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.