bringing order to my thoughts

Good afternoon my friends. As I write to you today I am enjoying a quiet, sacred time my church offers called “Sanctuary”. I love this time when all is still in the house of God. It is a time to reflect on my life in the presence of my Savior. This blog is largely just that, a reflection on my life.

I told you in my last blog that I have spent time recently rearranging my schedule. While evaluating the rhythms of my life, I noticed that I had developed habits over the past months of distracting myself with shallow, interruptible tasks. I was able to keep going on the busy work of church and home. I could handle bookkeeping, web updating, event planning, shuttling people around, cleaning, shopping, cooking, etc. But in the quite times when I would try to study or write I found my thoughts scattered and oftentimes dark. Some of the “busy work” I engaged in was important while some things were just time fillers.

When Kelley died, those things that kept me busy also kept me sane. It kept me distracted enough to limit my grieving to shorter, more manageable spans of time. The shallow work kept me from drowning in an ocean of grief I was not yet strong enough to swim. While this season was important to my mental survival, it is now time to leave the shallows and dive into the deep. So I have made some changes in my schedule. This was done in order to better accommodate larger blocks of time for reflection, study and writing.

Here’s me trying to organize the “blocks” of my life.


Previously, I had split up my tasks in such a way that I worked a little bit, every day on each of the things I had determined were necessary both for work and my overall physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. But chopping all of these tasks up and sprinkling them daily throughout my week made it difficult for me to dive deeply into the more cerebral endeavors. While I was beginning to see this on my own, my thoughts were helped by a book I’ve recently read. (Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Calvin Newport.) In order to fully engage in “deeper work” I needed time to immerse myself in the activity. One-hour blocks of time are not conducive to this. So I rearranged tasks to make those deeper activity panels a bit bigger for larger blocks of uninterrupted time.

This uninterrupted, deep work is necessary for my mind to explore, process, engage with and articulate new thoughts. Some of these thoughts are encountered outside of myself as I read articles and books, listen to a podcast or study the scriptures. Some thoughts originate within my own mind as I think, meditate and pray. Most thoughts are overlays of my imagination and evaluation on top of my research.

Articulating these thoughts in writing not only helps me sort through what I believe to be true; it exercises my mind and brings health. This blog is one of my outlets for articulation. I am truly grateful to all of you who read it. However, even without an audience, I would write. Writing is crucial for me to maintain a healthy mind; a workout for my brain. It is the exercise in which I bring order to my thoughts. In addition to blogging, I have also started to write a book. The project is still taking shape but I believe I know how it will unfold.

As a way to enhance my emotional health, I also write in journals. One journal is set aside for processing my grief and loss. One journal is for processing daily Bible readings. I’ll write more on journaling later.

I am hopeful in my newly formed plan. I enjoy the extended times to write, to stretch and exercise my mind. And so far, I am off to a good, though not perfect, start. I give myself 4 out of 5 stars this week.

4 stars

Tune in next week to see if I can keep it up. After all, this is all just an experiment being refined by trial and error. Peace be with you all.

bending, not breaking

Hello again my friends. I am mortified to see it’s been an entire month since my last post. This was not the plan. I was hoping to post weekly. But then, sometimes I fail. I am coming to terms with this and will cease to worry about it now that it has been acknowledged. I am learning to give myself grace in this season as so many of my dear friends have been reminding me to do.

I’m not going to “rate myself” this week, as I’m sure I wouldn’t even earn 1 out of 5 stars. I will however pick up on last blog’s theme of the tension between a firm schedule and the need for flexibility. Even the strongest and tallest of structures must incorporate some flexibility or they risk crumbling when the earth decides to shake. I’ve been working these past weeks on modifying my schedule in order to make it more stable in the storm. And believe me; the waves have been rising and the boat has been rocking of late!

A friend recently compared grief to waves on the ocean. I think that’s a fair description. Always some churning under the surface but interspersed with moments of calm and stormy swells. The last few weeks I’ve had quite a few tidal waves. This makes it difficult to keep life on track. That is where the blessing of the flexible schedule comes in.

I told you last post that I see my ‘to do’ items as residing within a time block that hangs like a panel from a frame. This visual serves me well. If I spend an hour crying in the corner instead of accomplishing the scheduled task, I simply remove that panel from the frame of my schedule. If it’s a panel containing a daily activity like exercise or personal study, I discard it entirely. I will pick back up on it when the item is repeated the next day. No “catching up”. Playing catch up is a schedule destroyer. If it is a critical work task, then I may take that panel and move it to a new section of the framework. Here’s were the built in flexibility I was talking about comes into play.

Any schedule with any hope of maintaining its framework must have MARGIN built in to it.

Think of the margin in a book. Imagine taking that out. With text running continually from top to bottom, side to side with no white space. Our eyes would be tired and our brains overwhelmed. We need margins in our books. And we need margin in our lives too. Without it, we will not only be exhausted, but one line of life would spill into the next and any unforeseen addition to the story would cause a terrible, illegible, overlapping jumble. The whole framework of schedule comes crashing down without margin.

Margin means padding the schedule. If something usually takes an hour and a half, schedule it for two hours. That means if an unexpected need comes up, you have wiggle room. Margin means having an occasional blank hour on the schedule, maybe not daily but certainly within the week. As a pastor, if I don’t have margin and a congregant requires my attention, I run the risk of looking at people as interruptions rather than seeing them as they are, my main reason for ministering.

Margin solves most small hiccups in the plan. But sometimes the interruption in schedule exceeds the margin. Then I have to do the hard work of prioritizing. The critical time block item must go somewhere, so I may have to discard a less crucial panel. This requires grace for oneself. Those of us juggling too many pins at once will have to occasionally let one drop. An occasional drop happens to us all. We must acknowledge our humanity and imperfection and move on. If we find ourselves dropping pins frequently, its time to remove some roles from our repertoire.

There was a time in my young adult work life that I was expressing my difficulty covering all my bases of responsibility. An older, wiser man asked why I didn’t just quit one of those tasks. I looked at him with what must have been a comically puzzled and shocked face. Surely he knew how much I was needed in my role. Reading my mind, he plainly said, “Nobody is irreplaceable.” Ouch! It stung at first. But it was true. Not only that but it was freeing! Doing too many things is nothing more than an exercise in our own pride.

That brings me to my next point. Why do so many of us think the world will stop spinning if we take a day off? I’m talking about SABBATH.

If margin helps us maintain flexibility in the schedule framework, then Sabbath helps us maintain the vigor with which we engage it.

Simply put, we must rest if we are to have the energy to keep going for the long haul. Sabbath allows us the opportunity to recharge and gives time for needed reflection. It puts life and our place in it into perspective, reminding us that we do not hold our world together. That’s God’s job. Let’s exercise our faith by allowing him to do what only he can. Again, it is prideful to think that we cannot take a day to rest.

Margin and Sabbath have become critical to my survival. Occasionally though, I need something more. There comes a time when I need a SABBATICAL. Strictly speaking, a sabbatical happens every seventh year for a year. Modern use is more flexible in application. It simply means an extended break from one’s career. I am applying the term even more loosely.

I use the word sabbatical to describe a season where I hit the pause button on a certain course of action in order to contemplate how to best proceed in the future.

For example, taking a month off of blogging allowed me the time to determine how it would fit into my already full schedule. Originally I had scheduled blogging on my Sabbath day, reasoning that it was a quick and easy task and wouldn’t really interrupt my day of rest much. During my blogging sabbatical I realized that though I try to keep my posts on the short side, it really took me much longer than expected. Because writing is a type of self-healing for me, I spend a good deal of time in thought on what I write. Do I believe it? Do I live it? Why do I think this is important?

During a sabbatical, I answer the following questions. Is this is a task I should even continue? Should it continue in the same form or does it need material changes? When is the best time to accomplish this task? If I am adding a task to my to do list, is there some other task I need to remove in order to make room? Not every good idea is one we need to personally take responsibility for doing. But we often miss seeing that until we hit the pause button, back up and look at the whole picture. Sabbatical allows us the opportunity to do that.

So there you have it. Guard the schedule, but allow it to flex and bend to prevent a total break. Margin, Sabbath and Sabbatical are my tools to build in flexibility and continued maintenance of the ever-important schedule. Next blog I’ll share more on some of the changes I’ve made and why. Until then I pray for rest and peace to you all in the midst of your busy lives.