Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Push + Focus = Movement

If you have read my posts recently, you know that I have been struggling to get over the hump in a couple of areas. I have been reading books and seeking to discern why I cannot move past this time of being stuck. I have had ideas floating in my mind for months, but nothing concrete has emerged. And then, in reading Smarter, Faster, Better (by Charles Duhigg), I was reminded that writing things down makes a difference for most people in not only retention, but also in our ability to process information.

The issue for me is that, like many pastors and educators, I am on the computer a lot. I am a believer that we need three main systems to track our lives – a task list, a calendar, and a place to store information. I have those and they are all accessible on my computer and/or phone (ToDoist, Google Calendar, Evernote, respectively). I am still trying to develop the system to work perfectly for me, but I have the system in place. So, if I have a note to type, it goes on the computer. And that can help, because I can see it before me rather than floating in the nebulous of my mind. But, in one of the stories Duhigg mentions, the difference between writing something down versus typing it on a computer can be significant.

So, I am resolved to write down some items that I believe are inhibiting me from being as effective as I desire to be. (And after these ideas are written and better understood, I will type them into Evernote to have them for future use.) I have already taken two main steps this week to correct some of the issues even as I seek to uncover more. And, sometimes it just takes a push.

Last week, I received a call about an opportunity to teach a class. This class will be a stretch for me in many ways but is perfectly inline with the work I did on my dissertation. Perhaps, I could state it this way – my dissertation covers one element of the class I have been asked to teach. But the preparation will be intense. And it will be important. This class will be the first opportunity for me to teach doctoral students so the bar is raised considerably. I do not take teaching lightly and this past Spring I taught an undergrad class that had a few students who are certainly capable of earning a doctorate someday. Thus, I seek to be prepared for any class. But doctoral students are more demanding (I know, I remember), so I must be fully prepared. And that was the push I needed! I believe that push has allowed me to crest the hump. I believe I am back on the path where I can be more effective than I have been in recent months. Certainly, the books have helped, and I will continue to read (and intend to immediately re-read the most recent set I mentioned a few weeks ago) to prevent myself from slipping off the path again just as I gain momentum. But, it is good to be moving forward again.

Even as I say I am moving forward, I must confess, that the two areas where I have been stuck are not the area where I was pushed. But the push forced me to consider my overall schedule, my overall objectives, and the overall scope of work which needs to be done in a certain time-frame. Thus, I have re-cast my schedule. I have created “Focus” days where each weekday will focus on tasks related to a certain responsibility (i.e. Mondays are focused on administrative issues related to the church, Fridays are focused on seminary-related work, etc). Seeing this ON PAPER (yes, I wrote it down) and not in both my daily task and calendar as visual reminders has helped me immensely just in the first few days. Of course, some tasks and responsibilities will need to be handled on non-focus days, and that is fine. But if the focus for the day is church-related, the church must be the primary focus which should bring some synergy of thought instead of simply attacking unrelated tasks across my various roles. (This is going beyond prioritization of tasks. I still do that as well, but I am better aligning tasks on the particular days where that segment of my life (i.e. role) is focused.)

So, again, a simple push has set me in motion. But the push came because I was seeking answers. And, in light of my current sermon series on Seeking the Heart of God, I hope my seeking was truly after what God wanted. I believe it is/was and now it is up to me to continue seeking Him and focusing on moving forward as He wants me to move. Ultimately, whatever God has planned for me (big or small) does not matter – my job is to be faithful to Him! And being faithful meant that I had to get unstuck. He has helped me do that. Now it is up to me to follow which means I must try to avoid getting stuck again.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

It Begins With One

The current sermon series I am preaching is entitled, “Seeking the Heart of God.” It is based upon the life of David (“a man after God’s own heart”) and is covering 2 Samuel. Of course to seek God is not to be perfect, but should lead us to better reflect Him and His character. Last week’s message was on the need for our motivation to be from love. This week’s message was on reconciliation.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am also working through several books to help me be more productive (i.e. personal effectiveness) and one to get me “unstuck” in a couple of areas. Well, to bridge the gap between the effectiveness I seek and the reconciliation God desires for me, I must seek a solution that begins with me.

To reconcile means to bring into balance. That is what I am trying to do. At present, a part of my life is out of balance. I am not actively engaged in anything wrong, I am just stuck. And a part of that “being stuck” might be considered procrastination. I am not actively procrastinating (I don’t think), but I keep pushing off two particular tasks which do not have a definitive timeframe for completion, are very cumbersome, and for which I can not seem to determine a good approach (for one especially). However, I am beginning to see a possibility for that one item and have gained a bit of momentum on the other this past week. How? I took inventory.

Again, being reconciled means to bring into balance. Some will reconcile their bank balance to the personal records for instance. Others immediately think of reconciling with a person or a group of people (the focus of my sermon this week). But oftentimes, one of the biggest challenges to true reconciliation is that as an individual, I (and perhaps you as well) do not stop to take the time to see where I am out of balance with myself (or you with yourself). This is a real issue and can best be resolved with pen and paper or at a minimum seeing the words on a screen.

The reality is that we often think we know what may be wrong, but let half-developed ideas ramble around inside our heads and never force ourselves to deal with those ideas. By writing them down (or typing them), we can visualize the problems and begin to make sense of them in a more tangible way. We are also likely not to combine as many ideas; rather, by listing out a few, and taking time to truly analyze each one, many discover deeper challenges or realize that certain issues dominate others and deserve more attention in the short-run.

The truth is that whatever the focus of reconciliation, the process can be the same. Instead of needing to improve personal effectiveness (like I do right now), perhaps another time I will need to reconcile with another person. In that case, I can still take an inventory about the situation and list areas where I need to focus. Bringing myself into balance will be important before trying to bring another person into balance with me. In others words, I should learn to better know myself before I seek to better know others. Now, that statement is not an excuse to ignore others until I am perfect (because I never will be), but sometimes I have found that when tension exists in a relationship, it is not necessarily what someone else has done, rather, it is how I interpreted the action because of something that I was dealing with (or not dealing with) personally.

So, reconciliation begins with one. And for me, that one is me. And for you that one is you. It is that simple. But as you begin to know yourself and I begin to know myself, we should then seek to reconcile with others. After all, that is what God did for us on the cross and, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5, we now have the responsibility to be agents of reconciliation for God – first toward Him and then towards one another.

With that, I encourage you to stop and take inventory about whatever is troubling you in your life and/or relationships. It must begin with one. For me, I have begun that process, and plan to see it through. And I am writing this post as a reflection of what I am learning and as an encouragement you take inventory of yourself as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

When Doing Nothing Is Something

As I mentioned in last week’s blog (here), I have been stuck in a couple of areas lately. Neither area is critical at this moment, but both are important for me to complete – and the sooner the better. Thus, I have reason to be focused, but perhaps, a part of my challenge has been a lack of motivation. So, how have I done, or specifically, what have I done towards either effort this week? Nothing! And I feel good about that.

Technically, I have moved forward in one of the books I mentioned last week (Smarter, Faster, Better). I have picked up some points that are helping me to process a bigger picture and to take an even better inventory of my life than I have done in the past. I have not yet really begun this process, but I am re-considering the importance of it. However, the idea of motivation is, in part, why I have done so little. And not because of the lack of motivation, but because my motivation is returning – and is changing.

In my sermon this past week, I spoke about motivation using the first couple of chapters from 2 Samuel. A particular Amalekite was motivated by greed (looking for some kind of reward from David). David and the men of Jabesh-Gilead were motivated, at the very least, by respect for the king (Saul). And, if we expanded the study, we can find others within the Bible who are motivated by many different factors. And so are we. And so am I. So, my challenge to the congregation (which includes myself) was to align our motivation with the Great Commandment – to love God and love others. Now, this is not easy. As I mentioned, living a life of love is tiring, and that is true because some people are tiresome. And, although, I am one of those people whom God might find tiresome, He loved me enough to send Jesus to die for me, and loves me enough to guide me through these times of being stuck so that when I overcome, I can serve Him better than before (at least, that is my hope).

The application for the week was to do something you normally not do from a motivation of love. Just one thing. The idea being that if we do one thing, we might do more. Well, my one thing was already scheduled on my calendar, but it is something I do not do often enough, and I found myself having a magnificent day because of it although I “accomplished” nothing. But, in doing what I did, I accomplished a great deal, and I was refreshed as well.

What did I do? I listened. Yes, I talked some too. And depending on the interaction, I talked less and more. In fact, I would characterize the day by saying I listened much, listened equally, listened some, and when those scheduled opportunities were done, I listened a lot more. But I did not “do” anything yesterday. I checked a couple of emails on my phone, and had some texts related to an issue that I needed to review, but I did not get on a computer, because it was a day to listen and to hear – and to do that requires some aspect of love.

I listened to a student whom I have have known for a little more than a year who is facing several transitions in his life. I listened to him describe the excitement he experienced over this past week, and the concerns he faces regarding one particular decision that must be made within the coming months.

I listened to another student whom I have known for approximately 10 years and would consider a friend as we were in school together for part of that time. Now, I listened as we caught up with each other on our ministries and, specifically, on some goals he has related to finishing his dissertation in the coming months.

I listened to an uncle who has provided a great deal of guidance for many young men and women over the past several decades including myself. We both shared some of the challenges we face, challenges our country faces, and life in general. A conversation with this uncle can go any direction and cover nearly any topic, but are nearly always rewarding and yesterday’s conversation was no different.

Apart from those scheduled encounters, I listened to my daughter describe her current social happenings, hopes for the coming weekend, plans for a trip she is planning, etc. Later, I listened to my son-in-law describes with great enthusiasm how God had worked in a particular situation to not only allow him to take a class that is needed, but provided the materials necessary free of charge!

Thinking my day was largely done I returned home from the city and had a short conversation with a church member who recently battled some health issues. I listened to my wife as she described her day while I had traveled to KC. Then, I received a call from a church member and friend who needed to simply vent about an ongoing challenge her family is facing.

It was a good day of listening. And as I thought about it while lying in bed, it was tiring, because I had listened with love. None of the people were tiring, but the day was. However, as physically tired as I was (leaving early/returning late), my mind was refreshed. Why? Because friendships were strengthened, students were helped, family bonds were deepened. And all because of love.

So, while I did not check off one item on my to-do list, I had a productive day. And that day showed me the truth of the statement that we can get so busy do ministry that we forget to minister. Yesterday, I ministered. Now, I must return to ministry. But I do so moving out of a place where I have felt stuck, knowing that doing ministry in love will mean I better minister as well, and realizing that taking time to simply listen (and talk some) is something to schedule – not as a task to check off a list, but as a way to both refresh myself and refresh others as well.

Perhaps this post might encourage you to find a new way to find a way to be purposeful by doing something not on your typical to-do list. If so, I hope you find yourself as refreshed as I am.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Beginning to Break Free from Blah...

Over the past several months, much of my life has been going well; however, I cannot seem to get over the hump in a couple of areas. The main part of the challenge is in completing two primary goals – each of which contain several tasks. I largely know what to do, but have struggled to get there. The problem is that I have prided myself so long on accomplishing the goals before me at a relatively quick pace (not burnout pace). Both of these goals are important to complete for various reasons, and I definitely have the motivation to complete them, but I have not been able to find the usual drive to do so.

Additionally, I have found myself reading less this year. While last year’s reading goal of one book per week was rather aggressive, this year, I have only read a handful so far (although two were VERY lengthy biographies on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson). (Incidentally, my usual “reading” of bios is by listening to them while driving.) Overall, I estimate I have read about 6-8 books this year, which is ok, far less than usual. However, recently, I have begun to snap out of the reading funk, and I believe that will assist me to snap out of my overall lack of productivity.

In 2017, one of the books I read was What’s Best Next by Matt Perman. I highly recommend the book, and awaited the sequel which was released at the end of April. I am reading this book more slowly, in part, because the title, Unstuck, is exactly what I need to be! But alongside this book, I have recently listened to The Power of Habit and now Smarter Faster Better (both by Charles Duhigg). (I will purchase these in print later, but for now, the idea was immersion in all of these ideas.) Overall, these four books are giving me the “courage” to get moving again, in part, by understanding why I have not been able to engage as I usually do. Ultimately, I am realizing that the issue I face is common while I am responsible, my ability to move forward relies on my ability to incorporate (or help) others as well.

In the coming weeks, I will likely fuse some of the thoughts I am having with the usual reflections I share from my weekly sermon. The sermon series begins this week on the life of David from 2 Samuel, so personal effectiveness and understanding is certainly in play. However, I also see the principles of these books at play in the series I have planned for this Fall related to the Church, and specifically our church. How might The Habit Loop or Personal Effectiveness impact our individual lives so as to impact the collective life of the church? These ideas are just beginning to take shape in my mind, but I suspect I will flesh out many of them in this blog over the coming months. Hopefully my reflections here will not only help me to process my thoughts, but perhaps they can encourage each one who reads this as well. Either way, what I share here will only touch on certain aspects of each book. I highly recommend the four books mentioned above to stir your thinking, and to help you move forward in whatever direction God has for you to move.