3 Heart Tests

(A post for the church-going reader)

This morning we were reminded in our American church to pray for believers attending church in Pakistan earlier this morning where terrorists struck. Terror striking churches around the world has certainly found it’s way to American soil. We know this in our heads. I’m wondering if it’s made it to our hearts.

Here are three heart tests we could personally administer to check:

  1. The heart purity test: Why am I here? Would I be here if I lived in constant threat because of my faith? 
  2. The heart condition test: How did I prepare myself before coming? What do my expectations about my church experience say about my heart’s condition?
  3. The heart openness test: What’s my level of focus and attention and engagement? What’s the posture of my heart to what I’m hearing, seeing, and feeling?

We live out of what’s in our hearts. We worship only at the level of our heart’s pure and open condition. May we enter our gatherings with ready hearts.

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The Gift of Balance: Rest/Play/Sabbath (Part 2)

(This is part two of the fifth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are suggested resources on this topic.)

John: What are the key components for balance in this part of our lives?

Mark: A couple of thoughts. One that Tonya has already expressed is that we are wired differently. We need to understand how we are wired and recognize what healthy is in terms of resting mind, body, and spirit. Another one is acknowledging and understanding that it is important.

I came up with this analogy of junk food. When we are hungry, we eat; but we don’t always eat the healthy foods. Our body and minds can be craving rest, so we have to feed ourselves healthy rest. Sometimes we feed ourselves junk rest where we are not fully disengaged or something like watching TV three hours a night and calling that rest. It’s not the same thing as unplugging from electronics or work, or going out for a bike ride or a run. So being able to distinguish between healthy and junk rest is also important.

Tonya: That’s really important.  I agree with that need to understand ourselves.  Like, I know what time of night my brain is shutting down. So it’s stupid for me to think I can push through and do a little more work, and I can’t.  If I try, I get frustrated or angry, and then I’m upset with people around me. So I have to know my body and set up my schedule to fit my body.  So I like that, knowing when you need rest and what kind of rest.

John: Using your junk food analogy, Mark, what is healthy food for you?

Mark: I have always been fond of sleep. I’ve often used the phrase, “Sleep is not overrated.” I’m in tune with what I need in terms of sleep. And if I don’t get it, I feel it physically, emotionally; I’m more irritable. Even 30-45 minutes in change of bedtime makes a difference the next day in how I feel.

On the flip side, I’m not so good with play. Part of me being comfortable and valuing play is continuing being present. Being in the moment to laugh, to see an opportunity with the kids or my spouse to be in the moment and just let go of everything else to be creative, whether it’s with a puzzle or a walk or a game, whatever it is to be in the moment.

John: What works in California?

Tonya: Well, we have lots of sunshine, just like you, so a lot of outdoor activities. I agree with the area of sleep; I have to get about eight hours of sleep. If I don’t get that, then I’m not good.  I also know that I need to be in my bed by 9 o’clock.  I might be reading, but I’m winding down. If I try to push past 10, it’s going to go all bad for me.

The other part for me is I need a quiet morning. I get up early, but I don’t necessarily like to talk to anybody. That’s my time with the Lord. I often take that time to go on prayer walks or sit and read in my favorite chair and read; that time helps me get my mind prepared for the day.  I don’t want to be up and moving fast.

Play has also been important to us as a family. Going outside and shooting hoops, just goofing around in the yard throwing a ball; that’s always been important to us. At times, the margin to do that was being lost with traveling with the boy’s hockey. So we had to adjust; sometimes that meant going early ahead of the team or stay a day late and just goof off. That was important to us, but we had to be intentional about it sometimes.

John: Following thoughts about sleeping needs, I read several years ago that the optimal hours of sleep is from 10-2.  That’s when your body most gets what it needs from sleep. When I started paying attention to that, I realized how helpful that was. So it’s rare that TV stays on past 10. I’m working more toward turning it off an hour or two ahead of that, which I believe is a key thing for a single person. If you allow it, TV can become in essence a companion, another voice in the room. So shutting that down let’s you start shutting down your mind, your emotions in order to give space for renewal to start.

Mark: In a similar way, I’m thinking about how noise can be a challenge in a family as well. We can all be together and yet there’s noise in the background, whether it’s music or TV.  I think it’s a struggle for families also, to feel like we have to have this constant companion of noise.  I’m driving in the car and I have the radio going. Why is that? Is it a habit? Is it healthy? Or do I need to unplug and rest from input and work on being comfortable in silence?

John: Which is anti-cultural. Everywhere you go you are inundated, maybe feel like you’re in Time Square all the time. Your house is where you can control that. That’s up to you, how inundated you and your family are going to be.

Tonya: From a counseling perspective, when it’s silent you have to deal with yourself, your thoughts. If that’s painful, you keep noise. So it’s something to pay attention to. “Why is this hard?” There are times, by the way, when it all has to be off in my car.  I love listening to worship music, but sometimes it needs to be silent.

John: I have to tell you about the best day of my month off in October. Mark, it was the day I left your house and drove to New York. It was a nine-hour drive. I had no structure to the day, other than I knew where my hotel was in New York. I hadn’t traveled that highway before, so I determined in my mind that I was going to enjoy this road that I haven’t been on before; I got off on exits that I was curious about. When I got to New York I realized I had never turned on the radio, never had music on, didn’t listen to any podcasts. It wasn’t intentional. It was just the rhythm that worked for the day. When I realized it, it shocked me. It was just me and God and what I was looking at. It was revelational. “I need to pay attention to that.  I feel quite refreshed, and the only input was what I was seeing through my windshield.”

Mark: That’s a great reminder of being present and being in the moment.

John: We’re talking a lot about day to day. For the person who is committed to a weekly Sabbath idea, what’s your thoughts on establishing that for you or your family?

Tonya: I’m a big believer in a day off from work, and that includes house/yard work. We are not just the lay-around-sleep family. It usually means some type of sport, watching or playing. At least one day that is disconnected from work. For me, it is about making it a family day.

John: How does spiritual connection happen in that time frame?

Tonya: Typically when they were growing up that was Sunday. We’d do church together; I liked to have a tradition for going and getting donuts or coffee on the way to church. After church, we might discuss the message, but that was it for us.

Mark: Our family rhythm has been a lot like Tonya has described. Monday through Friday was school and career work.  Saturday has tended to be house work, chores, whatever. Sunday we try to put that down and not to work. Sometimes we are more successful than others; it’s more a guideline than a rigid rule. Sometimes we shift days because of weather, but that’s been the rhythm we have pursued.

In my career, I don’t think I appreciated the importance of unplugging from work for a day until I’d go through really long days weeks at a time. Growing up I had this perspective of Sabbath being a very spiritual day. Practically when Monday through Saturday is jammed packed, Sunday or a day can be very beneficial to give your body a chance to heal and recover so you can hit Monday on a full battery and not running on empty.

In terms of spiritual, for a significant period of our lives it was traditional church attendance with processing and discussion afterwards. For the last ten years, it’s been more of the home context where we set aside time as a family that we label as “God time.” It involves many of the components in a church context just in a smaller setting. We’ve always prioritized the spiritual together as a family for at least a specific time in the week to indicate it is a priority.

John: I just got this imagery of you passing the offering plate around, just the five of you. You should try that just to see what happens.

Mark: We have joked about that at times.

Tonya: That’s not a bad idea because kids are expensive.

John: To answer this for myself, sure Sunday is the day. As a staff member, it can very much feel like a work day; it’s labeled one. I have to play around with other times.  That’s going to look different. Sometimes it’s Friday; sometimes it’s Saturday; sometimes it’s a mix of those two days. I have to be intentional. When I’m good about it, there’s nothing else on the day. It’s probably little engagement with other people; it keeps me from expending energy and resting. I’m trying not to take in too much because it moves my mind toward work. I have to find things that make me disconnect. Running is usually in there somewhere, but the rest of the day goes better if I leave it more unstructured since I am a very structured person.

Tonya: We’re talking about something that is very much a western culture problem. We have so much information bombarding us, and people are moving fast. These are things we know, but it’s still hard. We have to really work at rest. I think it’s much more about where we live.

Mark: I think you’re right. The two words coming to mind are doing, which is how our western culture is biased, versus being, which may be found more readily in an eastern culture. We are raised to do, but we are talking about being.

John: Shelly Miller in her book hones in on that quite a bit. There are some things that we do that are okay to do on Sabbath or while resting, but if we forget the need to just be, or have any intentionality to be, we are not getting the full effect of what the commandment is really all about.

Anything else come to mind for you that you have to focus on to maintain balance?

Tonya: My big motto lately is living out of your values. “Does your time, your money, your life reflect that? What’s the evidence in your life that matches what you’re stating?”

Mark: We have to give ourselves permission to do the things that are beneficial and healthy for us. That’s not selfishness. It’s more about recognizing God’s context for wholeness and healthiness requires these things. Because of this, then you are best able to bless others through your service, your creativity, your relationships, your time. The ripple effect cascades through your impact of creating legacy.

John: I’ll add to that the importance of giving yourself permission to say no. When you are asked to do things that interfere with your normal rhythm of rest, you need to be okay to say no or make rearrangements so your rest is not put aside. It can be tweaked but shouldn’t be put aside. If you have to say yes to something, where else are you going to say no to create balance.

Mark: The image that comes to mind is putting boundaries around rest, just like we’ve talked about putting boundaries around work.

John: And not to be legalistic. You determine what it is.  You and God work it out.  You know what feeds, restores, and refuels you. So don’t let anything else take that away from you.

Mark: Honor the Sabbath and keep that holy and set apart.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s:

Tonya’s:

John’s:

The Gift of Balance: Rest/Play/Sabbath (Part 1)

(This is part one of the fifth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

John: This topic brings a level of discomfort to most of us.  It’s foreign; we don’t do it well. Those kind of emotions. Does that ring true?

Tonya: It causes you to evaluate. All these conversations have been good for reflection and evaluating. “Where am I?”

John: So thinking through these three words-play/rest/sabbath-what are the differences?

Tonya: My mindset about sabbath has been changing a bit. But they’ve all gone together for me. Sabbath for me has meant I’ve been checked out of work and checked into fun with the family. So when I think about these three, they all intertwine for me.

Mark: When I thought through this I came back to the concept of rest, specifically rest for the mind (play), the body (rest), and the spirit (Sabbath). That encapsulated it for me.

John: That’s helpful because it’s important to know what we mean when we use these words. Just like that simple differentiation was helpful to you, it shows how all these elements are important.

Tonya: I say my views are changing because of the work I’ve been doing with different pastors who have different views. I like that layout also. You have to rest your body.  Playtime can be wonderful and refreshing, but it can also be exhausting physically.  So you have to have time of rest for your body, mind, and emotions, which may all look different.  I’m starting to see Sabbath as more of a personal time that is away from everybody and time with the Lord. That could be an hour in the morning, a whole day sometime in the month. But I’m starting to have a more spiritual approach to the Sabbath idea.

John: In a book I’m reading right now on this subject, the author mentions studies about how the brain requires periods of rest  There is an alternating period needed from structured work followed by unstructured rest. In some people’s minds, Sabbath may be a pretty rigid idea. “There are certain things I must do, or it’s not really Sabbath.” She’s presenting the idea that it can be unstructured, your brain may need it to be unstructured.

Mark: I’m not an expert in the science, but I’ve read enough to know that sleep is so beneficial for your brain. Your brain doesn’t stop; the rest of your body slows down, and your brain has the time to process, organize, and structure thoughts and memories. It’s amazing what your brain is doing while your body is sleeping.  Then there’s also the component of how sleep benefits the rest of your body-your organs, your health, your immune system, and particularly your heart. So that’s sounds a lot like what you’re reading.

John: She talks a lot about rhythm, the need to figure out the rhythm of life that you are wired for, what is physically and spiritually good for you. Ignoring it or not being aware of it is where many people fall into. We may not even understand it is a rhythm that we need.

Tonya: In one of our earlier conversations I referenced a book by Archibold Hart who has written a lot on sleep, how it rejuvenates us and how much sleep we really do need.

Mark:  In that aspect of play, until recently I don’t think I’ve had a full appreciation for play and what that is. My personality tends to be a little more serious, “color inside the lines” kind of thing. I’ve been reminded by articles, things Michael Hyatt has published, about the importance of play in the same way that sleep helps. By unplugging, you tap into creativity, which reminds me of what we used to do as kids. It’s a challenge as adults to reconnect with that in order to get the benefits to the mind and soul, to feed them.

Tonya: Along with that is the idea of laughter.  Laughter is such a healing thing as well. Learning how to laugh and let go of the stresses that we have through work is so powerful and rejuvenating to be able to handle the problems and have creativity.

John: Mark, you mentioned creativity. Since I’ve been back from being on sabbatical the month of October, people have asked me questions like, “Did you get what you needed? Do you feel refreshed?” I’ve answered that the creative juices have been flowing better and more naturally just because I was away from anything that had to do with life in Florida. The space for creativity was created. Taking time on a rhythmic basis is going to help all those juices keep flowing more naturally.

Tonya: The idea of just building in time for fun in your week, even a moment to take a longer drive home or go for walk, and allowing ourselves to do those things without feeling guilty. One of the things for me is to learn to relax and enjoy without feeling guilty.  There’s still a pile of work, but it’s okay because it’s not my work hours and I’m living out of that value. It’s okay to forget it and just relax and have fun without feeling guilty.

Mark: There’s an irony and a tension there.  If you make time for rest, then you can be more efficient, productive, and creative in all the areas of your life.  Whereas we tend to think that “I just need to work more, work through this creative block. I just need to push through it. I don’t have time to sleep because I have a deadline.” That thinking ends up being counterproductive. It’s irony that what we need is the opposite of what we think we should be doing.

John: As you say that, my immediate thought goes to napping. I’ve taken the time over the last several years to allow myself to listen to my body. On my day off if I find myself dozing off or having a hard time concentrating, that’s a sign to me to go take a nap and that’s fine. If it lasts thirty minutes or an hour, whatever.  I don’t set an alarm. I wake up when I wake up. That feels congruent with the idea of rhythm. If your body is giving you signs, pay attention.

Mark: What was that like, to give yourself permission to do that when you first started?

John: When I woke up, it felt fantastic. But I realized I don’t have a routine about this, and I’m going to give myself the permission to do this whenever and however often my body tells me it needs it.

Tonya: What this brings me back to is that rest and Sabbath looks different for everybody. The key is that you’re resting; you’re finding those times that you’re resting your body and your mind, having moments where you can laugh and not living under serious or heavy emotions all the time.

John: These thoughts are giving me flashbacks to growing up in the South in the 70’s. The culture definitely was built around the idea that there were things you don’t do on Sundays, like shopping or playing sports. Well, that didn’t mean when I became a teenager with my driver’s license that I always obeyed the rules; I’d find ways to get around them and observe rest a little differently, like going to play tennis. So yeah, it’s going to be different, and giving yourself the permission to figure that out is huge.

Tonya: I think even permission for your family. This goes back to what we talked about last week, finding the balance between legalism and letting them find it out. I have a son who is moving all the time, and to ask him to do nothing on a Sunday would have been just pure torture for him.

Mark: My upbringing was not too different. Sunday was mostly at home, couldn’t go out and ride my bike; at the time I felt really trapped inside the house. With some time and reflection, I realized that my parents were basically creating space for themselves to rest physically. That left me wondering, “My experience was this, and what does Sabbath look like in this New Testament, post-Jesus context?” 

 

 

Church Idols

(A post for the church-going reader)

We have idols. Some we know and hear sermons about. Some we don’t recognize or acknowledge and hear fewer if any sermons about. Before I list four of these and suggest how to address them, here’s how I’m defining an idol.

Oxford gives two definitions for idol:

  1. an image of a god, used as an object of worship.
  2. A person or thing that is the object of intense admiration or devotion…

My definition uses the second of Oxford’s with a few caveats.

  1. …which may tempt me to develop anger, gossip, slander, argue, or vilify.
  2. …which may cause division in my family or my church.
  3. …which may disrupt my worship in a church service.
  4. …which may be the source of spiritual attack.

A complete list of these idols would be longer, but here are four of these idols that are continually present in our churches.

  • Translation preferences-if you are disturbed if someone reads from a different translation than you prefer in any setting, this may be an idol of yours.
  • Preaching style preferences-if you are disturbed if a preacher’s style of speaking is other than you prefer or you sit in judgment regardless who is speaking, this may be an idol of yours.
  • Music style preferences-if you are disturbed by the song choices for a worship service and resist engaging with the rest of the congregation, this may be an idol of yours.
  • Leadership preferences-if you are disturbed by the leadership style of a staff member because they lead differently than another past or present staff member, this may be an idol of yours.

We all have dealt with and observed these idols both personally and corporately. For those of us who deal more directly with them on both of these fronts, I offer these suggestions:

  • Read from various translations in your own study time. Open your heart to the truths found in God’s Word regardless of the translation methodology.
  • Give grace to the following aspects of God’s work through a human being: their experience(s), their personality, their humanity, their gifts, their calling, their struggles, their uniqueness. Open your heart to the truths found in God’s Word regardless of someone’s speaking style.
  • Recognize your opportunity to engage music as you choose seven days a week. Open your heart for the short window of time during the worship service where you are not in charge of the choices and allow yourself to engage with the body of Christ.
  • Pray for your leaders. Spend time with your leaders. Accept that God moves leaders in and out of ministry locations. Resist the temptation to compare and grip unfair expectations. Open your heart to God’s work in this season of all the people in your church.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

The Gift of Balance: Marriage and Singleness (Part 2)

(This is part two of the fourth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are suggested resources on this topic.)

John: Besides making decisions together and balancing giving and getting, what other commitments are their between you and your spouse?

Tonya: The hard and fast commitment to the Lord is certainly there. But I also believe in the strong commitment to grace and forgiveness. You are going to hurt each other; it’s part of human nature. So a commitment to give each other grace and to forgive is very important as well.

John:  Does that get easier?

Tonya:  We’ve been married over 25 years. I do feel like we’ve found a certain rhythm. It’s interesting though, because it feels like we are coming back to the beginning-getting into emptynesting.  We spent the first five years without children, so we had a lot of time together to hangout and be spontaneous. Now we are getting back to that. Parenting for us had different stressors because we saw the world so differently. So now flexing that muscle is a little easier.

Mark: I wish I could say it’s gotten easier for us. I still resist the apology.  In fact, in some ways I’m more quick to give apologies to my kids than to my spouse.  I don’t know what that is. My wife is always so graceful and forgiving. You would think with all the mistakes I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had to apologize that it would get easier, yet there is still that resistance like, “I don’t won’t to have to admit that I made a mistake, that I could be wrong in this situation.”  All those things are me, not really the relationship. Maybe that’s more rough edges that still need to be smoothed out. We both recognize the importance of it and offer it fairly freely to each other, but it’s the coming to ask for it part that still requires swallowing the pride and just apologize.

Tonya: I wouldn’t say that’s been an easier thing for either of us either, but it’s amazing how much better it feels when you do it. It’s so freeing but so hard to do. It’s true for a lot of people. It’s hard to humble ourselves. It’s probably even harder for those of us in helping professions. We are supposed to know better. For me it was, I mean come on, I’m the therapist.  I’m supposed to do everything right. That’s just not the case.  We’re all human.  We’re all going to have issues. My favorite saying has always been, “Everybody has issues and the one who says they don’t have issues is a liar and that’s one of their issues. “ Acknowledging that is not always easy.

John: I know when forgiveness is challenging for me-not to ask for it but to give it-what I’ve learned about myself revolves around my expectations. Number one, I have unmet expectations of that person. Number two, my expectations were mine, they weren’t theirs. A lot of times I made up the expectations; we never talked about it, and they didn’t live up to it. All of that right there is on me. And the more I can look at it, “This is more your fault than their fault. You’re going to need to work on your own perception of them and lower it,” there’s where the grace comes in. I have to work at looking at them the same way God does.  I can’t have a higher standard than he does.

My challenge has been more about giving the forgiveness than asking for it, for that reason, which is a very judgmental perception.  I grew up with that, so it’s innate in me. I’m very quick to judge, very quick to create unagreed-upon expectations. Those are my things I have to deal with, not theirs.  And I’ve learned I need to say that to them. “I created an expectation here that we didn’t talk about, and we didn’t agree upon.  I am sorry for doing that.” And for me, by the time you get to that stage, I’ve usually totally forgotten about the thing that I was irritated by. “I don’t even remember what we are upset about here.” The core issue is that our relationship is built on some shifting sand.

Tonya: Expectations are huge. I love that my husband’s first question when I brought this up to him was, “What do you mean by balance?” Our expectations may be different. I think we have to talk through our expectations. “What does vacation look like? What does time together look like?” Not clarifying that is a big issue and gets a lot of people.

Mark:  The antidote to that is just communication.  And not just communication like what’s on the to-do list, but deeper communication. Going deeper into other issues is critical and healthy, and will relieve some of the pressure of these unmet expectations.  Creating the dialogue where you can talk about it is how relationships grow.  It’s critical.

Tonya: Communication is the number one thing that couples come into counseling for.  They say, “We need to improve our communication,” which usually means, “We fight alot.” There’s that balance of understanding we are different and we communicate differently. I like to tell the story of me and my husband.  I have a lot of words and he has very few.  So when I would ask him questions, I had to learn to be quiet, bite my tongue, and sit for a long time because it would take him a while to formulate the words he wanted to share. I had to learn patience. He didn’t talk like my dad; my dad’s a talker.  My husband is not. So I had to learn to accept him for who he is and give him that room.

John: So how has communication grown from when your first were married to now, twenty years later?

Tonya: In order to communicate well you have to make time.  The idea you can have quality relationship without quantity is just false.  You have to make time.  This comes back to how you balance time in your marriage.  I like the work of Joyce and Cliff Penner.  They talk a lot about the intimacy in a marriage.  They say that you need to have some eye-to-eye contact every day, whether that is hugging, embracing, even if it is just for a few minutes together.  They are also committed to praying together. So they focus on spiritual, emotional, and physical contact every day. They talk also about weekly time as a couple. I tell the couples I’m working with to find at least two to three hours a week that is just them.  Then that talk about once a quarter getting away together for a full day, then they talk about once a year going on a vacation just the two of you.  All those things are super important.  Time together helps build that communication.

Mark:  I asked my wife for her thoughts on this topic last night, and she came back to a couple of things that have been present with us.  The first is being intentional, which is exactly what you’re saying.  That’s a word that we use all the time, sometimes as a reminder, sometimes as an encourager. The other thing she said was more comical.  She said, “Remember when our kids were toddlers, and we couldn’t even communicate in complete sentences because of getting interrupted by screams, or something on the floor, or food flying across the table?  We couldn’t get a sentence out without being interrupted.”  That was difficult, but it comes back to being intentional to maintain the balance. Now the difficulty is it’s just different. As you progress through life together, the needs change.  Now we need to steal away together because our kids are older, they stay up later, and there’s not as many quiet places in the house that we can go.  It just changes, and you have to be able to dance with it.

Tonya: Those young years are some of the hardest and have the biggest strain on a marriage. I have vivid memories of my husband walking in the door from work, and all three of us being on the floor crying. Those were tough days. We also didn’t have the financial means to get away. But the intentionality was being there together. He came home, took over, gave me a break, and we were together in the kitchen with kids on our feet. Finding those moments in those years is possible.

Mark: The thought I have always used is maintaining a relationship is a lot like exercise. It doesn’t happen on its own.  If you don’t do it, you atrophy.  If you are doing it, you have to keep it up.  It’s not a one-and-done thing.

Tonya: I want to reemphasize the power of commitment. My parents were divorced multiple times along with other family members; that was my example. My husband comes from a family with no divorces.  So we made a commitment that divorce was not an option. Leaving was off the table.

John: Mark, when you compare this to exercise, I immediately think of goal setting.  So, I’m curious if goal setting is helpful, and how do you do it if it is.

Mark: That hasn’t been part of our equation. It is a little bit how we are wired.  For us it comes back to two things.  Number one, we were and are best friends. We had a long dating period and were able to develop a friendship that is just phenomenal. We’ve continued to maintain that friendship.  There is a natural desire and draw because of the depth of the friendship.  The other thing is going back to the commitment and intentionality of making this work.  We recognize that if we don’t there could be pretty tragic consequences, and we don’t want that.  We don’t want to let it get to the point that it’s on life support either; then it’s not benefiting either of us.

Tonya: I don’t know if it’s a goal or not, but we made the decision that we were going to be first. We were not only going to be able to say our priorities but walk our priorities. In the last five years, maybe we have some unwritten goals. We’ve talked about life after kids, things we’d like to do. Travel is a big things for both of us, so how do we set our finances up for that to happen. Neither of us relish the idea of retiring and setting around the house all day; that’ll never happen. My husband has some vision for mission work and different things, so those are goals to set up life that we haven’t necessarily sat down and written it out on paper.

Mark: One last thing about this topic I’d like to bring up is space for “me time.”  I’ve become more aware of this importance. It maybe more personality driven, but I definitely need time away from the kids and my spouse. It can take various forms in order for me to recharge, reset, unplug from some of the responsibilities. Recognizing and taking the opportunity helps maintain balance.

John: I’ve always maintained as a single person and in talking with other singles who may not be happy in their singles status, “If you can’t be happy in this status, I’m not so sure you’re going to be happy in a marital one. You better be able to figure out how to be happy in this state so you don’t bring stuff into a marriage that doesn’t need to be there.” 

Tonya: Figuring out what “me time” looks like is key.  I remember asking my husband, “Is there a night a week I can go away and do something that I would like to do?” And the same for him. That was important and gave us something to look forward to.

John: That relates to something I wanted to bring out from a singleness versus couple basis. I believe single people have to come to terms with living life outside of the expectations they believe others have of them to be like. I had to really work on it, and probably didn’t find the balance until about ten years ago, my late thirties. I finally stopped saying yes to things out of the mindset that an invitation to something meant I had to do it. Just because I may come across to some people as an extrovert doesn’t mean I am one and therefore must be one or continuously function as one. That took me a while, and I’m going to guess it probably takes single people longer than married couples. They don’t have to deal with this challenge under their roof.  I can do what I want at home and don’t have to figure this out with my spouse. A couple is forced into figuring this out. A single person is going to be much more balanced if they just own who they are and not try to live in the mindset, “Everybody expects me to do this, so I must need to do this.”

Tonya: It comes back to that expectation thing again. So we all have to get to that place of living for an audience of one.  How do we put God first?  We’re all constantly learning and growing in that area.  You’re right, I think it is more of a challenge for a single person.  My husband who is an introvert and has to have time away, I can notice when he’s getting frazzled.  I can say, “It seems you need a little break here.” We can see that in each other.  A single person has to monitor that on your own.  Of course, the Holy Spirit can speak to you and help you be okay with the possibility of someone being mad at you for not meeting their expectations.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s

Tonya’s

 

 

The Gift of Balance: Marriage and Singleness (Part 1)

(This is part one of the fourth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

Mark: When you think of maintaining balance in a marriage, the initial thing that may come to mind is relationship.

John: It seems there are two things to consider. One, what do you individually have to do to bring balance to the relationship.  Second, how does the couple work together to keep balance in check.

Tonya: One of the things that I remember probably halfway through my marriage was a moment when I felt God spoke to me to tell me that as a couple you don’t complete each other; you compliment each other. God completes us. He’s the lover of our soul. We can’t find that in our spouse.  But we can compliment each other, help each other grow.  So I remember that moment when he made it clear to me that when I walk closer with him and stay intimate with him, I actually don’t need as much from my husband. I still want closeness and intimacy, but when I’m close with the Lord I’m not trying to get things from my husband that he can’t give me anyway.

John: That reminds me of the triangle/pyramid illustration for marriage you’ve probably both seen where the two in the marriage are at the bottom on either end and God is at the top.  The more the two work toward God the closer you are together.

Mark: I just literally drew that on my notes.

John:  As simple as that is, it seems to be an easy tool to evaluate where I am working toward God as a person and also how we are working together toward him.

Tonya:  That speaks to singles also.  If God is first and the lover of our souls, then it brings peace to those who maybe are in transition and not wanting to be single that they are still whole and complete.  They don’t need a spouse to complete them.

I remember my dad used to use the picture of a coffee cup to illustrate it.  The cup is full of the Lord, and everything else is on the rim.  So if it falls off, it’s not that it won’t be painful, like if you lose your spouse or kids, but you can survive if your cup is full of the Lord. That’s always stuck with me-keeping the cup full with God first.

Mark: In order to have a healthy marriage, you really have to see yourself as healthy and whole first and not seeing all your needs met in the other person but in God. There is nuance and tension between relationship and companionship. It’s foundational to not look at the other person as meeting all your needs, or you’re going to be disappointed.

Tonya:  Because no person is capable of that.

John:  In light of being a married person, what’s different that you have to keep in check in your relationship with God?

Tonya: I’ve been writing a series on preventing leadership exhaustion and just recently wrote on marriage. To be married and have children, it does take more focus and energy, so it’s a little harder. When I was single and just met my husband, I was on top of the world spiritually and had no interest in dating. But when you fall in love, it becomes more challenging to make sure you’re still nurturing your time with the Lord.  You have to work at that a little bit more. You have to work at finding that balance for your time alone as well as your time together. You have to learn how to grow and encourage each other together.

My husband and I are as different as night and day, literally. The way he walks out his faith is very different than me. So how do you do that together? Finding that can be a challenge.

Mark:  I agree. From a different angle, there is an opportunity in a marriage to more deeply grasp what is means to love unconditionally. In this work you’re talking about, there are many opportunities to love this other person. By love I mean way beyond the emotion and feeling.  It’s the service, sacrifice, and action of unconditionally loving this companion.  Sometimes it’s easier than others, but it’s always front and center. You get this tangible opportunity to love this person in the way that Jesus loves us. I’m not sure that is about balance as much as it the difference between being single and being married and the opportunity it presents in what it means to love someone.

Tonya: Sacrificially.

John: Tonya, referring back to your “everything on your plate” exercise you talked about last week, the plate just looks different. There’s more on the plate-another person, kids come along-your plate is just different. There’s more on it, so the balance is keeping a healthy relationship with God based on what’s currently on my plate.

Tonya:  One of the things I’ve done since then has to do with a bull’s eye.  God is in the center, then your spouse, then your children, then your friendships, and then your ministry.  When I would teach pastors I would ask, “How do you do ministry starting with God and moving through your marriage, and then also back in?” The idea is that you don’t just make your own decisions.  They have to go through God, your spouse, your children.  It has to be right for your family first, then out through your ministry. But that’s for all of us in all the things that we do.

When I asked my husband about this, one of the things he said was that we make decisions together. So we make big decisions together-work decisions, moving decisions.  They take time and money, and impact everybody. So many of the leaders I work with have trouble grasping the impact of their decisions on their whole family. So this idea of using the bull’s eye was a different way to help them see it.

Mark: That’s an excellent point of being on the same page. Tonya, you and your husband are different.  My wife and I are very similar, so it’s fairly natural for us to be together on a decision and think the same way. That comes very easy.  For others who have differing personalities, it may be harder but it’s not less important.

Tonya: For sure, and I would not have any clue in how to just flow in a situation like that because we totally see the world through completely different lenses.  But you are right, so one of the things it comes back to is commitment. We made a commitment that means something; we meant it. When decisions have been harder, we’ve come back to our commitment to our vows, to taking the time to work it out. A lot of couples fall apart in those moments. “You don’t see it my way.”  They start to fall apart because they don’t have that strong commitment.

Mark: The picture coming to my mind is the balance between giving and getting in a relationship.  A commitment from both sides makes that easier. It’s harder to do when you feel like you’re the only one fighting. If both people work to be about giving first before getting, it’s like the oil that just makes the machine work better. The machine may break down at times, but the oil provides the lubrication when the friction comes when you are doing life together. Staying focused on the giving part first makes it more likely you’ll get the things you need out of the relationship as well.

Tonya: That’s right. When you are focused on giving and giving, your spouse will most of the time turn around and give back. You’ll get what you want when your heart is to give.  It’s that upside down thing we talked about before.  God’s kingdom is not the way the world’s kingdom is.

The Gift of Balance: Work (Part 2)

(This is part two of the third topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are some suggested resources on this topic.)

Mark: One challenging mindset for balance at work revolves around the idea of wealth/power/status. That can lead to this lifestyle trap of debt and maintaining income to maintain a certain status. I can’t tell you the number of times that I saw people motivated to work extra hard because that’s what they were chasing.  But when they got there, they started chasing the next thing. To pull back from this chase, it would mean significant changes in their lifestyle.

Tonya: I’m wondering if that’s a deeper level of need for people to understand their values. Helping people understand their values and what it means to live out of them may be more challenging in the corporate setting.

John: Two words coming to me here are worth and success. Where are we looking for our worth, and what is the perception of success. “Is success what goes along with my values or is it based on something I’m chasing after that I don’t even know what it is or when I’m going to get there? I’m just following the flow.”

Mark: Being clear on your why is part of the practical step of maintaining balance. Sometimes it takes a little imbalance to remind you of your why. Or sometimes you have to go through something to realize this isn’t what you wanted. Values clarification can help define healthy balance and maintaining that.

Tonya: I’m always marveled by the fact that God’s ways are backwards and upside down from what we believe in the world.  When we put his values first, that may mean scaling back on work hours or spending more time in relations.  The world may say, “No way. You’re never going to build a business that way.”  Then God comes and blesses our taking steps back. I’m not trying to paint a picture it’s all good and roses, but God’s ways are much easier than what the world puts on us.

John: You just reminded me of a book called Upside Down Devotion. The point of the book was that we often don’t realize we are caught up in a thought that God doesn’t want us to be thinking or pursuing.

Mark: That plays along with another mindset regarding peer pressure to keep up with the Jones’s.  It’s a challenge sometimes to be comfortable and confident to know your identity enough to say, “I’m going to do things different than the world does, and I don’t care.”  That’s not a one-and-done decision.  It is a struggle to live according to the kingdom’s economics versus the world’s economics.

John: We can be drawn into trying to be someone that we are not. The struggle is similar to what Paul wrote about struggling between what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. We may find ourselves in this struggle until someone may smack us upside the head, maybe God, and says, “You’re trying to be somebody that I don’t intend for you to be.  That’s not even who you are. Why are you trying to do something that I didn’t design you to do?”

Tonya: I think it keeps coming back to knowing who we are, what are our gifts and passions.  They change too, through the years. You’re right, we do keep recalibrating. But getting our value in who God says we are is key. My husband and I are going through this time where we are tempted to come up with all the answers for college costs.  We are being reminded God is here and is in control. It’s a continuing growth and rebalancing.

Mark: I’ve been learning recently just how different we all are. Balance for one person could be working a paying job 20 hours a week and give the rest of their time to other pursuits. Someone else could be working 60-70 hours a week and still be in balance because of how they’re wired and driven and their circumstances. Balance is not a static definition, not a one size fits all. It’s a flow in life that we should all be evaluating and trying to achieve based on who we are, how God has called us and wired us, and what our circumstances are.

John: I like that because I’ve seen a lot of staff members wrestle with this for various reasons. Just because another person can work 50 hours and look like they could work 50 more doesn’t mean you have to work like that. And depending on your season of life, single or married, it’s going to shift, and that’s okay. Another thought is along the line of what you both are doing, and that’s moving into a new direction in your career. You better have your values straight or you’re going to crash and burn.

So not to miss this, one of my temptations that I’ve struggled with over the years is to not allow myself to be looking toward the next thing-the next job or ministry. If I was going through a rough season, I’d appease myself by going and looking at all the job postings out there and maybe even throw resumes around just to see what would happen. Often that was just to make myself feel good, not because the Holy Spirit told me to do it. The idea of staying present through the difficult and challenging times is balance.

Tonya: Both of your comments ring true with my heart. I’m also the, “We’ve been here for eight years. Let’s pull out. Let’s go.” The same thing with careers. “This is awesome, but I’ve got a few other ideas I’d like to try out.” Mark, it also flows from that I have lots of energy. I had to ask myself questions like, “Tonya, you could do a lot of things, but what does that do to your family?” When I got married and had children, my personal balance had to change based on how it impacted them. I had to slow down to live in my choices. I’ve looked at it as seasons from raising my kids to now they don’t need me so much and I have more time to do other things. In that time I had to reevaluate. Adding people into our life requires us to stop and recalibrate. I could probably do the 50-60 hours of work as a single person, but it would have impacted my relationships negatively. So one way to gauge this is to ask, “Is my spouse hurting? Are my kids getting enough of me?” For me, this required me setting a schedule, a very specific schedule that helped me stick with it.

Mark: What I hear in there is being clear on your values. What you said was, “I am making my children and my family a priority, and here is how I’m going to find balance for this season.” You are illustrating the use of boundaries, how far can work go into your non-work life. Like technology for instance. It makes it very easy for you to bring work home with you. There is the expectation because of access to email or work that you are always on demand. Is that okay with your boundaries? Spending time determining your boundaries and being willing to defend them is difficult but practical to maintaining the balance you are seeking.

Tonya: I remember when the kids were young and I started homeschooling having to learn to leave the cell phone in the bedroom or leave it off. That phone can be an amazing tool and an amazing distractor. People today have to really work on that one. All of us grew up in an era where we didn’t have that. We managed then; why do we feel like we can’t now? For me, along with this is focus on time, knowing what distracts, especially since I’m working from home now.

John: Going down that thought of time at home, when I feel most balanced is when my morning has good margin before I even leave the house. Like if I’m running that morning and I’ve planned to run for an hour, do I leave myself enough margin after showering and eating so that I’m not just running out the door? If that’s true, then I’ve started my day all about me. Even though I’m doing a good thing by exercising, where’s God at the beginning of my day? I can get caught up in that quite easily. I don’t have to worry about getting the kids ready for school, or there’s five people trying to use one bathroom. I still have to make sure the margin of time I give myself before I even go to work has my mind ready by inviting God into the day.

Mark: So starting your day with your key priority in mind.

John: Right. That flows from my values.

Mark: That’s an interesting and different take on balance. Instead of only defining balance as working too much, you’ve brought into the conversation that balance is also about making sure that we make time for other important things, in your case, your time with God.

John: And I say that because I’ve played around with that. Do I do that in the morning, is it at work, is it in the evening, again, because I can. Not being a morning person by nature, I used to be very sarcastic and harsh toward people who said they couldn’t start their day without their time with God. And I realized that was something God was telling me. “You’ve put me in a box over here. You’ve determined when you are going to spend time with me. Get over yourself. Your day is going to go better if you do start it with me.” That was a strong shift that I personally had to make. When I maintain it, I show up better to the office.

Tonya: Same thing for me. I had to realize for me I had to start my day with God. In that book Emotionally Healthy Leader, he talked about the daily office. That challenged me too. He talks about having that time again 15 minutes at lunchtime to refocus through scripture. I like that because you can have an amazing time with God in the morning and forget all about him by 1 o’clock. That’s a practice I’m working on.

I also love what you said on margin. I live in California, and people are crazy. Every time you get on the highway, people are going way too fast, just racing and racing. They have no margin, which is critical to balance in your whole life and to having peace of mind.

Mark: If you know you’re out of balance and need to do something drastic, you have to be willing and to allow yourself to believe there is another way. A real practical solution is to initiate change by walking away from the imbalance, seek a different circumstance or scenario that would give you that margin, that balance, the ability to reset, to hit the reboot button and start over, to clarify what’s important and put in the boundaries and structure and routine to help maintain that.

John: What you just described is someone that could benefit from a mentor or a coach. They may not know how to pursue what you just described on their own. Who are the people in their life or people they may need to hire to speak into their life to help them make that change happen. Another thought on that same line is to look at mentoring someone themselves, someone who is younger or newer in their field. Our investing in other people keeps us accountable to our own balance. When we talk to others about their balance, it challenges us about ours. Talking about balance, whether it’s to someone I’ve hired or someone I’m speaking into their life, is good, self-imposed accountability.

Tonya: I started doing something a while back that worked for me. I’d take a paper plate and write down “everything on my plate.” And then I would ask the Lord, “What is on this plate that is not from you? It might be good, but it’s distracting me from what you want.” That was a good way to cross off those things that weren’t coming from him.

Mark: One of the books I appreciate and have found recently is Essentialism. The tagline is the disciplined pursuit of less, but better. It’s the idea that just because something is good doesn’t mean it is beneficial for you to be doing or it is yours to do. There is this myth that we can do everything, we can do it all and should. It takes a large amount of self-awareness and courage to step away, admit being out of balance, and to let go of something that’s good for something better.

John: What you’re both describing is the need to walk in a listening mode. We have to be open and not defensive when we hear a nudge from the Holy Spirit. Stop and check the validity of it. We have to allow the Holy Spirit to tell us when to stop, to say whatever he needs to say. Our hearts have to be open and ready to receive and do the action that he tells us to do on a daily basis.

Tonya: Yep. Being FAT-Flexible, Adaptable, and Teachable.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s

Tonya’s

John’s

The Gift of Balance: Work (Part 1)

(This is part one of the third topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. We talked in and out of two thoughts, so this entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

Mark: I believe work is beneficial and important, but it isn’t a separated secular and sacred thing that our Christian community has made it out to be. Work isn’t the end all to be all, so the balance is valuing it correctly.

Tonya: Everybody benefits from work.  You feel better about yourself, and scripture backs that up.  My perspective on my work is that it is my calling and ministry. I feel passionate about it and called to do it. Even so, it’s not what gives me value. My work flows out of my “being,” who I am in Christ.  So my work gives me satisfaction as it flows from that place.

John: So is the question how to have balance or how to avoid being unbalanced?

Tonya: I think they flow together. My work is my calling, but there are those who think their work is their means to provide for their families and they don’t connect it with a calling. Colossians 3:23 helps us, whether we see work as a calling or a means to provide, to approach it as unto the Lord. Finding satisfaction in that is important.

John: One way I believe we can get unbalanced in our work is by compartmentalizing life in such a way that we leave God out of our work life, like you were suggesting Mark. For the person who hasn’t grabbed a hold of the fact that God is with us 24/7 and cares about all details of our lives, it’s a challenge to stay balanced because God isn’t acknowledged in all areas of life. He doesn’t have full access. That’s a temptation.

Mark: I see two tempting thoughts there. There’s the “I don’t know how or I don’t want God in my work area of my life.  I’ll keep him contained to my religious area.” The other aspect has to do with understanding the idea of sacred versus secular, like Tonya was talking about.  Maybe that distinction is a myth, and we just need to go do what God has given us to do with the skills we have. Regardless of what that is, it’s opportunity that we don’t have to describe as sacred versus secular.

Tonya: That’s makes me think of Brother Lawrence who talks about being in the presence of God even while he’s washing dishes in the monastery. How do we give God glory in whatever our work is? I think you’re right in saying we as the church have led that in the wrong way with the idea that if you’re called to ministry it looks one way.  We are all called to ministry. What does that mean in your everyday work life?

Mark: That leads into a thought that if we view something as “God’s work,” we can do it 24/7 and get out of balance because it is my calling, it’s sacred. That’s not healthy and particularly in the scenario of when it leads to neglecting your spouse, children or other key relationships. That’s a temptation people can fall into.

John: Is that a misdirection of someone trying to find their identity and worth and using this work as a deflection?

Mark: That’s certainly part of it. They can also be taking on too much responsibility for accomplishing God’s purpose and trying to own too much of it. Other important things in life suffer detriment.

Tonya: I see this happen a lot with the pastors I work with. I think it comes from a misguided understanding of priorities. Every minister can spout out the priorities of God>family>ministry, but their practices don’t always match. There is a confusion between what is my time with God and what I do for God.

I like where this is going because if we go back to what was said at the beginning, a well-defined idea of work will help us across the board. If the most important thing is to understand who we are in Christ first, then what we do comes out of our being. Whether we are a pastor, a doctor, or a garbage collector, everything we are doing is under God’s glory. Our work isn’t where we find our value or who we are. The work flows from who we are. I can’t work to the point I’m neglecting important relationships, my body, or my personal time with God. So for me as someone building a coaching practice, I have to set my hours ahead of time. Otherwise I will allow clients to dictate my schedule. That wouldn’t be good stewardship and balance.

John: This circles around the mentality, “it all rests on me.” Someone can take the savior mentality that the success of the company or ministry is all on them and they have to make it happen. That imbalance is another way of squeezing God out.

Tonya: Like in our coaching practices, “I have to build this. I have to make this happen.”

John: And subtly, we don’t even recognize that we are doing it.  There’s a check on who’s running the ship. “How much control do I have or should I not even try to have?”

Mark: There’s a phrase that I read a while back that has stuck with me. “Do what is yours to do and trust God to do the rest.” We can only do so much. Coming to that conclusion is easier for some than others, but if we simply do what is ours to do and trust God to do the rest, then it’s more likely to work out the way he wants it to work out. It may or may not be what we had laid out, but it will be more aligned with his plan and purpose.

Grace Equality

When we read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we come across his teaching on prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer.  There is a lot to learn from that section of the sermon.

One of those subjects is forgiveness. When we pray “forgive us as we forgive,” I’m not sure we fully appreciate the level of forgiveness in that thought. And I’m pretty confident we fail to appreciate the amount of grace it requires.

One test we can administer to check our personal understanding of grace is found in this question: Do I give others the same amount of grace that I give myself?

For example, when we decide to give ourselves grace to eat whatever we want for the 96 hours of Thanksgiving, do we give that same grace to others we observe eating whatever they choose for one meal at the “all you can eat” special on a random day in August? Or when someone messes up on the job, do we give them the same amount of grace that we give ourselves when we mess up?

Taking this a step further in the direction of Jesus’ teaching, what if we practiced giving grace at the level we have received it?  He taught more about this in another passage recorded by Matthew, chapter 18. Verses 21-35 tell the story of a guy who was forgiven a $100,000 debt, yet he wouldn’t forgive a $10 debt showing he didn’t know how to give grace even though he had received it. ALERT: This guy had a grace equality problem!

Not sure about your grace equality? Try test number two. When’s the last time you had to work really hard to give grace to someone?  Compare that to the last time you gave yourself grace and that difficulty level. What’s the gap between the two and what’s it going to take to close it?

Here’s a suggested addition to your daily prayer: “Father, thank you for your endless grace. Deepen my understanding of it. Grow my grace equality.”

The Gift of Balance: Family & Parenting (Part 3)

 (This is the final part for the second topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance was appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. In this final part we address one question. At the end of this entry, there are some suggested resources on this subject.)

How long into your parenting life did it take for you to feel like you’d found balance and what were the signs?

Tonya: For us that journey started when we were still serving in ministry. My husband was working for the church and the district at the same time-part time money at full time hours. So he had come home from work, gobbled down dinner, and was heading out for a church meeting. My son was playing with his dump truck outside in the dirt. When my husband came out the door to leave, he said, “Where are you going, daddy?” He said, “I have a church meeting, son.” And my son stood up and threw his dump truck to the ground and with all the anger he could muster he said, “I hate church!” Both of us were dumbfounded. We said, “No. No more. We’re unbalanced. This is the last thing we want him to feel.”

One of the things we started doing was setting a six-month calendar. The church would set one, so we’d have a family meeting to set our schedule before the meeting for the church calendar happened. My husband would take it into the staff meeting in order to say no where he needed to say no. We made it a priority that our family was going to come before the church calendar.

Mark: From our standpoint, we had a pretty clear philosophy on being family-centric, not being overly committed to activities out of the home. I feel like we answered that question early on. It’s fluid though, and we’ve made adjustments along the way. But I’m going to take this along a different direction. 

One area of parenting that we still haven’t solved is technology and devices. We have taken a very conservative view on the spectrum. We are also a homeschool family, so traditional pressures aren’t as strong for us. But I can’t say we’ve landed well on this subject. This is something that I feel like my wife and I have been chasing from the beginning and are always chasing balance.

Tonya: I’m with you on that. We were able to stay away from it longer than others also by being homeschoolers. For example, they didn’t get phones until they were older. But I’m also married to an IT director, so technology is all over our house in every form imaginable. So this was a battle in our marriage where we had to work out balance with each other. I was harder on the limits we needed to have, and he was more about teaching them how to handle it because this is the world now. That was rough. They were exposed to things by being on the hockey teams, so we had to do a lot of teaching, a lot of talking and accountability. My husband took the lead with the boys, “Let’s take a look at what your looking at on your phones and iPads. Let’s take a look and talk about it.” 

I don’t know if you know, but the Boundaries book was updated. Henry Cloud was at a conference I was at recently, and he said that book was updated with a chapter on boundaries on technology. I haven’t got it yet, but I want to get it to see what they say with that. It’s a hard one, a new world we are dealing with. The other thing, Mark, is we are fighting against an enemy in this area. There are apps being created to get around parent’s control. Kids can send each other messages, but they disappear within a few seconds and can’t be traced. Another thing my husband taught the boys is that everything they put out there is always going to be out there. You need to think about everything you say and do; you no longer have control the minute you hit send. That was real important to help them understand that.

Mark: That’s such a hard concept for teenagers to understand. They are in their prime of life, enjoying these freedoms and social interactions where one little discretion is out there forever with implications in hiring decisions and choices down the road, like we’ve seen dug up for political purposes. This has been a challenge for us, for sure.

Tonya: Absolutely. And also teaching them that a relationship by text message is not really a relationship. We can all be our fake self. We had that with our youngest. He learned a hard lesson after texting a lot with a young lady who turned out to not be at all what he thought. I had to explain to him that you can be a fantasy person in a text message. Until you meet somebody face to face, they may not be the same person. 

Mark: That’s another component of the technology piece-not losing the face to face interaction, real depth of relationship. Nothing replaces face to face whether that is a romantic relationship or with an authority figure where you are teaching them to make eye contact and shake hands, basic skills of manners. There’s been that balance of accepting and embracing technology while navigating how to manage the consequences of what it brings.

Tonya: I’m curious, John, how this works for you as a single person. How easy is it to flip into not having the face to face?

John: Oh, that’s very easy. And the younger generation needs awareness of how easy it is because it’s all they know. They need guidance from older people who that’s not all they know. One thing coming to my mind on this topic is input and output. As a single person, at times I find myself needing to check the quantity and quality of my intake. Along the thought of when did I start paying attention to this, I remember dealing with this when the sitcom Will & Grace first came on. I thought the writing and everything was really good, but the more I watched it the more I realized the intake was not healthy. It may be funny, but it’s laying the foundation for something that does not match my values. So I had a little self conversation, “Yeah, you like this show, but you’re not going to watch this anymore.” A single person either has to develop those self-disciplines or have someone else speaking into their lives challenging their input. Their have been seasons in my home where I have purposefully taken a fast for a lengthy time from the Internet or TV to do some corrective action but also to just unplug, create an exercise to test my balance on what I’m bringing in and how it plays into what I give off.

Tonya: I remember a pastor of ours challenging us several years ago to take a fast from TV for a few weeks and see what happens when you resume watching. He said what happens is you get desensitized. When you take a fast from it, you then can see what you didn’t see before. We were very big on what you put in matters. I always told my boys, “I’m not going to tell you what kind of music you can listen to. But if you cannot talk to the Lord in the middle of your song, something’s not right with the song.” So that’s a big piece, understanding intake absolutely has an influence on your output.

John: Another viewpoint for singles is the trap of escapism. You can find yourself deep in a hole using these avenues to escape something. If you can get ahold of that awareness, there’s where you’re going to find balance. Getting that awareness of why you do what you do when you’re at home is a big deal. Ask yourself, “Why am I watching what I’m watching?”

Tonya: I like the input/output thought. One of my clients made the comment about he always watches the Raiders, “I just watch one game.” But the output issue just came back to me. He said, “You know what? I got so angry at the end of the game I threw something across the room and yelled. My kids were scared, and I realized, whoa, what’s going on here that’s created so much emotion in me?” So, is it entertainment, is it a family thing, is it fun, or is there something more going on there? So that input/output is good. I like that.

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