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:

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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: 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

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.”

Proud vs. Plain

(Three brief thoughts from I Peter 5:1-11, The Message)

  • Keep a cool head…proud people get bent out of shape; plain people live carefree.
  • Keep your guard up…proud people believe they’re untouchable; plain people know they’re vulnerable.
  • Keep a firm grip on the faith…proud people are tempted to go it alone; plain people believe that two is better than one.

4 Truths about God’s Promises 

(This post came across my FB feed today from 2015. Based on Joshua 14:6-14.)

Someone should make a movie about Joshua and Caleb. I’ve always imagined they were buds, but who really knows. Not sure if their families shared manna together, but they are linked in the story of their nation.

Here, Caleb illustrates what it means to be totally with God. Not only was he faithful in his task at age 40, he also managed to stick to his guns for 45 more years.

At age 85, he reminds Joshua what happened on their first visit to the land which they now possessed. God spoke to him through Moses that his faithfulness would be rewarded.  Still as strong as at age 40, he was ready to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Through Caleb’s life, we can see these truths about how to live in the light of God’s promise:

  1. God’s promise is worth your lifelong surrender.
  2. God keeps His promises, even if it takes your lifetime.
  3. God’s promise doesn’t give you freedom to do whatever you want while you wait. Remain totally His.
  4. Your family could also live in the light of God’s promise because of your willingness to be totally His. Worth it?

Handicaps 

​If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I’d still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I’ll spare you. I don’t want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you’d encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk. Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

2 Corinthians 12:6‭-‬10 MSG 

I had dinner last night with a guy who has “handicaps.”

  • He has back problems. 
  • His wife battles Crohn’s.
  • He is a bivocational pastor.
  • He has 2 special needs kids.

And that’s his present. There’s more in the past.

Yet, he said throughout our talk, “God has used adversity to mature me, to deepen my relationship with him. I wouldn’t want to repeat any of it, but I’m thankful for it.”

  • What handicaps/limitations can you learn to take in stride and with good cheer? 
  • What abuse, accidents, bad breaks, or opposition do you need to let God take over? 
  • What could be your strength testimony, your handicap story?

Closers: Own Your Role

(This is the fourth in a series on wisdom from baseball co-written with Mark Stanifer.)

New York Yankees. A lot of people love them. A lot of people don’t. I live just south of Tampa.

Love them or not, their history of great players is remarkable. So much so that they have their own greatest players list that could rival all other teams combined. Google “Yankees Greatest Players,” and you’ll see.

In most of those lists, the name Mariano Rivera appears at least in the top ten, some even higher. Writer Anthony Maimone placed Rivera number six. Here’s part of his explanation:

“There is no question that Rivera is the greatest closer MLB has ever seen. The real debate is whether or not he is the greatest pitcher of all time. The fact that is even a question shows the extreme dominance Rivera has had on the competition stretching his 19-year career. There has never been a pitcher as dominant as he has been, and there may never be one again.”

If you pull up the Wikipedia article on baseball closers, guess whose photo illustrates the article. Of course he does. Why? He set the bar (652 career saves), the standard (served the role for 17 years), basically defined the role (precise control, smooth motion, composed demeanor). Others before him might disagree that Rivera is the greatest closer ever, so that brings up the question: what exactly makes a closer great?

The greatness begins with acknowledging what their job is. They are the relief pitcher called in to get the final outs in a close game when their team is leading. To be great, a closer has to be reliable, very business-like, and certainly able to handle big pressure. Tony La Russa, a manager considered a developer of the role of the closer, said this:

“It is important that relievers know their roles in the situations which they will be called into a game. Sure, games can get away from you in the seventh and eighth, but those last three outs in the ninth are the toughest. You want a guy who can handle that pressure. That, to me, is most important.”

They know their role. I would add, not only does a great closer know their role, they also own it. They are part of a pitching staff of roughly 15 pitchers. The starting rotation usually consists of four to five pitchers, so the rest of the staff are relievers. But the closer, everyone knows what his job is. That pitcher must know his role and own it.

Most likely, that player didn’t grow up through little league, high school, and college thinking he was going to be a closer. He probably dreamt of being the star pitcher, the horse, the leader. Whether by choice or force, he now finds himself in the closing role. And to be great, he has to own it.

When it comes to owning your role, one of the best instructional writings available is actually found in the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul writes about the body of Christ in chapter 12. Using the body analogy, he says we all have a designated role to play by being part of a body. So if you are the ear, you have to own being the ear; you can’t decide you won’t without the body becoming dysfunctional. Every part must know their role and own it if the body is to function as it should, to be in winning form.

  • You want to be great at work? Know your role on the work body and own it.
  • You want to be great at home? Know your role in the home body and own it.
  • You want to be great in the community? Know your role in the community body and own it.
  • You want to be great in God’s kingdom? Know your role in the kingdom and own it.

Mariano Rivera played for the same “body” his entire career. His owners knew they wanted him and would do what it took to keep him. As a result, he has ridiculous amount of records and is considered one of the greats of the most celebrated team in all of sports. This was made possible because he found his role, and he owned it.

He Gets on Base

(This is the second in a series on wisdom from baseball co-written with Mark Stanifer.)

Moneyball. Seen it (released 2011)? Read it (published 2003)? If your answer is no, go ahead and hit pause on whatever you’re doing, including reading this post, and get that done.

Yes, it’s that good.

If you’re a baseball fan, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re a movie fan, it received six Oscar nominations. If you love one liners, there are a plethora. So pardon my repetition, but if you haven’t watched or read it, you must.

Besides the one liner “Who’s Fabio,” one of the more memorable lines is when Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) asks Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) repeatedly why the scouts should consider several players that they otherwise weren’t. The answer over and over again was, “He gets on base.”

Beane and Brand were referencing principles based on sabermetrics, something not widely done at that time across Major League Baseball. Although it had its beginnings in the middle 20th century, sabermetrics had not been embraced by traditionalists. Beane and Brand were challenging tradition.

They didn’t care how the batter got on base; they just knew that the only way to win was scoring runs, and you can’t score runs without getting on base. If the batter is willing to take a walk, he still gets on base. If the homerun king hits a single rather than a homerun, he still gets on base.

This sounds fairly simple. But as a guy who had a whomping one hit all season in the only little league season I ever played, I can attest that getting on base is not simple. It requires several things. Several of those things are applicable to life, to what it takes to be considered worthy of the scout’s attention. Here is a short list.

Patience

Swinging at every pitch will not get you on base. Waiting for the right pitch takes discipline. Discipline and patience are teammates. It takes discipline to learn how a pitcher thinks, understand the rhythms of the game, and commit to the strategy of the manager. And this learning, understanding, and committing will require patience. The hitter who can grow in their patience at the plate and get on base will also grow in their value to the team.

Sacrifice

Every at bat is not a heroic moment. Just because you have home run capabilities doesn’t mean every swing has to be for the fences. Sometimes your ego must be checked by being satisfied with a single that gets that player in scoring position across home plate. A valuable player pursues humility and gets on base however he can.

Focus

Monumental, game-changing at bats often happen in a game. The at bat becomes a mind game or a cat-and-mouse exchange. When a normal at bat of four or fives pitches moves into double digits, the batter takes the upper hand. Why? Because he has made the pitcher see his focus. This out is not going to be easy. The hitter who can stay focused, deal with whatever pitch is thrown, raises their chances of getting on base.

The player who illustrates this so well for my team (Go Cards!) this season is Tommy Pham. As of the writing of this post, Pham leads the team in six of the twelve batting categories. His story? He was drafted in 2006 but didn’t make his big league debut until 2014 at age 26. For eight years he was working on getting on base. When he was brought up, he didn’t immediately have success. But he kept working at getting on base. So much so that this year is his most successful year, by far. Not only does he lead his team in six categories, he also is among the highest in several categories in all of baseball; in one category he’s seventh. Want to take a guess at which one? OBP-On Base Percentage.

Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23, “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Heartily means “from the core of one’s being.” Whatever our position-dad, husband, employer, son, leader, follower-God has given it to us. All he asks of us is to do it well, mean business, you might say, get on base. Each time it’s your turn to pick up the bat, approach the plate prepared to get on base. Grow in patience, practice sacrifice, and harness focus so when you stand before God he can say, “Good job. You kept getting on base.”

Fruity Fridays: Passing the Self-Control Test

(Final posting in this series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

(photo credit Amber Hatch FB page)

Nothing like a hurricane to test your self-control.

Publix test…check

Wawa test…check

I-75 test…still in progress

Saving the snacks…hasn’t even started

This very real storm brings to life how many situations in our lives make us feel in our minds and emotions. So Paul may have had some intention to placing this fruit at the end of the list. If the other fruits have been produced, this one should be easier to nurture. And we need it to pass the tests of life’s storms.

When I’ve not being doing well passing the self-control test, here are a few questions I review to check myself:

  • Where’s my sensitivity level? It’s entirely possible I’m making more of this situation than it is. Making more could mean I’m taking it too personally, I’m not paying attention to common sense, or I’m playing the “what if” game way too long.
  • What assumptions might I be making? Assumptions are usually the result of lacking communication (listening, clear explanations, waiting on someone else to take the first step, etc.). In these cases, I must review what has actually been said or not said and own my role in the communication failure.
  • What do I know? It’s my responsibility in my relationships to know who I am and who they are, what triggers I have and what triggers they have. That knowledge then should be the foundation for treating the relationship with the respect and the control it needs.
  • What boundaries are being violated? This question assumes boundaries are in place; if that’s not the case, then it’s time to set them. If they are in place, I must identify my violation and own up to it, both to myself and to the one I violated.

As we go through the next few days, let’s help each other pass the self-control test. 

*I want to thank the contributors to this series-Danny Bote, Jeremy Nixon, and Eric Vorhies. We started the series October 1, 2016. Alas, we’ve finished the task. Readers, thanks for sharing the journey with us.