Finishing Well: A Long Obedience Of Practicing Some Rhythms In the Same Direction

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Jan 232013

Finishing well is the best legacy one can leave!

This week I was both riveted and stunned as I listened to the news about two successful athletes who have garnered lots of media attention and notoriety for their prodigious sporting accomplishments only to face the real possibility of their character being forever tarnished, and their reputations sullied. To add insult to injury their athletic achievements will  be stripped away or called into question because of  blatant cheating to win at all costs, bald faced lying, or the purported hoax around a fantasy online girlfriend. 

It was painful to watch a clearly uncomfortable Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who won 7 Tour de France races, squirm in his chair as he admitted to Oprah that he had been guilty of doping, and that his cycling career had been “one big lie”. Here is an individual who did so much good like starting a wonderful charity called Livestrong, a charity to help inspire and empower people affected by cancer, on the one hand, yet lived a life of duplicity on the other hand. How could he do that?

Then there is the case of Manti Te’o, the outstanding linebacker from Notre Dame, who was expected to be selected as one of the top 10 picks in this years draft. The heart wrenching story that he shared earlier on this year about the death of  his girl friend to leukemia just 6 hours after his grand mother passed away endeared this young man to many. Yet this week the whole story has been exposed as a hoax. What has surfaced is that the supposed girlfriend named Lennay Kekua did not exist and was an imaginary person online. The facts around the story are confusing and murky. It is not clear whether Manti was duped by some woman he met online, or whether he made the whole story up. How could he be so easily deceived?

We have all heard of other athletes, C.E.O’s, religious leaders, and even friends or co-workers in whom we put our trust, and who were touted as rising stars, crash and burn due to moral failure, lapses in judgement, and giving in to their dark side. Others we know have not finished well because of burnout, premature deaths, or the collateral damage and carnage of broken relationships. This has often been the result of not heeding the red lights going off on their physical, emotional, and spiritual dashes.

Good friends help us see where we are living in denial to our blind spots.

There are some pernicious rationalizations that rear their ugly head when one allows fame, success, position, or hubris tell us we are invincible, and get to play by a different set of rules than everyone else. A couple examples of these deceptions are:  all the good we do makes up for, or justifies our breaking the rules, or everyone else is doing it so why shouldn’t we. Another example is: I’m to busy to exercise or I don’t have time to reflect, rest, and replenish. These forms of denial or not paying attention to where we are all flawed or broken is what’s most dangerous.  The point is not to judge Lance or Manti, but to take stock of our own lives. As I have been reflecting on these two recent examples and other cases, it has caused me to do some soul searching around the question: “How do I finish well and not flame, burn out, drop out, or get taken out?”

 “It is not how fast we start that counts, but how well we finish.”

Here are some rhythms that if we sustain them over a life time will help us finish well:

1. The Rhythm of Reflection: Taking time weekly to take stock of our lives by asking ourselves the tough questions.

We all need to get in touch with what are the internal positive and negative ‘Drivers’ or motivators behind why we do what we do. Some of our motivations such as the desire to contribute, to make a difference, or to serve are good while other motivators such as fear of what others think, always trying to please people, or fear of failure, and narcissism are negative. We will never be able to know exactly to what degree our motivations are pure or not.  Usually there is a mixture. It is simply through being self-aware, allowing close friends to speak into your lives, and learning from the failures in our lives that we become more healthy. Below are some questions to help surface these drivers.

  • Why do I do what I do?
  • Where did I take steps towards living my dream this week?
  • Am I being true to myself or am I trying to be what other people want me to be?
  • Do I need to be the center of everything?  Do I have an unhealthy need to feel important or needed. Do I have an unhealthy need to be validated for what I do?
  • Where did I allow the fear of failure or rejection to hold me back from acting this week?
  • Where do I need to say no to some things that are good, but not the best for me?
  • Where did I fear being out of control this week? Where do I need to accept some circumstances that are out of my control, and where do I need to accept some people I would like to change?
We also need to take time to reflect on the unhealthy default habits and defensive reactions we have when we are tired, bored, and stressed. Below are some questions to ponder weekly or monthly.
  • What activities or substances do I indulge in when I am tired or stressed such as overeating, too much alcohol,  T.V., porn, video games?
  • What activities do I turn to for excitement or an adrenaline rush when I’m bored?
  • How did I respond to people or situations that irritated me this week?
  • Was I edgy, impatient, irritable, and grumpy with people or situations that frustrated me this week?
  • Do I lack compassion when I see people in need?

To finish well we need to care for our body, mind, and spirit!

2. The Rhythm of Regular Exercise: Plan in your schedule 3 times a week some form of aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

  • Be creative in this rhythm by finding a form of exercise that suits who you are and start slow.
  • Here are some ideas: walking with a friend or a spouse, swimming, joining a recreational sport team like soccer or hockey if you are social in nature. If you like to workout alone then get a membership at a gym or going hiking in the mountains.
  • Try to find a family activity that all enjoy to help your kids catch this value.
3. The Rhythm of Replenishing Relationships: There are 3 types of relationships in our lives. There are relationships where we are the ones doing all the giving. There are neutral relationships, and then there are replenishing relationships. We need a healthy balance of all 3 in our lives.
  • Did I spend time this week with some friends who I had fun with, who gave to me, and who I have given permission to speak into my life?
  • Do I find myself surrounded by relationships where I am always in the giving role and find it hard to receive. Why?
  • Did I give to and receive from my family this week?
4. The Rhythm of Rest and Recreation: We all need to take some time weekly and yearly to re-charge our emotional, spiritual, and mental tanks.
  • Weekly carve out some time where you are away from you smart phone, people, or other media to soak and shut off your brain from work stuff. I find getting into nature is restful for me. I also like to take some time weekly to read.
  • Once a year go on a 1-3 day retreat at a place where it is quiet and where you can practice some spiritual disciplines such as solitude, silence, and yes sleep!
  • Take up a hobby like guitar playing, sewing, dancing, fly fishing, or some other activity that would replenish you.
  • Once a year if you are in people work such as teaching, counseling, nursing, pastoral work, and such you need to get away on vacation. It takes one week to decompress, the second week to begin to recharge, and the 3rd week to fill up your tanks to go back and give.
5. The Rhythm of Resiliency and Redemption: How we respond to failure, loss, and our own personal screw-ups will be a true test of whether we finish well or not. Our responses to adversity will make us either a bitter or a better person.

Bending but not breaking!

  • Am I sidelined or stuck by holding on to bitterness and offense from some hardships or injustices that happened in my life?
  • Am I owning my stuff that surfaced through my failures?
  • Am I choosing to allow adversity to shape me into a better person and clarify my dream?
  • Am I choosing with humility to get up and try again?
  • Resist the tendency to prematurely judge your good attempts or risk taking ventures that go sideways as complete failures. Some of your greatest failures as you look back in the future will be the pathway to your greatest successes!

Accomplishing More By Working Less: Learning to Live a Sabbatical Lifestyle

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May 172012

Caught in the Rat Race

I like to refer to myself as a Contemplative Activist or an Introvert Extrovert. Perhaps these monikers simply describe the inner ping pong match going on inside of me. One part of me is your classic A personality type who derives great satisfaction from working hard, multitasking, and filling my day with productive activity. I feel good about myself when I get a lot done in a day. I work well under pressure, and love juggling a few irons in the fire. I like the buzz from adrenaline I get when going at mach speed. I find that keeping busy with alot of stuff may at times be the default mechanism I subconsciously use to validate my existence, or the way I find my sense of worth from what I do. I get restless and feel guilty if I’m just sitting around when there is work to be done. Some days I feel like an activity and adrenaline junkie craving a fix!

The other part of me hates to be living life running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I chafe at the idea of cramming my week so full of meetings and events that I feel like I’m rushing from one thing to another with no room for interruptions. I rue the days when my schedule is so full that there is no white space on my BlackBerry calendar. I long for time to linger with people, time to slow down, to sit, and to smell the proverbial flowers.

Longing for Solitude and Silence

I crave simplicity, long for silence, and need solitude. In these moments of living in the fast pace of city life, I dream of fleeing to the country, a secluded island or joining a monastery…though I would probably only last for a month at best.

Do you relate? There are many days I feel inwardly conflicted. It is not wrong to be busy with the right things, and to work hard. I love that feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day when I can cross out a bunch of things on my ‘to do list’. Yet to be doing so in such a manner that I run my emotional, physical, and spiritual motors at such high rpm’s, so that I’m constantly red lining on my internal tachometer while neglecting the warning lights that start flashing on the dash, is setting myself up to crash and burn. Those warning indicators are things like emotional toxicity, being wound so tight that at the slightest provocation we snap, and the loss of joy. This is not the way God designed us to live.

Could it be that we can actually be more effective and productive in our personal and work lives by practicing a Sabbatical lifestyle? I experienced the truth of this counter cultural way of living while tree planting one summer in northern B.C. The foreman of our crew instituted the pattern of taking every Sunday off to rest. Now in the tree planting world this seemed like a crazy idea. Since the planting season was short, most crews would plant 7 days a week till they finished a plantation, so that they made as much money as possible in the shortest period of time. For most crews the only time off was the travel time to get to the next plantation and maybe a day to shop for supplies. Rival crews would shake their heads at us in disdain with a knowing smirk when we told them that we wouldn’t be planting on Sundays. They thought we were foolish. Yet each year our foreman’s crew planted more trees, and made more money than any of the other crews in the company.

So what is Sabbath living?

Sabbath living is the ceasing from our normal routines of work to practice the rhythms of rest, replenishment, recreation, and reflection. These habits may include sleep, reading, journaling, contemplative or soaking prayer, playing a sport, taking a walk in nature, or enjoying a hobby that you normally don’t have time for. This allows us to recharge or regenerate so when we return to our work we are more productive for a longer period of time. It is learning to ‘be’ alongside or before ‘doing’.

The Sabbatical disciplines of silence and solitude allows our pain, brokeness, and unhealthy motivations to surface. By choosing to pause from our work we enter into a detoxing from our addictions to frenetic activity, to adrenaline fixes, to psuedo-intimacy through porn, or to the need for people’s approval as ways we  attempt to medicate, anesthetize, or bury our pain. We get healed up and become whole again.

Hillary of Tours, a mystic, wrote:  “Many Christians suffer from a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for Him.” Most of us suffer from an over inflated view of our importance in which we don’t think we have the time to practice Sabbatical living. There is so much to get done, and if we don’t do it who will? We walk out humility when we realize that God does not need us to get His work done, but enjoys our presence and partnering with Him. Even while we are resting, He is able to accomplish much without us!

The Greek word for authority in Luke 9:1 is ‘exousia’ which means to receive delegated influence, strength, and competency from being with the one who has all authority: Jesus. Through walking out Sabbath we are infused with the life of Jesus, and His power to do His work! 

What is our Sabbath Exit Strategy?

Suggested Personal Health Inventory:

  1. Ask those who you live close to if you are showing the signs of being stressed out.  or on the verge of burning out? (Clues: being overly irritable or hyper sensitive,  lacking compassion, loss of mojo, not sleeping well, being emotionally drained and not rebounding as normal, negative talk or depression, dreading the work you normally enjoy)
  2. What is your heart condition?
  3. What are the addictions I use to cover over or medicate my pain?
  4. Do I struggle to say no to people and their expectations?
  5. Do I carve out time to rest, reflect, and recreate?
  6. What does that look like daily, weekly, and monthly?


Ideas for Sabbatical Living:

  • Sabbath is a way of life where we practice certain rhythms or disciplines daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and every 7 years.
  • REST: Daily take a half hour to be in silence and solitude. I find a walk in a park or finding a quiet, bright space in my house early in the morning, or late at night, to be the best ways to find silence and solitude in the city. During this time, relax and soak in God’s presence.  Let Him pour His love and life into you. Resist the urge to formulate prayers for people. Let His peace soak into every pore of your being!
  • REFLECT: Ask these three questions: What do I really want or what matters to me? What do I fear? What is God saying to me? Take some time to reflect on the subject of Sabbath rest by reading a short book such as The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen, or contemplate on these Scriptures: Lev. 25, Luke 4: 42-44; 5:15-16, Heb. 3:7-4:12
  • RETREAT: Take a day or half day and get out of the city by going to a retreat center, or a favorite place in the outdoors. Don’t be surprised if you end up sleeping for half the day.
  • RECREATION: If you are in any kind of people work, it is recommended that you take three weeks of vacation in one block every year where you get away. It takes 2 weeks to unwind and the third week to fill your tanks up. Spend time playing, reading, relaxing, and enjoying a hobby. For me that’s fishing!

    The Need of Rest and Recreation

  • RE-TOOL and RE-CALIBRATE: If at all possible, plan for a 1-3 month, longer if possible, Sabbatical from work. During this time, spend a couple weeks in a monastery or guided retreat, take a course or two, read some books you haven’t had time to read, travel to some places or people you would like to visit.