Making the Most of My Time

I finally completed a task I began weeks ago.

For a while I had been feeling like I was running from one end of the week to the other. I started seeing warning signs in my life:

  • Emotionally down
  • Overly tired
  • Taking comments personally
  • Overwhelmed at work and at home

There are more, but you get the gist. Lots of red flags.

I imagine you, like me, have multiple things and people deserving your attention:

  • God
  • Family
  • Work
  • Spouse or Significant Other
  • Personal Time
  • Side Work
  • Household Chores

Because we have so many things and people needing and desiring our attention for perfectly good reasons, we have to be diligent in prioritizing them. No one thing or person can have all of your time, but all of those things and people must have some of your time. If we do not plan out our lives we will end up burnt out; not only that, but no one will get the attention they need and some may get lost in the shuffle.

Here is how I tackled my life. You can begin with your home life or your work life. I began with work.

  1. I took my job description and wrote a shorthand, bullet-point version. I could see the details if I looked at the original job description; I just needed a reminder.
  2. I assigned each grouping a letter so that I can categorize every task and meeting according to the objectives they address. This way I can also show my boss that I am making space for every objective on my job description.
  3. I looked for overlap and for broader categories in order to simplify my focus even more.
  4. I created a 7-day calendar in Excel and marked out the exact number of hours I needed to work on average. I have multiple rehearsals and Sunday services to contend with, so work and home can bleed together very easily. Clear delineation of time spent where is essential.
  5. I blocked out all of my recurring meetings and rehearsals and labelled them with letters according to their focus.
  6. I assigned groups of tasks to particular days.
  7. Next I tackled my home priorities. I have seven, ranging from time with God to time for myself. Some things need more attention, and I am dialing back other areas.
  8. I blocked out my set home appointments in order of my priorities.
  9. I scheduled time in for all of the primary people in my life.
  10. I listed the tasks that I need to accomplish in certain time blocks.
  11. I color-coded my master schedule according to work and home. I created a master work schedule showing only my work hours, tasks, and meetings, and a master home schedule showing only home priorities, tasks, and appointments.

I am just beginning to implement this plan, but I already feel more clear-headed. Granted this all took time – probably 5-6 hours – but the end result is worth it. I feel content knowing I am paying attention to the people and things that most deserve my attention.

Practical Considerations

One of the practical sides of this change is that I will only be posting once a week.  At this point in my life I want to be writing but I cannot keep my relationship and family commitments effectively while trying to write three times a week.  I have been feeling very stressed by my personal goal of writing that much.

Perhaps sometime in the future I will write more again.  For now I hope that you will continue on the ride with me.  I will continue to share thoughts related to Worship, Leadership, and Life, as I have in the past.  I am no sage or Yoda, but I enjoy writing in the hope that you find my experiences instructive.

How are you organizing your life and prioritizing your time?

A Tension to Manage or a Problem to Solve?

Do you know that some tensions are never meant to disappear?

Here are a few of the tensions we experience in life:

  • Relational tension. Human beings are imperfect, and so tensions will arise within friendships and marriages.
  • Work tension. At work we may discover that our bosses have different expectations of us than we do, or we may have a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Cultural and Social tension. Christ-like living is contrary to many of society’s norms; choosing Christ often means choosing conflict with our society. Artists sometimes have to choose between creating art they can sell and art that says something meaningful.
  • Parental tension. As parents we are called to first lead, train and discipline our children; friendship is secondary, although very important. Choosing to parent well often means choosing to create tension with our children for their own good.
  • Theological tension. God is sovereign, but bad stuff happens to good people. God has chosen a good path for us, but human beings have free will. Many issues in theological discussions involve tension.

Some of these tensions can be resolved.

  • Relational tension. Christ calls us to take the initiative in making peace with those who have sinned against us. We need to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, and we need to confront those who have wronged us. In marriage spouses must constantly be checking to make certain they are speaking the same language and holding similar expectations of each other.
  • Work tension. If we have conflict with a co-worker we need to resolve it. If we discover that our expectations do not match those of our boss, we need to take action to bring our expectations into alignment.

Some of these tensions, however, cannot be resolved.

  • Marriage is the combination of two individual people with differing tastes and preferences. While hopefully a marrying couple has many of these in common, some differences will always exist. One may like beef and the other one chicken. One is a night owl and the other is a morning person.
  • As Christians we are called to engage culture and make an impact for Christ. Because culture has so many negative components, however, many Christians try to completely disengage from culture. I believe Christ’s call to be “in and not of” the world requires us to walk the difficult grey area of engaging culture while remaining firm in our beliefs and principles.
  • Parenting is tough. Being a friend and support to your children while disciplining and guiding them is a difficult tension to manage. As a father I want nothing more than to play with my kids and give them everything they want because I love them so much. Because I love them, however, I have to discipline them and train them.
  • God is a Spirit. Jesus revealed himself in the form of a man, but he was fully God as well as fully man. When we become Christians the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us power to overcome the evil one. We are in a spiritual battle for the souls of people. The way to life is narrow and few find it. Those who truly receive Christ’s offer of salvation will spend eternity in heaven, and those who reject Christ will spend eternity in hell. Theology and the spiritual life is full of huge tensions, most of which are beyond our comprehension.

Deciding which issues are tensions to manage and which issues are problems we can solve is in itself a tension to manage.

Christ, however, enables us to experience his peace in every situation because his peace is based on him. Christ does not change. Christ was, is and will be forever the same. For that reason life with Christ is peace and joy, even in the midst of some of the hardest tensions life can throw at us.

Our goal, then, is not to resolve every tension, but to find peace and rest in Christ, who is the calm in the middle of every situation.

Are you trying to find peace by resolving unresolvable tensions, or are you finding peace in Christ, who does not change?

The Side Effects of Impatience

Today I am having a hard time figuring out what to write.  I have started several things and each one of them either needs time to settle and come together or simply needs to be thrown away.

Seems a lot like life.  When something isn’t clear I want to push through and make it clear.  Patience, however, is almost always more effective.

Impatience can have serious negative side effects:

  1. My writing may not be well focused.
  2. I may not feel peaceful about the result.
  3. I may miss important content.
  4. I may include suspect content.
  5. I may unintentionally damage relationships.

Patience, on the other hand, is always rewarded with:

  1. Peace.
  2. Clear meaning.
  3. Effective communication.
  4. Great results.

So instead of forcing something into cyberspace before it is ready, I am going to be patient.

Where in your life are you being impatient?  What would patience look like in that situation?

Shunning Shame

You and I have at least one thing in common: our lives both have themes that resurface from time to time. These themes are weaknesses, chinks in our armor, and the evil one loves to exploit them.

Two of my themes are guilt and shame.

In the last month or two I have experienced a new level of freedom from guilt and shame. Past issues are being aired out, experiences are being put into perspective, and God is at work in me. At times the process is scary, but I love it and I will be eternally grateful.

This morning in my devotions I read Psalm 25 and a particular verse stood out to me:

“No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame.” Psalm 25:3

Later on the psalmist reminds God:

“Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.” Psalm 25:20

When you and I put our hope, our trust, in God, Maker of heaven and earth and Redeemer of mankind, he gives us a “Get out of shame free” card. He loves us and cares for us, and as long as we place our hope in him we have no reason to feel shame from past failures and difficult experiences. He redeems those experiences and renews us.

So if you are feeling shame,

  1. Have you placed your hope in Christ, or are you trying to go it on your own?
  2. Have you asked Christ to redeem your past, or are you trying to ignore your past and your shame?
  3. Have you shared your shameful experiences with a safe friend or counselor?

We were not made to live in shame and guilt; God made us to be free. Once you taste freedom you will never want to go back.

What shame are you carrying around? What is holding you back from placing your hope in Christ and facing that shame?

Re-Post: What to Do with Your Past

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Lots of people have suggestions about what you should do with your past.  Most ideas sound something like this:

  • Don’t bring it up; why reopen old wounds?
  • My future is ruined because of my past.
  • I keep track of how others treat me so I can do the same to them.
  • Focus on what is working, not on what is broken.
  • Don’t cry over spilt milk.
  • Suck it up.

Some of these statements have an element of truth, but ultimately every one of these approaches will take a toll on you and your relationships.

Before I was a teenager I endured some very difficult experiences (not from my family, gratefully; they are and have been wonderful).  I kept those experiences hidden for at least 8-10 years and carried the shame with me as a teenager.

When I finally let someone know what had happened, I was more relieved than I could have imagined.

Throughout the years since then, whether through friends or relatives or counselors, I have unpacked those experiences and dealt with them, each time gaining greater freedom.  Up until a week ago I felt like I had dredged all of the available wisdom and healing from those experiences.

Last week, however, God showed me something in those tough experiences that I had missed.  I was blown away at how one detail of those experiences had made its way into deep parts of my life without me even knowing it.

As soon as I realized what God was showing me I felt freedom and rest enter my soul, freedom and rest I did not know I needed.

If you are human you probably have had many painful experiences and carry around numerous wounds, some which you probably do not even know you have.

Here is my advice to you:

  • Don’t be afraid to go there.  When you air those wounds and experiences you will ultimately find healing in your present life.
  • Pray.  God will shepherd you through your past if you let him.  Remember that he was betrayed and mistreated beyond our comprehension, yet he was able to rise to a completely new life.  You can rise, too, with his help.
  • Find a safe friend or counselor.  If you need to talk, carefully choose someone rather than talking about your pain with every person you meet.
  • Trust.  The pain of re-opening old wounds is worth it.  If you are truly looking for healing and restoration for you and your relationships, go for it.
  • Let go.  If you have done all you know to deal with your past, let it go.  This is easier said than done, I know, but with God you can do it!  If there is more to be done, God will bring you to that point at the right time.
  • Keep short accounts.  The best way to avoid a painful past to live a healthy present.  Confront issues instead of skirting them.  Forgive everyone.  Love unconditionally.

I am still learning, but God continues to prove that he can revive the tired areas and heal the broken parts in me.  I know the same is possible for you.

How have you successfully dealt with your past?  What experiences do you need to re-visit for your good or the good of those around you?

Re-Post: Do Shortcuts Work in Relationships?

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

In any sort of relationship you will face conflict.

  • “Your comments made me feel inferior.”
  • “Oops.  I forgot to pick up the keys to the car.”
  • “You were not listening to me; I did not feel like you were on my side.”

We are patently human.  You will regularly experience conflict and tension.  The importance of conflict is not in the nature of the conflict but in the nature of your response.

Our tendency as humans is to try to find the shortcut to resolution.  My natural tendency is to placate, to try to make the other person feel better.  What is usually necessary is some time, discomfort and wrestling before bringing the issue to a full resolution.  I personally have to choose to enter that zone of discomfort for my benefit and the benefit of the relationship.

We all have choices every day.

  • You can move towards someone or away from them.
  • You can engage conflict or avoid it.  (Warning: Avoided conflict will always find you somewhere else.)
  • You can be stingy or generous.

To be human is to choose.

Here is the choice we each need to make:

  • Will we be the people who stick with a relationship for the long haul, through miscommunication, pain, hurt feelings, and scarcity, as well as through abundance, laughter, and celebration?
  • Or will we be the people who avoid conflict and pain and look for relational shortcuts?

Shortcuts do not give lasting rewards, but discipline and perseverance pay off long into the future.

What choice are you going to make today?

Re-Post: Something Worth Living For

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

I am a parent, and parents easily get caught in the day-to-day business of managing children, school homework, and lunches, not to mention extra curricular pursuits and puberty.  It’s no surprise, then, that when your son or daughter thanks you or expresses appreciation in some way for what you do as a parent you can feel a little bit giddy.

I had one of those moments today.

I like to say my boys are the best in the world; I wish I could take credit for how good they are.  They are rambunctious boys who like to make fart noises and play legos, but they are sharp and witty and respectful at least 90% of the time, which is pretty good in my book.

Today the boys went to work with me.  I was able to interact with them some, but for the majority of the day they were on their own, playing Wii, legos, Minecraft, and other things.

At one point in the day one of my boys just walked up to me and said, “I love you, dad.”

Wow.  That made my day.  I do not get to see them often, so hearing that from him meant so much to me.

Thank you, Lord, for the small things that make the challenging days worth the effort.  Thank you for my sweet, innocent boys.

What moments as a parent have encouraged you?