Linda’s early Childhood.
Over the last 35 years, I’ve had an interest in understanding why some people rise to the top in an organization and why others struggle to get selected to move ahead. At times, I thought it was mostly based on skills, competence, charisma, or chemistry. At other times, I would have contended it was about one or more of the following: determination, initiative, self-confidence, decision-making skills, self-management, strategic thinking, definitive goals, clear vision, team building, innovation and relationship building. But in the last year or two, I’m more and more convinced of another key essential for success in pretty much every vocation. It isn’t often talked about or written about.
However, I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that reveals research indicating an essential for success is self-awareness. In fact, this HBR article, written by Organizational Psychologist, Tasha Eurich writes, “when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more-effective leaders with more-satisfied employees and more-profitable companies.” In fact, Eurich footnoted nearly a dozen research studies that confirmed her statements. I find this research fascinating.
In my life experience as a pastor, chaplain, boss, supervisor, entrepreneur and coach, I’ve noticed that those who excel in leadership roles, are more self-aware than those who don’t rise to the top. Unfortunately, many of us think we are more self-aware than we are. And to be clear, there are two types of self-awareness. There is internal self-awareness, where we have the ability to accurately monitor our inner world of emotions, motives, passions, stresses, strengths, weaknesses, behaviors and mental well-being. Those who have this inner self-awareness, are happier, less stressed and more fulfilled than those who lack it. And then there is external self-awareness, where we understand how others view us. Research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy, and better at relating to those around them.
My whole point is this. Our likelihood of being our best self with whatever gift-set God has given us and functioning to our highest capacity in the environment we work in, serve in and live in, will improve as we become more self-aware. So, I’ve been intent on developing more self-awareness in my life. You can to. Here are some things that have helped me.
- Be intentional. We will never grow in any area of life without intentionality. Learn to gut-check yourself when you are in difficult situations. Slow down, reflect, and evaluate what is happening inside of you. Fast-paced busyness works against becoming self-aware. Our ability to grow in self-awareness is in direct proportion to our willingness to slow the pace of our lives to include self-introspection, tuning in to what God wants to say to us and becoming curious about what others would like to be able to say to us.
- Invite Fearless Feedback. Ask people close to you to help you become more self-aware. The higher you are in power and influence in an organization, the less feedback you will naturally receive. When you invite loving critique, and you don’t overreact or get defensive when it is given, you will create an environment for even more feedback in the future. For example, I know that I can tell too many details in a story and overload people with things they aren’t interested in or don’t need to know. So, I’ve invited my spouse to give me subtle clues that only she and I recognize if she senses that is happening. That practice has also helped me become more self-aware when she isn’t present to give that feedback.
- Keep on Learning. No matter how much progress we make in self-awareness, there is always more to learn. It’s a life-long adventure of discovery.
All of this brings me to conclude: Leaders and anyone who will focus on building both internal and external self-awareness, who invite fearless feedback from loving critics, take time to reflect and be introspective — will reap the many rewards that increased self-knowledge delivers. It is the key to success at work and at home. Blessings on the journey!
QUESTION: What have you found to be most helpful for you in your growth toward self-awareness? Share in the comments below.
One thing I have observed recently, we are short on some things needed for a happy life. I’m not referring to toilet paper, disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer. I’m talking about leadership. Leadership is in short supply.
Here’s the story. Thanksgiving had little similarity to what usually happens in our family. Instead of a large family gathering and an amazing home-cooked meal together, my wife ordered two takeout Thanksgiving platters from a nearby local chain restaurant known for their country-style comfort foods. She ordered. I went to pick it up at the appointed time. An hour later, I arrived home. It wasn’t the five-minute ride each way. It wasn’t the quality of the food. In fact, it was delicious. But the fifty minutes standing in line watching what happens when no one leads was my main Thanksgiving memory. In fact, it consumed a disproportionate amount of our dinner conversation.
When no one leads, everyone is frustrated. Employees were stressed. Customers nearly came to physical blows. Yes. On Thanksgiving Day. Customers raising their voices at each other and at restaurant staff. And one guy even challenged another guy to a fight because he perceived the other one didn’t care about where the line started and ended. I heard mostly mumbles and grumbles. Some just finally walked out with threats being uttered just loud enough. You could cut the tension with a knife. It was all a result of a drought in leadership.
In a nutshell, no one had organized the distribution of the orders. First it was 15-20. Finally, it was 30-35 meals; bags with names on them, lined up on the over-crowded countertops, the checkout areas, on mobile carts. All of them coming hot out of an efficient kitchen. But chaos was everywhere among those whose job was to connect the right bag with the people standing in line to pick up their call-in and online orders. On top of it, there was only one line—those who had preordered and those placing orders. So, the finished meals waited while new meals for new orders were being prepared. When people demanded to see a manager, they were told, “they are busy right now.” Where? In the kitchen? In the office? No one was visibly solving the obvious distribution problem. As happens too often, someone had a leadership title but didn’t know how to lead.
As is often the case, there wasn’t a short supply of excuses. One employee said, “it’s my first week at work so I don’t know how to fix this chaos.” Another said, “we are going as fast as we can go.” One said, “it’s not my job, I’m only supposed to seat those who are here for dine-in.” Another said, “I will have to go ask for permission to change the distribution process” but kept right on doing what he was doing.
Finally, a young 20-something employee decided to lead. She did what leaders do. Problem-solve. Her first attempt at a solution was to go down the growing line to write down the name of every customer. Then she walked around looking at the expanding supply of orders and tried to match the names on the bags with her list. When that didn’t work, she started calling out each name on the bags to see if they matched the customers standing in line. Bingo. Progress started. Aggravated customers began to have hope for returning home with Thanksgiving dinner. The line started to shorten. I couldn’t read her name tag, but she deserves a shoutout. A true leader emerged from the crowd of excuse-makers.
When I headed home with our Thanksgiving meals, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Grateful that I’ve had 40 plus years of leadership opportunity and success. Grateful that I have matured enough in my own emotional health to withstand such chaos without being angry and anxious. Grateful to have the finances to purchase our meals. And, especially grateful that I had a beautiful wife of nearly 46 years waiting at home to share our delectable meal together. You see, I drove by a cemetery on my way home and noticed more than one adult, kneeling at a gravesite, spending time with their loved one on the holiday.
Where do you expect God to show up? In a church? In a synagogue? In nature? Out on a boat? On a golf course? In a quiet moment of self-reflection? I listened to a podcast while out walking the other morning and it was titled,“Seeing God in the Eyes of Your Enemy.” That caught my attention. How could I see God there, of all places? Really? God in the eyes of my enemy?
The topic is timely. In an extremely acrimonious political climate that is filled with non-stop 30-second barrages of demonizing the opposing candidate, why would we even think of seeing God in the eyes of the enemy? After all, we should fear that the whole world will come crashing down if the other candidate wins the election. We should panic. We should get our fighting gloves on. We should worry and be alarmed. This the most important election in all of history. This is the most important decision you will ever make in your whole life. So we are told.
I admit it. I deeply resist any fear-based sales pitch. I haven’t spent my life making decisions while being driven by fear. And, I’m not about to start now. Simply put, that’s not what got me to where I am now. But that’s another long story.
Martin Buber, an early 20thcentury Jewish theologian, has contributed a huge amount of insight on the topic of seeing God in the eyes of our enemy. I don’t believe he actually used that specific term. But, some of Buber’s most famous writings discuss the contrast between using an “I-It” or an “I-Thou” approach to our relationships. The I-It view of our relationships is similar to the “cancel culture” I wrote about recently. We label others. And, we “cancel” them out of our lives if we disagree with their view-points. They just are dispensable and disposable “its” in our life. They are less than human. Undeserving of our time or attention.
Or, Buber’s “I-Thou” explanation of what creates healthy human relationships, is based on the fact that you choose to look into the other person’s eyes and realize they are unrepeatable. Totally unique. A sacred creation in God’s own image. Real. Living. And authentic people. Maybe they do show some brokenness, as we all do. But even if they are badly broken, they still are valuable. They hold deep within them–even if it’s buried in a mess–a purpose and the image of God. What might change in our political landscape, our neighbor to neighbor relationships, our family relationships if we could actually see God in the eyes of those we disagree with or those who have wronged us? That’s not an easy assignment but it would change things. It would change us. It might change them.
The podcast speaker, Peter Scazzero, challenged me to ask myself three penetrating questions to help me see God in the eyes of my enemies. Maybe they will help you too.
1. Am I Fully Present or Distracted? I need to hear that. It’s so easy for me to get distracted by everything in my peripheral or by the phone in my hand or pocket. Am I fully present when my wife, my kids, my grandkids, friends or a spiritual seeker talks to me?
2. Am I Loving or Judging? I admit it. I’m a recovering judgaholic. I can quickly look at a person’s age, car, bumper sticker, dress, title, education, political affiliation, social media posts or whatever and make assessments and assumptions about their life. I’ve been in recovery for years. I’m not yet totally judge-free sober. But my God’s grace, I’m making progress.
3. Am I Open or Closed to Being Changed? I think I’m a pretty open-minded kind of guy until I get super honest with my self-evaluation. While I am fairly skilled at listening to the opinions and beliefs of others before I ever start to speak my mind, I don’t easily change my mind. I’m a pretty focused guy. I know what I believe and where I want to go. But that causes me to be quietly formulating my rebuttal instead of carefully listening to the words and the heart of the other person. So, I really need to be asking this question of myself in every conversation.
How are you doing with the above three questions? Start with the people closest to you. Ask them. Invite fearless feedback. They will probably help you to see which of the three you need to work on. Chances are, you will start seeing God in their eyes. Honest conversation will bring you closer to them and Him. And then for those who vote differently than you, usually disagree with you and you have trouble tolerating. Start by asking these questions internally. You will grow. And you just may see God in their eyes… maybe even in the eyes of a new friend.
QUESTION: Which of these three is easiest for you? Which one is hardest? I’d love to hear from you in the Comment section below.
I remember the first time I bought a Dymo. Remember those? It made great labels. I had one of those early ones before the electronic digitized screens and keyboard. On mine, the dial on the little “squirt-gun” shaped gizmo had to be rotated to the correct letter or number and then you squeezed the trigger and then the next, and the next, and the next. The backing peeled off and you put the label on the light switch, the cupboard, the toolbox, the storage container or whatever. It was addictive. Couldn’t quit labeling. Wasn’t going to stop until the roll was out!
Then labels moved from being nouns to verbs. Now we barely remember the organizational benefits of labeling everything. Labeling, as we know it now, is often hurtful, it’s sometimes dehumanizing and usually polarizing. We label the positions, philosophies, politics, and personalities of people. We like to organize people in to their proper “place” in life. We are more comfortable when we know where people “fit.” Cataloguing data is not all bad. It helps us to better understand its relationship to everything else around it. So we categorize to better understand things. In the best-case scenario, we label people like we do things. For the sake of understanding them. But not always.
Our love of labels has become very detrimental to our well-being as a nation. We live in a culture where we are hard-wired to fit people in to neat, perfect little boxes. We have left or right. Blue states or red states. Conservative or Liberal. Fit or fat. Black or white. Religious or non-religious. Smart or slow. Rich or poor. But rarely do any of us really love being squeezed into the pre-made boxes that have been provided for us. I bristle inside when anyone wants to put any of the above labels on my forehead. For example. Believe it or not, even as a pastor and chaplain, I hate being called religious. I would much rather talk about the finer nuances of my faith journey, my spiritual beliefs, and my relationship to God. I don’t want to be put in a box of being religious. That has plenty of negative connotations to me.
Here’s my point. We are human. We are complex beings with individual ideas, beliefs, preferences, and ideals. The day when society drops the labels and starts seeing people as unique individuals, will be the day when we will no longer be divided. In all reality, this is much easier said than done. But in the time being, the only label you should be given is your name (and maybe your rank or title in some organizations).
This is not a 21st century problem. They struggled with this in the 1st century. A casual reading of the scriptures written for the newly-formed Christian churches in the Middle East and Europe reveal that they had challenges caused by labeling others by their ethnicity, religious heritage, economic status and belief systems. When prominent Judeo-Christian leader and author, Apostle Paul, wrote to the church in Galatia, he reminded them, “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:28 MSG). Without getting into a detailed explanation of this scripture, the call was to focus on their one common link—their relationship to Jesus. The broader and practical application in America is to stop the labeling. Highlight the fact that we are all humans. We live on the same spinning globe. And, many of us reading this, happen to be located in the United States of America.
I mailed in my ballot this week. But I don’t intend to talk about my political affiliations and preferences on social media. In the tense culture we have right now, I would surely be categorized or pigeon-holed by someone somewhere as either a “bleeding heart” or a “raging conservative.” Can we adults try to set an example for our kids and refuse to assign names to others based on their skin tone, political leanings, or whatever? Just maybe we could reduce the “bullying” that is so common in school and on social media? That problem starts with labeling. And our kids learn it from us adults.
Names and labels have power. Take a look at the boxes you have ready for people—whether political, religious, lifestyle, skin color, driving style, gender, age, personality or because of their communication approach. This week, instead of automatically putting people into their box, see if you can deliberately refrain from making a default summary statement and boxing them in. Open your mind. See if it doesn’t open the boxes you have for others. Labels take on an “all-or-nothing” meaning. That brings more stress and tension in your life and in our world. Relax. Let’s enjoy life as God intended it to be.
QUESTION: What are the most helpful ways you have found to resist labeling others and pigeon-holing them? Please share in the comment section below. Thank you!