Find More Time by Giving Less Time Away

“How do you know who to help and who not to get involved with?”

I asked that question to a spiritual mentor when I was in college. I had gone to Miami to take part in an internship. That day I was out visiting people with one of the mentors in the program. The church was not huge but big enough that—being on staff—he had many people wanting some of his time.

Very few people needed my time but I figured someday they might. So I asked.

Maybe you’ve asked the same. Depending on your season of life you possibly have a number of people vying for your attention. A spouse. A child or two. A boss. Co-workers. Places where you volunteer. Friends. Extended family.

The list could go on. And each of these people often want a piece of your time.

On top of that you have your work to do. You have the yard to keep up. You have things around the house that need to be fixed or replaced. Where do you find the time for everything?

The answer is you find more time when you give less of it away. And you know how to give less of it away when you get still and focus on the important.

Often we say “yes” to too much because in saying “yes” we feel needed, we feel important, and we feel more useful. But we can also wind up feeling used and taken advantage of and tired.

John Maxwell has said “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can ‘yes’ to the best.” And that’s similar to what my mentor taught me. He said, “I always have three people that, if they were to call and need me, I’ll say ‘yes’ to no matter what. Sometimes with others I may have to say ‘no’ because I’m doing something else that I have a commitment to do.”

I took his advice and follow it to this day. Even Jesus focused on a few. He had the Twelve. Out of those he was closer to three: Peter, James, and John. And John was closest of all. If he had to limit who he could give his time to then it’s a safe bet we need to also.

Only when you know what to say “yes” to you will know what to say “no” to. And when you figure that out you’ll have all the time you need to do the things you need to do.

Create a Circle of Safety for Trust and Cooperation

Simon Sinek is one of the TED Talk speakers I want to hear every time he pops up again on the scene. He has great insights and backs it up with his research and stories.

In his latest talk he discusses how and why good leaders make you feel safe. Don’t you want to feel safe? As he points out, there is quite a bit of danger in our worlds. There are many things that can happen to impact us in a negative way.

So when it comes to leaders what we want are leaders who create an environment that make us feel safe. Sinek talks about the “Circle of Safety” a good leader creates. There may be danger all around but inside the environment that the leader has created for the organization there is safety.

And when there is safety the byproduct is trust and cooperation. This is why some companies are able to do exceedingly well while others—faced with the same dangers around them—falter and fail.

One example he cites is that of Bob Chapman of Barry-Wehmiller Companies. In the economic strain of 2008 their company lost 30% of their orders overnight. When the Board got together to decide what to do Bob refused layoffs. As Sinek says, “He doesn’t believe in head counts but in heart counts.”

Their solution? Everyone would take at least four weeks of unpaid vacation. Bob told their employees that “all should suffer a little rather than any suffer a lot.” The company saved $20 million and kept their people safe.

People will do extraordinary things when they are in a safe environment and they know their leaders care for them.

Jesus modeled the same principle. He created a place of inclusion. A place where people could be open and authentic without feeling guilt or shame. And yet he inspired followers then and followers now to be better people. Dangers? Yes, they still exist. But he led the way and demonstrated the ultimate creation of safety: the way to eternal life.

You can lead from whatever position you are in. If you are a parent, how are you creating a safe environment for your family? If you lead at your workplace, do people under your supervision feel they can make mistakes but have room to learn and grow from them?

The Circle of Safety. You will know you have created that environment when people start trusting and cooperating and saying the reason they are going the extra mile for you is that you would have done it for them.

Question: Where have you experienced a “Circle of Safety”?


Get Over Past Mistakes

One of the great sports stars of our era is Roger Federer. He leads all tennis players with 17 Grand Slam titles. At 33 years old he is still competing at the top level and still winning tournaments.

But he isn’t as dominating as he has been in some years past. This past weekend he lost a tight finals match against Novak Djokovic at the Indian Wells Masters tournament.

He’s played long enough to understand how difficult it is to win at this top level. And he knows that each time a player loses in the finals it was an opportunity they may not get again.

So I was interested to read that Federer insisted that he would not dwell on the defeat. He said:

“I’m not going to look back on that match, on that moment very long. That will be forgotten probably in 25 minutes or so. When I walk out of here, I will be like, ’It was a good tournament.’ I had a great run, a good start to the season, and wished and hoped I could have won today. Novak was tough and he played very well. He deserved it, and I will respect that.”

Life – even one of a storied athlete – comes with disappointments. But here’s a key to life all of us can learn from Roger Federer: Don’t waste much time dwelling on past regrets.

Athletes and other successful people in life will learn from their past, yes, but they will move on to the next challenge or task at hand. You can’t win all the time.

And you and I are not going to be perfect all the time. We’re going to mess up and do things and say things we wish we had done better or worded more precisely.

So what do you do with past failures and losses? Here’s some advice:

  • Spend no more than a half hour looking back at what you did and what you can learn from the experience. Federer I’m sure did the same. He and his coach will review the match, see if there’s anything to work on, and then start working to improve.
  • Look at the next opportunity coming your way. It may be a task. It may be a relational situation you are going to be in. Move your focus to the next challenge on the horizon.
  • Live as much as you can in the present. It’s the only place you can live. The past is just that—past. The future is just that—not having happened yet. It’s good to plan for it but not to the point you miss out on life that’s happening now.

The Hebrew writer put it this way: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The word for “forgetting” has to do with “neglecting” or not “caring for” something. Learn to do that with life’s failures and disappointments and you’ll be freed up to go after the ultimate prize in life.

You might train yourself to forget about them in about 25 minutes.

Question: How difficult is it for you to move on after a loss or mistake?

Check the Patent for a Great Marriage

Ever thought it would be so easy if marriage came with an instruction manual? A definitive answer to all of the issues that come up between a husband and a wife?

For instance, there’s the age-old stresses that are created because one person squeezes the tube of toothpaste from the bottom and the other squeezes it from the middle. Worse yet the top third.

Or, one leaves the seat lid up. The other wants it down.

Just mention these at a wedding and you get laughter every time. I know. I’ve used that line before.

But perhaps the greatest debate surrounding bathroom propriety revolves around which way to turn the toilet paper on the roll. Should the paper roll be on the outside of the underside? Interesting how we tend to have our preferences on that issue.

Now you can have the definitive answer. Making the rounds on the web is the 1891 patent by New York businessman Seth Wheeler who invented the “wrapping paper with perforations.” He clearly intended the roll to be on the outside.

That’s how the creator of the toilet paper intended us to use his invention. Now all the “unders” can repent and get on track towards a more happy marriage.

And while you’re at it, you might check in with the one who created marriage. Many of the disagreements that lead to marriages falling apart could be avoided if we would only turn to God for direction.

  • Having a disagreement? “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”
  • Wanting your way all the time? “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
  • Thinking of yourself and your needs too much? “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That includes your spouse.
  • Eyes starting to stray a bit? “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.”

Good marriages take good work. Great marriages take even greater work. Look at the patent again and make the necessary adjustments.

You’ll be rolling right along before you know it.

Question: Where do you turn when you have marital issues?


Three Steps to Move You Toward Your Second Formation

Part of what I believe I’m supposed to do is to spend some time thinking about life and then share whatever I come up with. And so I put myself into places where that happens…where I have others around me who are doing the same thing and encourage the process.

One of those places I’ve put myself is called Faithwalking. And one of the things talked about in Faithwalking is that we have a first formation. That formation happens mostly in our families. For some that is a good thing. For others not so good. All of us have had good things happen to us and all of us have had some bad things happen. We’ve all been handed down some “empty ways of life from our forefathers.” Either way there’s some good news.

The good news is there is a chance at a second formation. As we get older we can choose how we are going to be formed. We can learn some things about spirituality and we can find mentors in people and in books where authors help us understand ourselves and life.

I like to say it this way. Your first formation is descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words your first formation describes some things about you and maybe why you are how you are. My new friend Trisha Taylor says it’s “just how you be.” But your first formation is not prescriptive. It doesn’t mean you have to stay that way forever.

So if there are some things about “how you be” that you want to change then you can go about changing some things. You can write a better story, a different story, as Donald Miller says. Here are three steps to get you started writing a better story and go about a second formation:

Get a clear picture of what it is you want. I just read a great article about Daniel Norris, one of the top prospective pitchers for the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s 21 and received a $2 million signing bonus but lives in a 1978 Volkswagen camper. When he got his signing bonus he prayed “Please don’t let the money change me.” Read the link and you’ll read about someone who has a clear picture of what he wants, of who he wants to be.

That’s the problem for many. That picture has not become clear. But if you can figure out who you want to be and how you want to be around people and in this world, you can start writing your story. You can start the second formation.

Have the courage to overcome the conflict you’ll encounter. The conflict will come because where you are now is not where you want to be. In the middle part of the journey you will find tension from anxiety about change. You’ll need courage to face yourself. You’ll make promises that you won’t keep and you’ll need to grow in your integrity. And there’ll be skills you need to acquire along the way.

It’s not easy growing into the person you want to be. It’s a lifelong process that never ends. A friend of mine used to say, “Life is hard. And then you die.” We want life to be easy. But any good story has conflict to overcome. And any good life will too. So have courage.

Write chapters that will help you go get what it is you want (see step #1). Start doing the things you need to do to get what you want. Is there a conversation you need to have with someone? Have it. Is there a place you want to go? Make plans to go there. Get out of your comfort zone and live!

Before long your chapters will add up to a life. You’ll be writing a better story. And your second formation can be better than the first.

Question: Can you find some time to write out a clear picture of what it is you want?

You Don’t Have to be Among the Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is another in a long line of TV shows and movies fascinated with Zombies.  Haiti is somewhat to blame.  One of the most famous zombie stories comes from this Third-World country, the poorest in our hemisphere.  I learned of it many years ago when Karen and I were preparing to go to Haiti as youth ministers.  Here’s how the story goes.

On April 30, 1962, Clairvius Narcisse showed up at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital complaining of aches and running a high fever.  Within three days he was dead.

His death was confirmed by two American trained doctors.  His sister Angelina identified the body and another sister authenticated the death certificate.  The next day he was buried under a heavy concrete slab.

Imagine Angelina’s surprise and shock eighteen years later when, while at the market, a shuffling, vacant-eyed man approached her and told her he was Clairvius.  Angelina, others in the family, and many villagers recognized him.  He answered questions about his childhood that only he would know and satisfied investigators.

He talked of how he was dug up and pulled from his grave after he was buried.  A boker, or sorcerer, beat and bound him and gave him a hallucinogenic drug.  Then he was taken to work as a zombie slave on a plantation.  After two years there was a zombie breakout and he wandered the Haitian countryside for years afraid to return to his village until he heard his brother had died.  You see, his brother had put a voodoo contract on him over a land dispute and had him zombified.

He had quite a story of returning from the grave.  And so do you.

Paul gives a simple outline of the good news in Ephesians 2.  He says “You were dead . . . but God . . . made us alive.”  The bad news is that we don’t just need a tweak to our characters.  Sin doesn’t make us bad.  It makes us dead.  And when you’re dead, there’s nothing you can do for yourself.  He says that this is the way we once “walked.”  We were among the walking dead.

“But God” . . . Aren’t you glad those words are there?  Paul says God is rich in mercy.  God has great love for us.  And because we were dead and he is not, he acts.

What did he do?  He “made us alive with Christ . . . raised us up with him . . . seated us with him in heavenly places.”   He reminds us that none of this is our doing.  We are God’s workmanship, or literally in the original language, his “poetry.”  He crafted us to do good works “that we should walk in them.”

Wade Davis, who went to Haiti in the early 80’s to study zombification and wrote about his experience in his book The Serpent and the Rainbow, says, “In the popular culture . . . the fear is of zombies coming and attacking you. But in Haiti, the fear is not of zombies, but of becoming a zombie.”

May you and I fear being among the walking dead. Instead, there ought to be stories today of people who show up in the marketplace and, because of the new life that is in them, shock their family and friends.

We have quite a story of returning from the grave to tell.   We have a new way to walk.

Question: What “death to life” story do you have to tell?