The Goal is to be Appropriate

According to conventional wisdom, everyone is in search of a balanced life. Given the growing and often conflicting demands of our jobs and families, it’s hard to keep everything together. Therefore, according to the experts, you have to set strong boundaries and time parameters so that you can have all of the areas in your life properly balanced. The myth is you can allot each area of your life a certain percentage—marriage 25%, each child 25%, and your work gets the final 25%.

There’s only one problem. This plan doesn’t work in real life. Our days simply don’t work out this way. Just as soon as we get all of boundaries nicely drawn in our journals and we’ve divided up our 24-hour day into manageable hourly increments, life blows it all up. A child gets sick, a project at work gets off track, the plumbing gets clogged up, and our beautifully symmetrical plan falls apart. What’s more, we feel guilty for letting things get out of control—even though we had no control over any of it to begin with!

Here’s what I look for. Are we able to respond to the moments before us appropriately? As a husband, am I aware of my wife enough to know what she needs from me and do I have the energy to engage? As a father, am I aware enough of my children to know what they need from me in each moment? Do I have the energy to respond?

Too many times, we have our own agendas and don’t pay attention to the moments in front of us. For instance, a parent will decide it’s a good time for “quality time” when at that particular moment it may be best for the child to be left alone to work through some problems on his or her own.

Sure, this takes a little more effort; you have to be willing to pay a closer attention to those you love. You have to be willing to act now, when action is required, rather than postpone the action until later when the appropriate moment is lost.

Next time you feel your life getting a little out of balance, take a deep breath and look around you. What is needed in the moments before you? Who needs what from you? And what next step is appropriate?

No, we’ll never be able to keep it all balanced. Our lives are too complicated and unpredictable for that. We can, however, be aware enough to act appropriately in each moment. Isn’t that what we really want anyway?

Meditations on MLK Day

Martin Luther King Day is a day that encourages reflection. Especially for a guy who grew up in the south, time needs to be made on this Monday to listen again to Dr. King’s aspirations in his “I Have A Dream” speech and compare his dream to our reality.

As with most human things, we’re a little better in some ways (we have elected an African American president) and a little worse in others (there are still too many Eric Garners).

For me, there’s another reason I choose to meditate on his life. Dr. King, like me, was a Baptist preacher. Being the pastor of a local church isn’t the usual starting place for someone who wants to change the world. In my lifetime, the really big changes have been made by people in business (Steve Jobs) and politics (Nelson Mandela).

Not Baptist preachers.

But that’s what Dr. King was—a Baptist preacher. From a pulpit in a church in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King challenged the soul of our nation.

I wonder what I could do, if like Dr. King, I was prepared to suffer to make my point or ready to go to jail to get the message across? What if, like Dr. King, I was willing to pay the price to see real change? What could happen…what if?

Much is broken in our world. There is still a lot of work to do. The dream, however beautiful, still isn’t realized. There is real change that needs to happen.

And as Dr. King reminds me every year, things can be changed by anyone willing to pay the price of that change…even a Baptist preacher.

Jesus Didn’t Promise to Make You Better

I walked around my house with a builder friend of mine talking about some of the things I wanted to change and update. The house was about 40 years old and was becoming seriously dated in its curb appeal. After I finished making one of my points, my friend looked at me and said, “Mike, I can fix everything you’re talking about and at the end of it all, you’re still going to have a forty-year-old house. You don’t need a new coat of paint. You need a new house!”

That’s the problem with most of our lives. We don’t need a few things fixed. We need a new us.

Jesus doesn’t promise He’ll make us better. He promised to make us new. It’s not a matter of being “better” or dealing with a few bad habits. Our problem is we’re fundamentally messed up. We can’t tell right from wrong, up from down, or good from bad. We do things we know are wrong. We do them even though we don’t want to do them. We know what’s right; we just don’t have the courage to do it. (Paul says this better in Romans 7.)

An experience with Jesus changes us from the inside out. Our hearts are changed. We desire different things. We want the things Jesus wants.

It changes the way we think. We’re intrigued and captivated by the things Jesus talks about.

It changes the way we love. No longer do we see love as a contract (you love me and I’ll love you back), but as Christ’s living reality within us. Our brokenness is replaced with His strength. Our anxiety is replaced by His peace. Our anger is buried under His love.

We’re not just different. We’re new. That’s why we call it being “born again.” This is the transformation Jesus promised. The problem isn’t that we need a few things fixed. We need a new us. That’s why the gospel is good news. In Him, all things are made new.

Packing for the Journey

Jeannie and I are getting back into town from our holiday travels. While we had a good time seeing everyone, it seems I spent most of the time loading and unloading her stuff from our car. Me? I’m a guy. I pack a few pairs of jeans and a couple of shirts and I’m ready to roll. With Jeannie, well, things are a little more complicated. She has several bags. There are large bags and small bags. Bags she needs to be able to reach while we’re riding and others than can be put in the back.

“Is all of this necessary?” I’ll ask her. “No,” she’ll say. “It’s not necessary, but it’s nice.” And it is. Whatever we end up doing, she’ll have just the right outfit for it. She’ll look great and yeah, that’s nice. Like I said, I’m a guy.

Which got me thinking about the new year. Whenever we come to a transition moment such as the beginning of a new year, we think we should throw out everything from the past and start with a blank slate.

But there are some things from 2014 that were nice. I don’t want to throw them out. There are some things worth holding onto. I experienced love in ways that changed me. I don’t want to forget. I learned some lessons that were painful to learn. I don’t want to have to learn them again. I’m wiser now. I want to hold onto that.

To be sure, there are some things about 2014 that I don’t want to carry anymore and the beginning of a new year is great time to let go of these things. There are people I need to forgive. There are others whose forgiveness I need to seek. There are dreams I need to let die and losses I need to grieve. I need to do the necessary soul work so I can move into the new year without regrets.

2015 will bring challenges, losses, and triumphs all its own. I need to be present to each of these moments. I’ll do better in the coming year if, like Jeannie, I pack not only those things that are necessary, but those things that are nice.

Something tells me I’ll need what I found in 2014 to live well in 2015.