This past Sunday was a tough one for me at church. I’ve been working with our teenagers for a couple of years teaching them and two of my children are in that Bible study. Our promotion day for the different age groups is this coming Sunday.
My son, Jake, graduated this past spring and it was his last day in our youth ministry at church. So next week he will move to the college and career ministry. He probably didn’t think much about it, but I did. In fact, for several weeks I did.
I wondered about the lessons that I had taught, not at home as his Dad, but leading the Bible study in that hour. Were they helpful to him? Did I do my best in preparation and considering how it would apply to the lives of the kids?
I thought about how much I would miss his leadership in the group, but most of all, just having that extra hour each week spending time with him. It’s a natural part of life and I don’t resent his growing to independence and becoming a young man, but it’s still hard as a dad to see it happen.
The amount of time that we have spent in the past has diminished. He was up early this morning to be at work at 7 a.m. He has some good friends he hangs around with and they go to the gym or grab some food together, usually at Sonic. I love Jake and I miss the time we spent when he was younger.
The greatest lesson I ever learned that helped me in my relationship with my wife and children has been to live on purpose. For many years this has been something that has been a part of my life and one in which I am still growing.
I read that if you are 35 years old that you have 500 days to live. That is, when the time sleeping, working, caring for hygiene, eating, traveling and chores is subtracted, there are only 500 discretionary days left.
We are all very busy people. In Richard Swenson’s book, Margin, he shows how that speed and volume have become our enemies. We have more options and responsibilities at an increasing rate of speed And they multiply exponentially every year. The ugly result is being overwhelmed without any margin in our lives. Our relationships suffer.
In the early 60’s futurists predicted that coming generations would have a problem with
what to do with all of their excess time. A testimony before a Senate subcommittee in 1967 speculated that by 1985 people would be working 22 hours a week and 27 weeks a year and retire by age 38.
No one is talking like this anymore! The issue isn’t how to spend free time, but where to carve it out of an already packed schedule. I believe one of the reasons we came to these false conclusions was because of emerging technology. It seemed to promise that we would be able to better manage our time and open up more time for our friends and family.
It began with pagers, then Palm Pilots, and now we have smart phones (which are mini computers). As Swenson stated, this causes more and more to come at us faster and faster. These incredible technological advances have not only established a tether to our jobs (we’re available 24/7), but as each product generation improves the tether shortens. And soon it becomes like a tsunami of urgent chaos eating up our time.
A visit to a third world country would be a shock to most of our systems. There is no cable TV (there aren’t TV’s!), no telephones, no stop lights, no malls, no mail to read. They don’t even have watches. After a day you wonder, “What do these people do with their time? I am bored stiff!”
Swenson points out that the one thing they have is plenty of time and they are more healthy relationally and personally. What do they do with their time? Some work in their garden (exercise), some visit the marketplace (socializing), some use the spare hours for leisure (rest), some spend more time playing and teaching their children (family), some talk to their neighbors (fellowship), some watch the sun rise and set (renewal).
They may have infectious diseases we don’t have, but they also don’t have hypertension, ulcers, heart attacks and other maladies we face. Our fancy gadgets to help us manage our time have a hidden cost personally and relationally. That which was meant to benefit us has gradually eaten away at the most precious things in our lives until we have a new normal. And it isn’t good.
These crucial matters listed above (exercise, socializing, rest, family, fellowship, renewal) are bumped because of lesser things. The good has preempted the best. The important is held hostage by the urgent. We sense the loss the most in our marriage and with our children.
Many years ago I was visiting a small church (something I don’t often get to do because of my responsibilities at church) in a tiny town in New Hampshire, Wilmot Flat. The pastor was a history professor at Dartmouth University.
As he began his sermon he asked all of us to remove our watches. As we complied he explained how time pieces historically became an important part of American culture. Maintaining strict schedules were relatively unimportant until the advent of trains and then it became imperative that people pay close attention to time. Thus, the proliferation and use of watches.
He had asked us to remove our watches (no one had cell phones then to use as watches) because he was going to speak on time and how our busyness had wreaked havoc in our relational and spiritual health.
Then the pastor/professor made an observation I never forgot. He said, “When you are rushing and hurrying through your schedule, you are living as if what you are going to do is more important than what you are doing right now”.
He continued speaking, but I was still stuck on that last statement. I took a piece of paper from my Bible and wrote down the quote and the story behind it. That was too often the way I lived. And I knew better.
Our society honors those that are the busiest. In fact, it seems to be a competition in a group conversation to determine who has the most going on in their lives. Our schedules are full to the brim – work, church, school activities, chauffering the kids to practices, and lots of other appointments. We are tired and, worse, joyless and grumpy. But the speed and volume doesn’t decrease.
Sometimes churches seem to beat the drum that the more you do, the more spiritual you are. However, busyness does not necessary equate to godliness. (I do believe church attendance and ministry is crucial for every believer; I’m trying to raise the issue of balance and priorities in this post). Over time, busyness without purpose and balance is the enemy of godliness.
A full schedule that is sustained over a long while crowds out a meaningful life. Gene Stallings, the former football coach at the University of Alabama, kept a quote on his desk, “Activity is not necessarily accomplishment”.
Most of our regrets are not because we do bad things, but we have let good things take the place of the best. Tragically, we come to realize it was a poor tradeoff only after it is too late. The opportunities to laugh, love, listen and talk have shriveled away.
Many years ago I was with a family whose loved one had just passed away unexpectedly. It’s always a sacred moment for me and one that is also insightful. At the hospital we all stood around the bed holding the still body of one whom they loved. There were tears, sniffles, and it was very quiet, no one said anything.
Suddenly, one of the family members speaking to no one in general, said very softly, “I wish we had spent more time together”. I remembered thinking, “I don’t want to have to say that about my family one day”. Death has a harsh way of clearing away the clutter of insignificant things.
The time with our spouse and our children goes by so fast. It’s true, we usually don’t realize how important something is to us until we lose it. If it is going to be important then, why not place that value on it today.
Here’s a song that taught me this lesson many years ago with my children. It reminds me to always make them a priority in my life, that means in my schedule.
Three books have especially helped me to focus on that which is important (my relationship with God and people) rather than allowing my life to be filled with secondary matters so I won’t have regrets when I’m older.
I’ve already mentioned Margin by Richard Swenson. He’s a medical doctor that is a believer and a gifted and wise writer. He has also written some other books along the same vein, but I would recommend starting with this one. I led our church staff in a weekly discussion chapter by chapter of this book in our meetings. It was very profitable to all of us.
A book that helped me to organize my life around what is important rather than the urgent is Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Steven Covey. It was a life-changer for me. I have bought a copy for all of our staff members through the years.
One other book that has helped me in this area is When I Relax I Feel Guilty by Tim Hansel. Sadly, it is no longer published but you can still find it on amazon.com. I try to read it every couple of years. Anyone that has ever heard me teach through the years will recognize the influence of this book on my life.
In the following posts I’ll mention three simple truths that I have learned that have helped me to live on purpose.
Today be intentional about your relationship with God and with your family and friends. You’ll never be sorry you did, but you will be if you allow the busyness and urgencies of life to supplant that which is most important.