When was the last time you took the time to just sit and do nothing? Waiting in line, at a traffic light, or for a medical appointment doesn’t count. Seriously, when was the last time you walked into a room, sat down, and did nothing – for awhile? Scheduled, or unscheduled? Or, when was the last time you went for a walk on the beach, a stroll through the woods, or sat on an isolated hilltop? If an example doesn’t leap out at you, stop, think about it for a minute, and try to remember the last time.
The last time I allowed myself to just be, was quite awhile ago. When I think back to the event, I remember feeling free, peaceful, and relaxed. In fact, coming out of that time away, better prepared me to face the challenges of life. Family, finances, and career pressures seemed to just slip away with the breeze. My guess is, it was the same for you.
It’s been said that just 10-15 minutes of meditation will allow us to be better prepared for the day and more productive overall. But I have to admit, usually, I’m so sleep deprived that I’d rather hit the snooze button and get an extra nine minutes of sleep. Often I’ll hit the snooze button two or three times. Not only do I miss out on some quality quiet time in the morning, but then I am rushed to get out of the house on time, I eat breakfast in the car, and I miss out on some quality time with my family. From there, the day just gets worse.
The Bible tells us that in the last days of Earth’s history, “many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase.” ~Daniel 12:4 Too many times, I’ve found myself rushing from one event to the next. Driving too fast, with a burger in one hand, the cell phone in the other, and guzzling caffeinated beverages to fuel the fire.
Several years ago I found myself unable to sit still – even if I had the time. I didn’t know how to sit still. I didn’t want to sit still. If I was in a meeting, listening to a lecture, or working on a project that required me to sit still, I would chew gum, trim my fingernails, or doodle. At the very least, my foot would be tapping and I’d constantly watch the clock.
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I finally realized that I was trying to do too much in too little time. Not only was I sleep deprived, but I was stressed, physically unhealthy, and often ill. It seemed as if I would get some form of a cold or flu about once a month. Plus I was cranky and unpleasant. I had to ask myself, is this really the way I want to live?
One day, I sat down and took stock of my time. I found that out of a 168 hour week, I was busy doing something at least 130 of those hours. This left me with 38 hours to sleep, eat, exercise, read, watch TV, and chill. In other words, I was left with 5½ hours a day to be a human being, instead of a human doing. Obviously this was unworkable.
It was at this point I discovered the concept of a sabbath day’s rest. To take one day out of seven to do nothing that will further my position in the rat race. Nothing job related, nothing that I have to do, and nothing that would cause me to feel rushed, busy, or stressed. Indeed, I reserved this day for things that would restore my soul – emotionally, physically, spiritually, and socially.
Of course one cannot simply decide to do this, it takes preparation and planning. There are many changes necessary to free up a 24 hour block of time that enables me to rest, recharge, regenerate, and recreate. For me, it is about priorities and values. I make constant choices during the week, that allow me to enjoy a weekly sabbatical. It takes discipline and is always a challenge, but the benefits are tremendous.
Now, almost 30 years later, since I made this choice, I am healthier, calmer, and I can sit still once in awhile. Where it used to be common for me to eat all of my meals in the car, now that is a rare event. I no longer need stimulants or depressants to manage my sleep and wakefulness. I also have the time to read, go for walks, and chill with my family. It is a great place to be.
Once a week, I put away my cares and relax. And about once a month, I take the time to go for a walk on the beach, a stroll through a forest, or to sit on a hilltop watching creation pass me by. Life is good.
Several years ago, I accidentally watched an episode of Survivor. I’ve never been a fan of “reality” TV, and I’ve always been fairly selective of what I watch. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch a gritty crime series, or enjoy a good, hokie western now and then – but for the most part, I look for media that stimulates my mind. Anyway, I set the VCR to record one show, but apparently missed the cues and recorded Survivor instead.
A couple of days later, I sat down to watch the show I thought I recorded. Instead, the third episode of Survivor: Marquesas came on. I watched it and was amazed at the dynamics I saw being played out. (Try not to judge me, and listen to what I learned) I was immediately taken by one contestant, Hunter Ellis, a former Naval aviator. In my ignorance at how this “game” is played, it seemed to me this is the guy you’d want on your team. If anyone knows anything about survival, it would be this military-trained pilot. But before I could say, sensationalism, Ellis was voted off the island.
Needless to say, I was hooked. I’ve always been a quiet student of human nature and political science. I was curious to figure this out. Why would a group of people vote off the most qualified person on the island. Over the course of the next 12 episodes, I developed a fairly strong theory.
First, Ellis was the biggest threat.
Second, he was good, but not stellar, when it came to interpersonal leadership skills.
and finally, because of the game, the others didn’t see him as a necessary resource.
The main reason I found this show so fascinating was because of the situation I found myself in at the time. Fresh from graduate school, my wife and I found ourselves pastoring two churches – both small, rural (blue collar), and very traditional. Neither of us are traditional, and though we come from blue-collar backgrounds, we are both well educated. In addition, small churches don’t fit well within our background. In fact, fresh from the seminary, and new to professional ministry, we were all set to change the world.
(As a side note, there may be many reasons to send new, young pastors to small, rural churches – but for the life of me, I don’t believe any of those ideas outweigh the damage this does to the individuals and the organization.)
But, back to my fascinating theory on what happened during this episode of Survivor.
Not only was Ellis smart, well educated, and proficient in survival/outdoor skills, but he was handsome and articulate. Unfortunately, the game is about wilderness survival, it is about political survival. Knowing how to start a fire without matches, or building a shelter without tools, while nice skills to have, neither are the primary objective. Though those skills can be leveraged towards the primary objective, they are merely currency.
As a new pastor, coming into a church where the Head Elder has held his position since I was six years old, I was completely unprepared for the “game.” I (wrongly) believed the purpose of doing church was to help people know that God loves them. I somehow believe that my ideas, vision, and education would be welcomed with enthusiasm and affirmation. For some strange reason, I thought the people in the church were just waiting to be empowered an mobilized. I was so wrong.
“I was so wrong.“
Interestingly, we got out of that first situation with our lives relatively intact – just as Hunter Ellis went on to capitalize on his 15 minutes of fame. My entire professional career, I relied upon my expertise and skills to succeed. I was a good paramedic, a good instructor, and a good public speaker. I learned to be a good administrator and a good project manager. Somehow, naively, I was able to avoid the pitfalls of the political subcultures I found myself in. I expected a meritocracy, but after watching this one season of Survivor, I learned that merit is seldom the purpose of most organizations.
Relationships matter. One can use their skills and merit a return on investment, but in a political organization, skills, talent, and experience are merely the currency of membership. Without continuing to build the relationships, and the bartering of give and take, they will soon find themselves bankrupt and without merit.
Unfortunately for me, I tend to build relationships with the underdogs and the disempowered. My compassion and empathy tends to overlook the powerful – for I tend to think the powerful would automatically want to help those less fortunate then themselves. I’m not quite cynical enough to think this isn’t true, but I’m pretty close to believing that if one focuses on the underdogs, they will never have a future amongst the powerful.
According to Wikipedia, Ellis was voted one of the worst Survivor players ever. He was deemed to be too cocky and, ironically, not paying close enough attention to his own standing. As I review my previous political errors, this could be said of me also. I’ve often been labeled cocky, or arrogant. I’ll own that. I do think there is a certain amount of self-confidence involved in that – plus, INTJs struggle with this perception. But still, I’ll own that fact that I’m often perceived as too cocky.
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I also own the idea that I don’t pay enough attention to my own political standing. I’m opposed to currying favor, bartering with compromise, and using political standing to gain traction. Of course, this has not gone well in many situations. More than once I’ve had a boss call me onto the carpet to let me know I just made him look bad, or wasn’t supporting his vision of how things should progress. And more than once I’ve explained that I will follow my conscience and do the “right” thing, regardless of what is best for the organization’s survival.
My motive is never the survival of the organization, and always what is best for the individuals affected. As a paramedic and EMS manager, I was motivated by quality patient care. As a pastor, my motivation was to serve the disadvantaged and disempowered. As a voter, I am motivated to support those who cannot support themselves – not myself, or those well above the poverty line.
This is what gets me in trouble. I suppose some would suggest I take a more passionate interest in my own career – but I can’t. It’s would be immoral for me to do so. I could never put my own career, or the standing of any organization above what’s right.
Ellis was good. As I said, he was bright, articulate, skilled, charismatic, and attractive. But not stellar. From my observations, he is a leader and he has good ideas, but not stellar leadership, and not superior ideas. The biggest lesson I learned from watching this season of Survivor is that being a mediocre leader is one of the surest paths to political demise.
If one cannot rise up and be the leader, it would probably be best to blend into the background. Unfortunately, this isn’t a skill I’ve mastered either. Coming into this small, rural, traditional church, with a very established power structure, I thought my position, education, and enthusiasm would trump the inertia – it didn’t. In fact, all of my strengths were actually liabilities.
“I was too focused on doing the right thing.”
We were able to escape Rock Springs and serve in an area that was more akin to our passion and vision, but barely. If we had stayed much longer, we might have faced the same fate we experienced in Scappoose. Although I had an intellectual understanding of the dynamics, I never really applied them. Now, in retrospect, I realize this is what led to my demise in Scappoose and later at AMR. I was too focused on doing the right thing (whether my perspective of the “right thing” is correct, or not, is irrelevant to this discussion).
In Scappoose, I was all about reclaiming the marginalized members, looking out for those who didn’t feel comfortable in traditional church settings, and building connections within the community. What I didn’t realize is that none of those tasks should have been at the top of my list of priorities. Oops.
At AMR, I was focused on better supporting the paramedics and EMTs – knowing this is the surest way to achieve quality, and compassionate, patient care. My focus was on patient care and caring for our employees. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that AMRs goal was profit.
Ellis appeared to focus on survival, but because of his superior skills he was deemed a threat. I now realize that some deemed me a threat also. Whether the threat was to their power and control, or to the status quo, it really doesn’t matter.
I wonder what would have happened had Ellis bartered his skillset for position and standing within the game. What would have happened if I had taken the time to establish my position and standing, rather than pursuing the vision within me?
Or here’s a better question: What if society valued ideas and creative vision, rather than pretentious political gaming?
“As you begin to interpret your failures correctly, you will take your first giant step toward maturity.” ~Chuck Swindoll
I don’t know where my frugal nature comes from, and it certainly isn’t consistent. I can save, but I can also spend. I’ve been in debt, and I’ve been rolling in cash. The one common theme in all of this inconsistency is my ability to not waste things. I truly love the phrase, “waste not, want not.” I believe that if I can use the tools and resources at my disposal, I can use my money and time for more important things.
Notice the use of the word disposal above. That was on purpose.
In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a disposable society – and it’s killing me. Seriously, actually, hurting my soul. I can’t stand to throw something away if it still has value.
While something may have lost its usefulness, if it still has some value left in it, I can’t bring myself to toss it. Lest you get the wrong idea, I’m not a hoarder. But I am a bit of a pack-rat. For instance, I have this coffee can in my tool room where I toss loose screws, mismatched nuts and bolts, and random pieces of metal and plasticdoo-dads. When I’m working on a project, trying to fix something – or invent some Mickey Mouse workaround, I know I can go to that can and find something to make my project work. Not only is it cheaper than a trip to the hardware store, it is definitely more time efficient (see my post on Energy Efficiency from a few days ago).
Sometimes I’ll look at a piece of metal, a s crap of plastic, or a butter tub and wonder what I could use this for. No, I didn’t grow up in the depression, but I’m only two generations removed from that. My Dad grew up very poor, and though we lived comfortably, we didn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around. I’ve just learned not to waste things – one never knows what use they might find for some doohickey, or widget.
”We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~C. S. Lewis
That’s what makes this transition in our lives so hard. We are liquidating everything – except bare essentials (eg; clothes, toiletries, and other stuff) and memorabilia. What doesn’t sell will be donated to charity or tossed into the dumpster. I don’t mind liquidating – and I have little fear for the future. I know my needs will be provided for (see Matthew 6). I just hate wasting things.
Already we sold much in last Friday’s moving sale, and I expect to sell much more tomorrow. Though it’s hard selling $200 chairs for $40, I feel better when the people really want them. It was much harder selling my Canon AE-1 and a bunch of lenses and accessories for $40 – when I originally spent close to $2000 on all that gear. Not to mention 35 years of memories. But again, much better than tossing them into the wind at the Goodwill or in the trash.
What is hard for me is seeing stuff that still has value, but will have to be thrown away. My bucket of nuts and bolts for example. It’s not worth anything, but it is. In fact, I can live without this stuff. Seriously, I’m not afraid of being without a random nut, or bolt, but I just have trouble tossing them.
Yesterday, I threw away one nail, two screws, some sheet rock anchors, and a rubber band when I cleaned my desk. They hadn’t quite made it to the coffee can yet – but I just threw them away. In the trash. wasted. Almost 9 cents of usable product – and I just tossed them!
Then there is our bedroom furniture. Solid oak – I mean solid. Well built, quality furniture. The two dressers are heavy – and did I mention solid? The two dressers, two nightstands, mirror, and headboard were given to us out of love by some dear friends. I planned to keep them the rest of my life. Though they scream disco, water-bed, 70s – they are quality furniture. Our friends probably paid well over $2000 for the set 35+ years ago. I’m asking only $200 for the set – and no one has shown any interest.
And why should they? They aren’t stylish – and they aren’t cool. Anyone could go to Ikea and get cool, stylish furniture for just a few hundred more – and if they put it on their credit card, it will only cost about $5 bucks a month. Besides, who has an extra $200 cash lying around?
This seems to be the case for a lot of our stuff. Why would anyone pay a dollar for our very fine, working toaster, when they can buy a new one, in the box, at Wal-Mart for $6.00? I have tire chains, coil springs, ladders, couches, chairs, and a bunch of stuff. I’d like to sell it, but not because I need the money – although money is good and we don’t have a lot of it right now. I want to see it because I can’t stand to see it wasted.
We gave away our piano – another loving gift from some dear people. I was happy to give it away to a good family who will use it and treasure it. We have actually given away a lot of stuff to friends and family – and that feels really good. I’d give away more if I thought people would take it and appreciate it. Our king-size mattress is only a year old, and I’d love to get some of our $1000 back out of it, but more importantly, I just don’t want to see it tossed.
Small stuff, big stuff, junk, or crap – I just hate to see things wasted. I don’t know why – it just is.
A couple of months ago I binged watching a show on Hulu. It was about the US Marshall Service Witness Protection Program. The thing that struck me was how people would have to leave everything, including photographs, in a matter of hours, and relocate in another life and location. In one episode, the whole family looked at a door with the kids heights marked on it. A lot of families have a wall, door, or door post marked like this. With great regret, they had to leave the door. Stuff like this is hard.
I can’t even imagine walking away from all my stuff; but in a sense, this is what I feel we are being asked to do – with caveats and some flexibility. So, I think, what if this area was being swept by a wildfire, like the recent one in Colorado Springs, and we had 45 minutes to evacuate. Obviously, we would lose everything that wouldn’t fit in our car – and maybe more. Including the board that measures the kids heights through the years. We, like many, would have no choice but to walk away – or run, as the case may be.
Then I think of time, circumstances, and opportunities. Millions of people lost everything during various wars. I think of all the houses bombed, burned, and looted. The lives lost – the opportunities missed. It simply happens.
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The other day a man died alone in his home. His body wasn’t discovered for a month. He had no family so Realtors, neighbors, and city officials were cleaning out the house. They discovered $7 million in gold coins. What a waste!
Sometimes it’s all about…
If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, would I be concerned about wasting my stuff? Of course not! If I knew I was going to be offered a wonderful job on another continent, I’d gladly part with it all. If I knew I was going to live here for another year, I’d certainly not part with it. If I knew I were going to spend eternity in Heaven, and on the New Earth, with no needs ever – I’d gladly part with it.
So really,time, again, is the crucible of character (see this recent post). If I knew I had a lot of time to part with the stuff, I could find the right buyer, or right recipient and I would feel good about passing on my stuff. If I knew I were going to die tomorrow, I’d walk away from it all and spend the day with my family at the beach. If I knew I had 45 minutes to evacuate my house before a raging wildfire swept through, I’d grab my computer, kids, and other valuables and flee (not necessarily in that order mind you). If I knew Jesus would be arriving tomorrow, again, nothing here has any value.
It’s the unknown timeline that throws me. Like running a race without knowing how far it is, or where the finish line is located – I don’t know what I’ll need, or what I won’t.
Lessons from Michael Weston…
Another favorite show on Hulu is Burn Notice. Michael Weston is a burned spy trying to restore his career, reputation, and life’s calling. As you can imagine, I really relate to this show. In the process of restoring his life, Weston becomes a freelance spy, or fixer of sorts. He helps people, asking nothing in return – just because he is a good guy.
The lesson I learned from this show was particularly poignant for me. Weston and his team use resources to fit the need, regardless of the value or scarcity of the resource used. If they have to blow up his prized, vintage Dodge Challenger, they blow it up. If they have to use up the last of their bullets, they use them. They hold nothing back and they approach everything with a total disregard for saving something for later.
This is exactly my problem. Sometimes I look at my resources and wonder if I should use them now, or save them for later. (Remember the whole energy conservation post?)
I once went backpacking in Arizona with friends. It was a beautiful trip. We hiked in a narrow creek bed, cut through the desert, which put us in the shade, in the water, and out of the heat. Parts of this slot canyon were so narrow we had to float our packs on inner tubes and swim in the icy cold water. Most of it though, we were able to hike. We wore sandals so we could easily walk on the rocks or through the creek
Unfortunately this hike took two days longer than expected. The guidebook told us it would take two days. We planned on three, but it actually took four and a half days. By the end of day three, we were out of food. I don’t do well without food – especially when carrying an 80 pound pack. The challenge was, do we eat all our food and reduce our pack weight, or do we ration our food and make it last for the next couple of days? We chose to ration it – but truth be told, I had some power bars stashed in my survival kit. When we got out of the canyon, we went out for pizza and ordered five large pizzas – one for each of us.
This is my tendency. I evaluate my resources (ie; emotional, financial, social, or physical) and estimate the costs and benefits. Then I ration those resources to get maximum benefit and ROI (return on investment). But when the destination is fuzzy, the finish line is unclear, and the results are unknown, it is really difficult to know how to use one’s resources. Being the good Boy Scout I am, I tend to take a conservative approach and save my resources so I can “be prepared” for what may lie ahead.
Sometimes one has to go full speed ahead and ignore those damn torpedoes.
We don’t know what lies ahead; we have no resources to speak of; and we are being asked to liquidate it all. My hesitation to do this is purely my issue. Waste, or not, it has to go – but man this is hard!
When I replaced my aging Gore-tex parka several years ago, I discovered a tool that helps. I looked at the old parka, which cost $300, and divided that price by the 15 years use I’d gotten out of it. I realized I’d received plenty of value for $20 a year. It didn’t seem like such a waste to toss it aside when I looked at it as rent. For $20 a year, that was money well spent. On the other hand, it was still costing me $300 to replace and it still had a lot of life left in it.
When I was in seminary I read an article about Lot and his family leaving Sodom. It’s said the angels actually had to grab them by the hand and drag them out of the city. On their departure, if you recall, Lot’s wife turned to look back at her old home and she was turned into a pillar of salt. This author said the reason she hesitated was because of Lot’s failure to lead – and his hesitation when they were first told to leave. This story has haunted me since.
I do not want to be the cause of hesitation in my family. When God gives direction, I want to boldly proceed.
Though I hate to waste resources, in the end, it’s all going to burn anyway. And what good would $7 million in gold do me at my death?
Really, in the end, it isn’t the one with the most toys that wins. The one who wins is the one who found peace, serenity, and value in their family.
“So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” ~ Solomon