In 1986, I started an organization that has been in almost constant flux for over three decades. Some love it. Others abhor it. I’ve often told those who were having a difficult time adjusting, the one sure thing you can count on at Cape Christian, is change. Change is inevitable. It happens to everyone. If this year has taught us anything, we can’t prepare for everything. As a leader, college and graduate school couldn’t adequately prepare me for this. Every day is a new opportunity for something unusual to happen.
I must adapt accordingly. It’s scary. Uncomfortable. It stretches me. My friend Jenni Catron says, “Leadership growth is contingent on our ability to keep ourselves slightly uncomfortable. It’s in the discomfort where we continue to learn and grow.” Most of us want comfort, not discomfort. We all naturally gravitate toward comfort. But the reality is, there’s no comfort in growth and no growth in comfort. I have no idea who I heard it from, but I wrote it in my “quote” notes about a year ago, “All living things grow, all growing things change, if you aren’t growing then you are dying.”
Andy Stanley wrote this, “You are perfectly positioned now to continue getting the same results you have been getting.” Are you totally satisfied with the results you have been getting? My guess is that many of us wish for different results. We want better marriages, higher compensation, less stress on the job, more internal peace, improved health, a closer relationship to God, greater fitness and so on. Basically, most everyone of us wants better results in some area of life than we are currently receiving.
There is one thing central to getting better results. Change. It is the key. Doing the very same things you are doing now, will not bring improved results. Status quo will not bring enhancement. Business as usual, will not bring progression. Author Bruce Van Horn writes, “If you don’t intentionally choose how to live your life, you are actually choosing to let your life be driven by circumstances.” Change that produces different results is based in intentionality. My pastor, Cory Demmel, puts it this way: “We have uphill hopes and downhill habits.”
Change is hard. New Year’s resolutions almost always fail. We are creatures of habit. In a Harvard Business Review article, Tony Schwartz (CEO of The Energy Project) contends that 95% of our behaviors are habitual. Only 5% of our choices are intentional. Schwartz suggests that most of us wildly overvalue our will and discipline. He goes on to propose that our changes must rely less on our prefrontal cortex and more on co-opting the primitive parts of our brains in which habits are formed. Put simply, the more behaviors are ritualized and routinized — in the form of a deliberate practice — the less energy they require to launch, and the more they recur automatically.
Let me wrap up with 5 things I’ve adapted from Tony Schwartz that will help you make change:
1. Be Specific. Imagine a typical wish to start to “exercise regularly.” It’s a prescription for failure. You have a vastly higher chance for success if you decide in advance the days and times, and precisely what you’re going to do each day. I have my 2 mile walk on my calendar for each morning at 5:30. If something makes me miss it, I have alternative times. The same thing for “spend more time with my spouse.” Set a day and time for a weekly date, or time to talk each day or whatever. Put it on the calendar. Be precise and specific will dramatically increase your odds of success.
2. One at a time. Take on one new challenge at a time. Too many changes at one time will likely lead to no changes at all. Computers can run several programs simultaneously. We humans do best when we take on one thing at a time, sequentially.
3. Not too much, not too little. Too often we make the mistaking of biting off more than we can chew. Trying to make a radical change at one time can lead to giving up. Choose a small step. Instead of trying to lose 50 lbs., go for 5 lbs. Once you can keep that first five off, go for a second five. You will eventually get to 50 and be able to maintain at that level. Quick and radical weight loss plans usually lead to rebounding back to a worse situation.
It’s also easy to go to the other extreme, and take on too little. The only way to truly grow is to challenge your current comfort zone. The trick is finding a middle ground — pushing yourself hard enough that you get some real gain, but not too much that you find yourself unwilling to stay at it.
4. What we resist persists. Think about sitting in front of a plate of fragrant chocolate chip cookies over an extended period of time. Diets fail the vast majority of time because they’re typically built around regularly resisting food we enjoy eating. Eventually, we run up against our limited reservoir of self-control. For dieters, keep food you don’t want to eat out of sight, and focus your diet instead on what you are going to eat, at which times, and in what portion sizes. The less you have to think about what to do, the more successful you’re likely to be.
5. Keep the faith. Change is hard. It is painful. And you will experience failure at times. The average person launches a change effort six separate times before it finally takes. Perseverance is needed. But for me, “keeping the faith” also means that I leverage faith in a God who is bigger, stronger and wiser than I. God is all about transformation and change for us. He too wants us to be our best selves. He gives us many invitations to lean into Him and His strength. A relationship with God is the greatest motivation and source of change. He offers supernatural power to do things we will fail at on our own.
There is so much more I could say about change and the challenges of changing my life. The above five are a starting place but not nearly everything that needs to be said. Right now, in our nation, there is so much emphasis about changing things. And it is correct that we should work toward change in our nation on several fronts that are being highlighted right now. But let’s not forget what Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Change in our nation begins with me. My heart. My attitudes. My actions. My life. My habits. My relationships. I must be the change that is needed. My prayer today is simply: “Lord, show me one thing that I could change in my life today that would effect change in the world around me. Amen.”
QUESTION: Of the 5 things, which one do you find the easiest? The hardest? (I’d love for you to put them in the comment section below.)
A few years ago, I heard three statements that got my attention:
Mature people can disagree without being disagreeable.
Mature people can learn to have unity without uniformity.
Mature people can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye.
The immediate question for me at the time was this. Am I mature? There are many measurements and types of maturity. Physical, emotional and spiritual are three areas that immediately come to mind. And, the three statements above speak to a combination: Relational maturity, emotional maturity and spiritual maturity.
Could we agree that our nation is demonstrating a boatload of immaturity right now? From side to side, top to bottom, there are plenty of examples where people aren’t just disagreeing on issues and solutions to the issues we face, they are just plain disagreeable. It’s evident if you are on social media, watching the news, or in conversation. Maturity is scarce.
There’s no way to cover all aspects of developing maturity in all of these areas in this short writing. Becoming mature is actually a life-long journey of intentionality. However, as with anything else, we have to start somewhere. Let me offer three tools that are helping me along the pathway to maturity.
LISTEN WELL — When I was getting my undergraduate degree in social work, I remember repeated exercises on “active listening.” Even though those classes were decades ago, I remember phrases such as, “Help me to understand…,” “What I hear you saying is…” and more. We were coached on body language and self-awareness. Listening well, takes a lot of effort. There are habits to break if we grew up in an environment where interrupting others was the norm. And on top of it, we can listen faster than most people can speak. In that time gap, we are often formulating our rebuttal as the other person speaks instead of intently trying to understand the heart, the emotion and the true meaning behind their words. Even on the national scene right now with all of the intense conversations about race relations and the use of force by police, what if we were as passionate about feeling someone else’s pain or hearing their fears as much as we are about being right and giving our opinion? What if someone actually sat down with a cop or their spouse and children and listened carefully? I’ve been trying to listen as a long-time police chaplain. And in an area I haven’t listened as well, I’ve scheduled a lunch with a black leader in our community to just listen to his story. And I’ve asked him for his counsel on what I as a white leader can do that might be helpful right now. Listening without defending is always crucial.
SPEAK CAREFULLY — Our words have the power of life or death. We must install speed bumps between our brain and our mouths. We don’t make the world brighter by blowing out everyone else’s candle. This Biblical advice is golden. “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.” (James 1:19-20 The Message). And guess what else I’ve been learning. I really don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to. Many times I choose not to speak if I’ve carefully considered all of those who might be listening and I’ve determined that what I have to say may do more harm than good.
CHECK YOUR HEART — Jesus spoke this truth: “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45 NLT). Our words always reveal what is inside. Almost nothing I’ve ever done out of raw, unfiltered emotion turned out well. The concept of ‘’following your heart” is well-intended but hogwash. Following your heart lands you in the ditch. Listening to your heart, being aware of your emotions, taking your own feelings into account as reference points…yes. But just reacting is rarely good. If you’re in the hospital and you hear the nurses say, “he’s having a reaction to the medicine,” that’s not good. But if you hear, “he’s responding to the medication,” you probably feel better. Reacting is usually from the heart. Responding involves the head and the heart. Check your heart.
God’s primary work is transforming hearts. But God isn’t a bully. He only transforms people who invite Him to do that. And God will help us with developing the kind of heart that wants to listen better and to speak more carefully. I’m living proof of His guidance, help, and transformative power on my road toward maturity. I’m grateful.
QUESTION: Which of the three tools toward maturity is most natural and easiest for you? Which one is harder? I’d love to have you Comment below.
One of the best sticky statements I’ve ever heard in a speech was from my colleague, Cory Demmel. He was sharing the sad news of a popular church leader who had fallen far short of his calling. Cory’s repeated line was about “Living Both/And in an Either/Or World.” He was making sure our church understood that this former leader accomplished both good things and made bad choices. If you think about it, having a both/and perspective, is difficult. Especially, when we live in a culture that leans toward Either/Or.
So much of the tension we are feeling in our nation right now is focused around either/or. We are pushed to take a side. Polarization and divisive language are up front and center. It is obvious in politics. Love and hate words abound. Right or left? Conservative or liberal? Republican or Democrat? CNN or Fox? We’ve also been hearing this polarity in relationship to the pandemic. Shut everything down or go on as normal? Require a mask or don’t tell me what to do? Masses are dying or it’s really no worse than the flu. It’s a conspiracy by a political party, a intentionally created virus by a foreign country designed to affect the upcoming presidential election, it’s the judgement of God on our world or it’s just a natural occurrence that happens about every century. We also witness this schism in the semantics used to describe a person’s view toward law enforcement: pro-police or anti-police. Opposite ends of a continuum. Media follows the pattern. Sound bites from the far ends of a spectrum. We live in a time when most want to put us in either this box, or that box. Black or white. Either or.
Let me remind us that we must learn to live both/and in an either/or world if we are going to resolve the frictions. All of us tend to have a natural or learned bias toward being more comfortable on one side of center. Both are a mindset. One is more rigid. One more flexible. One focuses easily on creating a new future and the other hangs on to protecting the past. Let me suggest that we can intentionally develop the skill of both/and living in an either/or world. It starts with a mindset.
People aren’t either good or bad. Most pastors and spiritual leaders exemplify integrity and walk the talk, but a few do not. Most cops are good and handle the pressures of every encounter with non-bias and appropriate use of force, but a few have not. Most of those trying to make an important statement through peaceful protests are passionately expressing their desire for the well-being of all people in our country, a few are violent and destructive. Most of the people I walk alongside of genuinely make an effort to treat everyone as made in the image of God, but some are prejudiced. Our country has made positive strides toward equality and opportunity for all people, yet we are not where we need to be. It is both and. Both political parties have ideologies that are good for all people in our nation. Some politicians haven’t represented the ideals of their party accurately. We have both and. To lessen our relational tensions, we must move our mindset away from categorizing everything as an either/or situation, viewpoint or position and become intentional about finding the both/and part of the incident, the opinion, or the way of looking at someone’s behavior.
Jesus was the epitome of both/and living. One of his friends, John, wrote this description: “And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14-17). Grace and truth were always a tension that Jesus managed in his relationships. He spoke truth and yet showed grace. The religious leaders always wanted to know which box he was in, grace OR truth? Grace OR law? He continually confounded, irritated and rattled them with both: grace AND truth. Not grace OR truth. I’m learning that the only way to be effective and faithful to the example of Jesus is to be both an image of grace and a voice of truth.
For decades now, I’ve been trying to learn and live the way of Jesus in all areas of my life. It shapes my view of everything. It creates my worldview. My political view. My relational view. My connection to Jesus helps me to live both/and in an either/or world. Every incident I witness or read about, leads me to be intentional about looking for the both/and instead of settling for the either/or. With Jesus as my mentor, I can usually see some truth on both sides of an issue and still offer grace to those on both extremes of the continuum. I don’t have to polarize grace on one end and truth on the other. I’m seeking to live at the intersection of grace and truth. I’ve come to believe that grace and truth can both be offered in the same breath, the same sentence, the same smile and the same action.
But friends, this is what I am learning. It’s hard work managing the tension of both/and. It’s much easier to drift toward either/or. Sharing opinionated posts on social media that represent your side of the continuum is easy-peasy. Thoroughly thinking through how sharing that same post might come across to those of a different family heritage, cultural upbringing, faith story, political leaning or career choice takes loads of effort. Spouting off statistics is easy. Careful listening to understand the pain in someone else’s story is hard work. Putting labels on groupings of people is easy. Getting to know someone well enough to understand their heart and intention takes time and energy. Both/and is complicated. Either/or is simple.
I’ve chosen to take the more difficult path. I’m trying to be intentional with speaking grace and truth. I’m using the phrase, “Help me to understand…” as a more integral part of my vocabulary when I experience relational tensions. I’m installing a speed bump between my brain and my mouth. I’m reading and rereading my posts, my comments, and my emails before I click on “Send.” I ask other wise people to read my responses to an explosive situation before sending them. And sometimes, that review and reflective process, causes me to actually hit the “delete” button. Will you join me on the journey of living both/and in an either/or world?
QUESTION: What is the one area that is easiest for you to choose both/and? Where do you find it the hardest? I’d love to hear your comments below.
I have learned I don’t agree with everyone. And everyone doesn’t agree with me. Have you noticed that we are at an all-time high when it comes to disagreement in our country? We have oodles of tension right now regarding the pandemic, politics, and racism. Social media is burning up with claims of all sorts of conspiracies, gross incompetency, diminishing individual freedoms and police brutality. Arguments, caustic put-downs, and name-calling has become the norm for some who seem to spend their day on Facebook.
When I encounter people with whom I disagree, I could say “shame on them,” and while that might be funny, it isn’t fair. I’ve been wrong many times before. Many times. Just ask my wife or my kids.
Over the years, as I’ve taken time to listen and get to know people different from me, I’ve realized I often have as much in common with them as I have differences. Most of us are closer to alignment than the news media or politics might describe. Everyone seems to love to push people to one side or the other of the continuum. Of course, there are people who are extreme in their viewpoints, but even they probably share some common desires and ideas.
One blogger I follow, Ron Edmonson, recently gave me a good summarized view of simple reminders that I’ve been trying to build into my life during these contentious times. Here’s what helps me and maybe it will help you too. While I usually try to avoid assumptions because they often lead me toward premature and unfair judgement of others, these are things I can probably assume about most people with whom I might usually disagree:
- They know things I don’t know. I don’t have to agree with everything they think to learn something from them. I can always eat the meat and spit out the bones. Emotionally mature people can disagree without being disagreeable.
- I know things they don’t know. Granted, it takes two people for mutual learning to occur, but I can only be responsible for my side of things. The bottom line is, my experience, background, education, and environment shapes what I know. Or think I know. The same is true of you.
- I almost never “win” when I make my goal to convince them I’m right. People naturally become defensive of their positions. That includes me, unless I discipline myself not to. I remember the line of a short song we learned in high school choir: “If you convince me and I convince you, won’t there still be two points of view?” The goal is not to have a winner and a loser. Both are winners when there is better all-around understanding.
- I can better engage people if they think I actually like them. People respond better when I am trying to understand them. There’s an even better chance of having a positive dialogue if they experience love from me.
- Understanding another person’s perspective requires listening. It involves an intentional attempt to hear what they are feeling as much as what they are saying. King Solomon wrote, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in sharing his own opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). Walking in the moccasins of another person isn’t easy. It takes intentionality and asking questions. We must find a way to do life with those who come from a different economic background, a different skin tone or a different faith journey. And it takes asking questions that begin with “help me to understand…” to position us for empathetic understanding.
- At the end of the day, we want many of the same things. We all want to be happy (and for our kids to be happy). We all want to make the world a better place. We all want respect. We all want to live in peace. We may disagree on the best way to get there, but our end desire is usually going to be the same.
You may think I’m overly simplistic. That’s okay with me. But it seems to me the more we understand what each of us want, where we’ve developed our point of view, and how our own culture, demographics and beliefs shape our opinions, the better we can work through our differences to accomplish things of value for each of us. We must not forget the words of Leo Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Reducing the tension and bringing peace to our world, starts with me. And finally, Carl Bard says, “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”
QUESTION: Which one of these 6 parts do you find easiest? Which one is the most difficult? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Among all the greatest assets needed for work, relationships, and life—is this one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Let me be blunt. Adaptability, now more than ever, is essential. Change has been coming at record pace. Some change is not our choice; it’s required. And some change we get to design, innovate, and build. Either way, adaptability is at the top of the list: above knowledge, creative thinking dexterities, communication skills, negotiation talents or social proficiencies.
In the business world, adaptability means one is able to quickly respond to changing trends, innovation, destabilization, industry shifts and so forth. This 2020 pandemic is separating the adaptable companies from the ones who cling to the way it has always been done. The same is true of non-profits, churches, government agencies and more.
Adaptability also applies to our personal lives, our families and friendships. Are you adaptable? In his article in Forbes entitled, “14 Signs of an Adaptable Person,” Jeff Boss identifies the following traits of adaptable people: they experiment, see opportunity where others see failures, they are resourceful, they think ahead, don’t whine, talk to themselves, and don’t blame others. They also don’t claim fame, are curious, open their minds, see systems, and stay current.
Did you realize you can train yourself to be more adaptable? If adaptability and flexibility aren’t your most natural traits, you can be intentional about increasing this asset in your skill portfolio. Let me suggest several.
Intentionally Adjust Your Thought Process. Be purposeful about letting go of the “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality. While change can be scary and intimidating, work at embracing it and look at change as an opportunity to improve, learn, and grow. It can open the door to creativity as well. This also means, however, being open to the thoughts and opinions of others and different perspectives.
Challenge Yourself Toward Risk-Taking. Little progress is made without risk. For some, the idea of risk is so adverse that they will run from it as fast as they can, but taking risks is key to being adaptable. Start small. If you always order the same thing on a menu at the same restaurant, order something new. And then try a new restaurant the next time to increase the comfort of risk-taking. Buy a bold-colored shirt or blouse that is outside your go-to color palette. Mix up your morning routine. Whatever. Try stepping outside your comfort zone. Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
Embrace Learning. As noted in the Forbes article above, people who are curious and stay current tend to be adaptable. This means you need to chase learning. Read up about new technologies and protocols in your chosen career. Attend classes or sign up for webinars and blogs in a new area of interest. Read an article or book from another field you know very little about. Connect with colleagues who have adaptability and learn from them, read what they read, etc.
Pursue Humility. Increasing this top-of-the-list asset of adaptability requires humility. Arrogance ignores and rejects ideas from others – humility welcomes them. Closed ears indicate arrogant hearts. Inflexible people think they know everything they need to know. Humility drives us toward improvement through learning. My greatest hero is Jesus. Here’s how He lived: Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2:5-8 (The Living Bible). Humility is not only the way of Jesus and for His followers, it is common sense. None of us is an expert in everything, so we understand our limits and thus need unpretentiousness. Humility is also generative. It leads to new ideas. Humility has been formative for scientific investigation and for business theory and practice. The position of humility is where flourishing happens. Humility breeds adaptability.
Adaptability flows out of humility, learning, risk-taking and intentional adjustment of our thought processes. Which of one of these four will you be intentional about today? (share it in the comment section below)
What surpasses education, skills, charisma, and even talent? The surprising answer is self-awareness. One Cornell University study found it was the “strongest predictor of overall success” among top leaders. I first heard this on a podcast by Michael Hyatt about three years ago. And the more I’ve paid attention, it’s not just for leaders of organizations. I’ve watched it in relationships, marriage, parenting, the every-day work world and more. Self-awareness builds success.
We all know what self-unawareness looks like. We’ve watched people who are clueless about their own demeanor, their behaviors, their quirks, their management style. Maybe it’s that they always have to have the last word, no matter what or where—at work, at home, in every conversation. Always correcting, always a story to top someone else’s story. We see it in others and we are irritated by it. But what if we are missing important clues in our own lives that are obvious to most everyone around us?
Self-assurance that shows up as confidence can be a really great thing in life. Especially in a leadership role. But if you dial it up a couple notches and it becomes sort of that invincible sense; “I’m always right,” “I’m never wrong,” “I have amazing insight,” then it becomes arrogance. Arrogance can lead to over-confidence. Over-confidence can lead to an inflated view of our abilities. Power-tripping, diminishing the input of our peers, inerrant, immutable become the norm. I am so self-assured that I become arrogant and I close down the perspectives of everyone around me at home, at work or wherever. And I’m often oblivious as to how I come across to others.
Let me suggest four things that can help us move toward stronger self-awareness:
Know the Symptoms – Being aware of the symptoms is key to diagnosing and treating an illness. Likewise, paying attention to what’s going on around you is critical to your growth in self-awareness. If your teammates or family frequently seem irritated with you, or your peers start working around you and leave you out of the conversation, pay close attention. If you find you have troubled relationships with the people that are the well-liked and the easiest to get along with, maybe you have a problem. If your peers or teammates never seem excited or enthusiastic when you suggest something, maybe you are unaware of how you are coming across.
Do Self-Inventory – There are many great tools to help us take an inward look. Some of my favorites that have helped me get a better look at myself are: StrengthsFinder 2.0, Myers-Briggs, DISC Profile, and Enneagram. When you see your strengths, tendencies, personality type and gifting, you will be encouraged and these tools are also designed to make you more aware of the downside potentials of your unique wiring.
Reflect Regularly – Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Routinely slowing down the pace, pushing pause and intentionally reflecting on your life, activities, attitudes and actions pays huge dividends. Start the day by looking at your schedule and choosing to be intentional about adding value to the lives of the people closest to you as well as strangers. At the end of the day ask yourself, “Did I make more deposits into other people’s lives than I did withdrawals?” Mindfulness, meditation, prayer and journaling are all excellent practices. I use the Scriptures as a mirror for my life to see how I’m doing with practicing the attitudes and actions Jesus regularly modeled in his relationships and leadership. Regular reflection enables more awareness of where I need to adjust and change.
Invite Fearless Feedback – Most of us thrive on affirmation and praise. We generally avoid criticism. Why would I want to invite someone to point out my flaws and weaknesses? Only if I want to improve and become a better person, a better teammate, a better spouse, a better parent, or a better leader. There is no comfort in growth and no growth without change. And change is always uncomfortable. I have a personal “board of directors” who have my permission to give me fearless feedback. And I try to be intentional to invite my wife to give me feedback. And sometimes, she gives it when I don’t ask for it. Questions to my peers or my teammates could include: “What can I do to be a better leader?” “What am I missing?” is always better than “What am I doing wrong?” Asking the right questions in the right way will help the fearless feedback to be constructive and not destructive. In most settings, other than with those closest to you, (who will tell you what they think even if you don’t want to know), you will have to invite it to receive it. Fearless feedback will increase your self-awareness and can be a powerful tool for growth and improvement.
All four of the above practices take one not-so-common attitude: humility. Self-awareness requires humility. The willingness to learn, to grow, to acknowledge mistakes and failures is the fruit of humility. Since humiliation is just involuntary humility, I plan to always choose humility. Humility is inspiring. If someone is aloof, I don’t feel like I can really follow in their footsteps, as they’re too different. I just admire them. But if someone is humble and open, I feel I can be like them. They are human enough. Some of the most inspiring leaders in history had no organizational authority. Jesus comes to mind.
The pursuit of self-awareness will lead to the best for yourself and for those you live with, work with and serve. Self-awareness is not reached with a sprint, but a marathon. It’s a life-long journey of choosing humility over arrogance and servanthood over being served. I pray you’ll experience the joy of the journey.
QUESTION: What would you add for additional ways to become more self-aware? I’d love to hear it in the comment section.
Disruption. That’s pretty much the whole last few months. A disruption. Nearly everything in our lives and world have been disrupted. For me, my work week has changed, my office is now my kitchen table, two international trips have been postponed, meetings are by video, and so on. You name it for yourself. Kids home from school, vacation postponed, personal protection equipment required, and much more.
Have you ever thought of a disruption as a blessing? Most of us resist change. We get comfortable with routines and habits. As a long-time police chaplain, I remember when our department first started putting computers in the patrol cars. A few early adopters couldn’t wait. Others had a ‘wait and see’ attitude. But I mostly remember the loud complaints and all the reasons why it would be such a pain to switch to computers. Now, I don’t know of any officer who would not want a computer in their patrol car to have instantaneous GPS, looking up a car tag while stopped at a traffic light, writing reports on scene, using a driver’s license reader, printing a traffic citation and so much more. The disruption of change created a blessing.
When I read the scriptures, there are so many examples where a disruption became a blessing. Four hundred years of slavery of the Jewish nation in Egypt was disrupted by ten plagues and Moses leading them into the wilderness toward the Promised Land. Joseph being sold by his brothers to slave traders and later becoming Prince of Egypt. David being anointed as the future king of Israel but spending more than a decade hiding in desert caves while being hunted down by a jealous King Saul. All of these Biblical stories include disruption and blessing.
Is there a possibility that our current world-wide disruption could lead to blessing? What if it led to more gratitude and less taking things for granted, more time for family meals around the table and less of a hurried pace rushing off to the next soccer practice, more appreciation of our teachers and less criticism of the school system, more thankfulness for our medical providers and less denunciation of our health-care organizations? What if disruption actually leads to blessing?
Helen Keller said it well, “A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn.” Someone else had a slightly different angle on a similar thought, “It’s not a dead end if it takes you somewhere you needed to go.” A disruption is an opportunity. I’ve seen it many times. Career disruptions often lead to previously unimagined job or starting a business opportunity. Health disruptions sometimes jar us to new levels of self-care. Relationship disruptions may force us to deal with an addiction or a bad habit. A pandemic disruption can help us establish a healthier pace of life. Never waste a crisis…it’s always an opportunity for growth.
As a pastor, I’m convinced that God excels at using disruptions to bring blessings. He has a very long history using that style. One of my favorite first-century stories comes from the life of Apostle Paul. He was totally focused on going to the crossroad city of Rome to share his faith because of the immense potential for widespread impact (Romans 1:10-11; 15:22ff). Turns out, since he was a ringleader of the spread of Christianity, Emperor Nero made sure Paul got a free ride to a Roman prison where he eventually died. Little did he realize, exactly how his goal would be fulfilled in the providential scheme of things. When he writes from the Roman jail to the Jesus-followers who lived in Philippi, he views his two-year imprisonment as a minor inconvenience compared to the unexpected opportunity to impact Rome through personal witness and through writing epistles (letters). It turns out, that because he had plenty of time to slow down and sit in jail, Paul left a written legacy in many of the other churches he had started throughout Europe and the Middle East (Philippians 1:12-26). The blessing of disruption.
As we prepare to move toward “the way things used to be,” let’s not forget the things that need to be different. However, there is no comfort in growth and no growth in comfort. So, no one will ever finish well by accident. Cory Demmel reminds us, “We have uphill hopes and downhill habits.” You will have to be intentional if you want to experience the blessing of disruption.
QUESTION: Have you ever had a disruption that led to a blessing? Would you share it with me in the comment section below?
While there are so many things not to like about the last couple months of the shutdown of sports and gatherings, stay-at-home orders, closings of businesses and restaurants, social distancing, shortage of toilet paper and more, I hear people talking about a few things they do like. I’ve been listening to my friends writing and talking about cooking and eating dinner together at home with their families, enjoying walks, bike rides and table games in the evenings and not needing to rush off to soccer, dance, baseball, gymnastics, rehearsals and practices or tournaments and competitions on the weekends. In summary, they like the pause of over-loaded schedules and the slower pace of daily life.
Back in the 1950’s, cardiologist Dr. Meyer Friedman was doing research on the causes of heart disease. Dr. Friedman was the one who identified the “Type A personality” – the urgent go-getter who finds it hard to slow down. During that same time period, he coined the phrase “Hurry Sickness” and defined it as, “a behaviour pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.” And that was during a time period before microwaves, internet, email, texts and smart phones existed. Don’t forget that the sales pitch of technology in our time is that we will be able to think faster, talk faster, and act faster.
Cory Demmel, my successor at Cape Christian, asked the question last week in his message, “Is the Pace OF my life draining the Peace IN my life?” That’s a great question for all of us to ask ourselves during this time as we see hopeful signs of restrictions being lifted, businesses unlocking their doors and life going back to “normal.” But what if we created a new normal that paid attention to the pace of our lives?
What if, this pandemic experience is a providential opportunity for us to re-examine a way of living that we have never even thought to question? What if hurry sickness has caused greater loss than COVID-19? What if the great American myths of “If you work harder, I will get everything I want,” and “The busier I am the more productive or successful I must be” are just that, myths? What if the pace of my life is draining the peace in my life?
Pastor Cory Demmel made a memorable statement that I won’t forget: “Most of our problems are either caused or made worse because we are going too fast, for too long.” Think about it. Our relationships suffer when we no longer have unhurried conversations. Our finances suffer when we get in a hurry, are impulsive and don’t take time to make a well-informed decision. Our health suffers when we don’t get enough rest, take a day off each week or take vacations. The best advice I received over 30 years ago was from Rick Warren when he said, “Divert Daily, Withdraw Weekly and Abandon Annually.”
Here’s the problem. When you’re in a constant state of urgency, your brain is stuck in a constant state of fight or flight mode. You’re flooded with cortisol and it’s difficult to access the executive level functions in your brain. “Working at breakneck speed for extended periods of time does not enhance productivity; it reduces it,” says Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! “When we work too fast for too long, we get tired, become inefficient, make mistakes, and become unable to think clearly and sharply.”
Let’s choose a new normal going forward. We need to find the sweet spot in the tension between periods of busy achievement and periods of ease and enjoyment. It will take intentionality. Practice doing something slowly, like eating a meal over a period of 30 minutes, without checking your phone. And deal with the fear of what might happen if you slow down and pace yourself. If you don’t get everything done today, what will happen? Not everything is life-and-death. Ask what is the best and the worst that could happen if you slow down and pace yourself?
Don’t forget, even Jesus found that the high demands of crowds of people wanting his help didn’t require him to always say “yes” to them. Mark 6:45-46 is one of multiple examples where he told the crowds to go home as he slipped away alone on the side of a mountain or out on a boat, recharging and finding peace. Jesus realized that his pace predicted his peace. If Jesus modeled it, I choose to follow the same pattern. How about you?
P.S. If you want to watch Pastor Cory Demmel’s excellent message on pace, go to https://vimeo.com/411581301
QUESTION: I’d love to hear how you intentionally slow down your pace of life? Please share it in the Comment section below.
Have you ever thought about getting a new vehicle (truck, car, boat or motorcycle) and all of a sudden you start seeing that dream vehicle everywhere you go? There are way more of them on the road or in the water than you previously noticed? Somehow, your focus determines your reality.
The other day, I heard Mark Batterson talk about something that made this “focus determines reality” concept come alive for me. He was speaking about the reticular activating system (RAS), a short, pencil-sized piece of the brain located just above where the spinal cord is attached to the brain. It acts as the gatekeeper of information between most of our sensory systems and the conscious mind. It is the attention center in the brain. It is the key to “turning on your brain” The RAS filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through. In the same way, the RAS seeks information that validates your beliefs. I did some research and learned you can deliberately program the reticular activating system by choosing the exact messages you send from your conscious mind. For example, you can set goals, or say affirmations, or visualize your goals. It’s very fascinating to me.
In so many ways, our focus becomes our reality. If I focus on the blessings in my life, I will generally see more good things happening around me. If I focus on a negative happening in my life, I will usually see lots of other negativity in my environment. We’ve all experienced this. Our focus becomes our reality.
We’ve all met them. People who see the bad in everything. A couple weeks ago, I posted on social media a few celebrative pictures of our care team at Cape Christian saying “thank you” by delivering 120 dozen donuts to many of our frontline medical workers. Our team went to our local hospital emergency department, the medical personnel who are caring for the COVID-19 patients and about a dozen other doctor offices across our city, expressing appreciation to them for their dedicated service. In the middle of all the positive comments, an individual posted a critique about one of the pictures, questioning if the volunteers were too close to each other and possibly not properly following the social distancing rules. There was no mention of the blessings to hundreds and hundreds of medical workers. Only criticism from a negative person that didn’t even look closely at the picture. I knew the setting where the picture was taken and looked carefully to see that there was significant distance between the volunteers by the way they were staggered from back to front. But focus becomes reality. This same individual found something negative in another positive post of mine about 18 months ago. Focus becomes reality.
And then we have all met the person who sees something positive in everything. They see the dark clouds of a thunderstorm and they immediately look for the rainbow. They are like my dad who would often say on his later birthdays in his upper 80’s, “I’m not complaining about getting old, it’s a lot better than the alternative.” Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re correct.” Focus determines reality.
This is not a new concept. Rewind back two thousand years ago and read Apostle Paul’s story and writings. He was positive in the middle of all kinds of difficulties. One particular time, while he was in jail for sharing his faith in public, Paul wrote about how to reduce anxiety and find peace in the middle of a crisis. He wrote, “So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. Follow the example of all that we have imparted to you and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” Philippians 4:8-9 (The Passion Translation). Focus determines reality.
What are you focusing on during this challenging time of a new normal? In this time of crisis, the first thing I’ve been trying to focus on is solving the new challenges that exist with all the changes. Secondly, I’m doing my best to leverage the new opportunities that this crisis brings. That’s it. Those two things. My goal isn’t to just try to survive this season. My goal is to be aware of the opportunities that will make be better on the other side. I never want to waste a crisis. There is always something to learn and there are always ways I can grow when there is pressure in my life. Pressure reveals what is on the inside. Do I like what is being revealed or is it an opportunity for growth and change? What I focus on will become my reality. And the same for you.
Blessings and Peace to You and Your Loved Ones,
QUESTION: What are some ways you have found helpful to stay positive during difficult times? We would love to learn from you. Share them in the comment section below.
Change is inevitable. Just when you think you’re getting comfortable transition occurs. If you treat tomorrow as if it was yesterday, then you will miss out on the value of transitions. We tend to think that people go through seasons of transition and seasons of staying the same. However, everyone, including you, is constantly changing!
Our emotions, bodies, minds, relationships and environments are continually transitioning. That couldn’t be more evident than right now during this COVID-19 pandemic. The reality that everyone and everything is in transition is obvious. Protocols and procedures for medical personnel and other first responders are in transition. Businesses are in transition. Churches are in transition. Restaurants only serve curbside. School is online. Nothing is static. Everybody and everything is in transition. And, you were created to be dynamic. Once we accept this, we’ll be able to make the most of the change happening right now—today!
This season of our lives, our community, our country and our world is unique and unsettling. But the truth is, while we notice it more and it has all transitioned quickly and significantly in a short period of a few weeks, everything has always been in transition. You are not what you were yesterday. Tomorrow will be different than today. I’m thinking differently now than I did a few months ago. I’m responding to people different than I did a few weeks ago. I value my face-to-face connections to my family differently than I did a month ago. I now see the importance of certain routines and practices that I previously took for granted. Because, I’m in transition.
Think about it. My mind is in transition. My body is in transition (I have more wisdom highlights in my hair than I had a year ago). My emotions are in transition. My relationships are in transition. My marriage is in transition. My children and grandchildren are in transition. Literally, everything around me is in transition. However, when I become conscious of the reality that everyone around me is also in transition, it helps immensely. We are in this transition time together.
There’s something about life where it refuses to keep you in a stagnant place. Life is often a rollercoaster of ups and downs, a ride of love, laughter and tears. Whether you’re preparing for a new baby, about to make a career leap, taking care of your parents, or emerging from the ashes of a relational wreck, life is always prodding and pulling on us to grow. Either you will get complacent or life will force you to make a maneuvering change. Many of us have been rudely required to a transition we didn’t invite or welcome.
But let me suggest this, while there’s a learning curve to preparing for the sometimes sudden transitions in life, expecting change will come is half of the battle. All good comfort zones must come to an end. Life will never let you get too comfortable and just when you think you have everything all figured out, you will be confronted with something that challenges your coveted, familiar comforts. The worst thing we can do is get complacent and comfortable, because that usually means life is coming to shake things up. This time around, we have been in a shake-up that most of our world never saw coming.
This is what helps me most during transition. We have a God whom we can turn to that understands our reluctance toward change. James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” James 1:17. God’s character never changes. He is always good, faithful, caring and the ultimate example of love. His power never changes. His promises never change. His purpose never changes. And, He will always provide the anchors of strength, safety, stamina and serenity for us when we lean into Him.
Transition and change? Don’t fight back, but instead give in. Don’t keep reaching and stretching back for the past. Instead, move along with the changes and transitions. You’ll be a much healthier person. Learn to channel all the emotional energy over the anxiety of change into productive energy that propels you onto the next level. There is no growth in comfort. There is no growth without change. Embracing transition is never easy but always good for us.
P.S. – One of my mentors, Sam Chand, wrote a great blog on mastering eight types of transition several months ago. Here’s the link: Mastering Transition