Remember that piece back in January called "Simplicity"? Well I do. And it was great.
I just read a similar, great piece by Parick McCrann, a triathlon coach and a great writer called "How To Improve What Matters By 'Not Doing'".
Patrick also includes a link at the end to a piece by Jim Collins (author of Good to Great and co-author of Built to Last) called "Stop Doing List".
After reading Jim, I looked at my stack of unread magazines. The one's I refuse to throw away until I've read them. Isn't that like cleaning your plate when you're full?
I sucker punched some of you with my piece on Priorities. Clearly, my life is not as reactive as many of yours as my kids are now older (and out of diapers), I have a caring wife who supports my flightiness, and a career with a lot of flexibility. When I talk to many of you I feel kinda guilty that I have so much more freedom. However, I'm still ridiculously busy with all the commitments I keep. And I still make time to train. It's a priority for me. How do I know this? Not by what I say, but by what I do.
I mentioned that the first talk at the "Walk to Emmaus" is called Priorities. The speaker on my walk gave us two concrete and objective ways to determine where our priorities are. Look at our calendar. Look at our checkbook. Where we spend our time and money is where our priorities are. I talk a good game about my involvement in ministry (currently that'd be Young Life). But if I compare the time spent in that ministry to just one of my addictions (running), I come up rather short.
Don't hear me trying to beat you or myself about our time and money. It's not where I'm going with this. Instead, for those overburdened souls out there who truly want to make wellness a priority, I wanted to share a discipline that will help you get there. If you recall, we said last time that the most successful people in life have a long term time perspective. So keep in mind that employing this discipline will take time. Thankfully, this discipline won't add another ball to juggle. Au contraire - our goal is to take some of those balls out of the air. Simplicity is the magic word.
I arrived at the desire to simplify, to unclug my life and brain, after several episodes of early-onset Alzhiemers (figuratively speaking - I hope) last fall. However, I can think of other examples prior to this fall when I demonstrated similar symtoms. That symtom being forgetfulness. We've all experienced bouts of not remembering important details of our lives. We men are notorious for only recalling only that information that amuses us. Everything else, no big deal.
Similarly, I've always been very much an air head somewhat like Robin Williams' professor character in the movie Flubber who couldn't marry because he never remembered the wedding. I'll accept that, but when gaps in my mental hard drive occur that are related to recalling rather ordinary experiences, there's a problem. Either the indiscretions of my youth are coming back to haunt me, or I need more RAM for my brain. As much as I'd like, there's no way to install or upgrade my CPU.
So, just as you run your computer with fewer windows open to avoid a crash, I'm chosing this year to close some of the windows in my life. I'm choosing to simplify. I invite you to do the same. Please don't hear me say that I want you to abandon all your commitments. That might dump a burden on others, and that's just wrong. If you volunteered for something then stick to it until your term is over. Just don't sign up again.
Divesting yourself of your existing "jobs" could take a year or more. Clearly, achieving simplicity in our lives is not a quick fix. But you can start practicing the discipline now by simply learning to say "no". Sounds easy enough. It's not. Especially if you've developed the habit pattern of being the "go to guy". Use that long term time perspective mentioned in the last message on priorities when you consider taking on more balls. Acknowledge up front that if I do "x" then I can't do "y". Y being something that brings you wellness.
This approach would apply to all areas of your life. Work, family, friends, volunteering, and even ministry. Just as we can get pulled away from God with good intentions (Oswald Cambers said "Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus, is service to Him"), we can get pulled away from taking care of ourselves because of those good intentions. Disclaimer here - it's tempting to make wellness our God, but always remember - it aint God.
Let me close by sharing 10 controling principles for the outward expression of simplicity from Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster.
Foster closes this chapter on Simplicity with the following:
"May God give you -- and me -- the courage, the wisdom, the strength always to hold the kingdom of God as the number-one priority of our lives. To do so is to live in simplicity."
Are you in?
I just returned from a Young Life (high school youth ministry) trip in the NC mountains with a group of about 23 upcoming seniors. Because of the preparation for the extended time away combined with the lack of electricity at our camp, my writing self has been sidelined. Hold on. It just occurred to me. I'm not a writer, I'm a typer. At any rate, I wanted to share something (besides poison ivy) that I brought back with me. This something can positively contribute to your wellness. It's free and freeing. For some it brings peace, for others it brings out the demons they haven't tamed. It's been a part of every great spiritual leaders program, and it should be a part of ours. Solitude.
Solitude is that time we can give ourselves to do nothing. But unless you're asleep, you and I know we can never just do "nothing". Because of our busy lives, our minds are in a constant state of stimulation. We seldom or never take the time to shut off all of the incoming stimuli. TV, radio, internet, music, talking, reading, etc. At our camp in NC we took 20 minutes each morning before breakfast to go out alone for quiet time. Each day we had a devotional that included time for reflection and time for reading. While 20 quiet minutes was a first for some of our crew, it's generally not enough time to process all the complex mental material that we carry with us. That's why we do the "solo".
The solo is 24 hours of solitude. Each of us is marched and confined to a small campsite with only a backpack and a tarp. More than enough gear for the experience, but certainly a sparse inventory to amuse one for a day. And that's the point. Even the most over-stimulated types will come to a point when they don't feel like reading, writing, or fidgeting. It's at this time that we begin to notice those elements of our thought life that have been pushed back to a place where we've ignored them.
From our devotional booklet, Henry Nouwen, a Christian writer, put it this way in The Way of the Heart:
"Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusion of false self. It is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs."
Solitude has always been a desirable discipline for me especially in the morning. However, I'll be the first to admit that my morning quiet time is usually mostly reading and writing time. So the challenge for me, and my challenge to you is to create a solitude time. Best if daily, best if at least 20 minutes, and best with nothing but your thoughts.
Impossible you say? I'll offer a couple compromises, that I employ regularly. One is to walk or run alone with no music - you'll find solitude. The other is to use your drive time as quiet time. Turn off the radio and cell phone. You'll find solitude there too. And if you're consistent and intentional, you'll discover a lot more than just the quiet.
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