Saturday, June 25, 2011


Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed in my work life, the first thing I do is organize my desk. I don’t know about you, but when my mental world is in disarray, I try to control my physical one. I can usually do this in a few minutes and it somehow settles my inner world.

For some people this is not an easy task. Their physical space is so cluttered that the thought of bringing order to it causes them to feel significant stress, even panic. For some, this inability to control their environment is an expression of their internal chaos. For others it is the result of a shopping and spending addiction. For still others it is the failure to hold boundaries with kids.

Out of control clutter is such a pervasive problem that there are Clutterers Anonymous groups all over the country. When cluttering is excessive or turns into hoarding it is usually considered a symptom of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and must be dealt with clinically.

Clutterers Anonymous describes clutter as both physical and emotional:

“Clutter is anything we don't need, want, or use that takes our time, energy or space, and destroys our serenity. It can be outgrown clothes, obsolete papers, broken toys, disliked gifts, meaningless activity, ancient resentments, or unsatisfying relationships. We may be selective in some areas, but not in others. Objects may be strewn about or wedged into drawers; neatly stacked or stowed in storage.” 

I have seen marriage and dating relationships break apart because of this issue. One partner cannot control this aspect of their life and the other cannot agree to live (or continue to live) in the chaos. Often there is deep shame for the sufferer and a lot of blaming going on. The cluttering can be labeled as an aspect of moral failure due to laziness or selfishness when in reality it may be a serious anxiety disorder. What is inescapable is the pain that it can cause when out of control.

If you are in doubt whether you qualify, Clutterers Anonymous has a handy self-assessment. It might make you uncomfortable or it might bring you peaceful relief, but either way it is a worthwhile check-up.

Sometimes de-cluttering is simply an act of the will, an intentionality to create serenity within one’s own environment. I can either surround myself with beauty and meaning or I can allow my world to be encroached upon by a random process (junk mail, unwanted gifts, un-thoughtful purchases, lack of self-discipline etc.)

We live in a culture of materialistic and experiential excesses. It is no surprise that this area is a challenge for so many people.  My goal is to live in freedom, and that often means living in a very counter-cultural fashion. It is a constant but worthy struggle.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

MARGIN - do you have it?

I love my job at C.A. (so does Nan). It is what I believe God designed me to do. It is challenging and satisfying and I love the people I work with. So when I feel myself pulling back from it or getting irritable, I know something is wrong.

A few years back Nan & I invited Dr. Richard Swenson to speak at Christian Assembly. He is the author of a book entitled “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.”  This concept of ‘margin’ struck a loud chord in my soul and it has been a theme I have been talking about (and paying attention to) ever since.

Margin is the space between your load and your limit.

If you have $3000 (limit) coming in and $2700 (load) going out, you have a margin of $300. You can relax in the area of finances. But if you spend or commit the $300, you have no margin. Any expense you incur after that throws you into a deficit position and you are in financial pain. Your load has just exceeded your limit. It is always sad to see someone who is so burdened by debt that their options have been virtually eliminated. It is doubly painful when they are the perpetrator of their own financial imprisonment.  

The same thing applies to time. When I am fully or over committed and have left insufficient time for rest or recreation I can begin to resent even the positive things in my life. Any new opportunity seems like a burden instead of a possibility.

In the same way we can run down our health by overeating (or eating junk food), under-exercising, under-sleeping. We use up our reserves and fuel ourselves with coffee and adrenaline and our body suffers.

I often see couples stress each other out with emotional baggage to the point that all the grace is used up. At times I have heard someone in counseling declare “I have reached my limit. NO MORE!” At this point the relationship is in real trouble and there is no margin for future error. Any new stressor may result in the total breakdown or breakup of the relationship.

So how are you doing in those areas in your life? Where do you lack margin?

The solution is to take positive control over your own life. Learning to say ‘no’ to yourself and others may be a challenge. It’s never easy to turn down fun opportunities, or resist spending money or take the extra energy to prepare a healthy meal. But the reward of margin will far outweigh the effort. It will allow you to be able to say ‘yes’ to really significant things as they present themselves. And you will experience joy in doing them instead of pain.

Wrap your mind around the concept of margin and reap the harvest.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How to Slow Down the Time

I heard an interesting statement on the radio the other day.

“Most people die at 25 years old but aren’t buried until sometime after 65.”

Wow! Creepy!

I think what is implied is that most people lose the intense passion for life that young adults feel. Of course this is a generalization, but it made me consider what might be true for many of us.

What takes away this desire – or more accurately, why do we surrender it?  

In a word: FEAR.

I get comfortable with routine, a steady paycheck (not a bad thing) and start to resign myself to a smaller life. I bury myself in possessions and then realize I have to pay for them and maintain them – maybe go into debt to have them. As time goes on my dreams fade. As we get older we wonder where all the years went. Why does time move so quickly? The days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months turn into years.

If every day is like the last, the time will go quickly. There is nothing unique in each day for us to remember it by. It is only the significant events in our life that will stand out. The fewer of these that we have the faster life will pass. But when we are really alive and passionate we will fill each day with more meaningful things to pursue. And the time will slow down.

Most people will surrender their free time to passive pursuits like television, video games, surfing the web and the like. They will settle for being entertained, rather than being inspired. And the time will pass quickly and the day will soon be forgotten.  

Guilty! I am guilty of this and it bugs me. And I am trying to change this.

I think the 80/20 rule probably applies here. 20% of us really “get” this and will not settle for mediocre lives. We will push past our fears and take risks and be willing to stand out from the crowd. Others will cheer us on from the stands, living vicariously. And their lives will go quickly.

What dreams have you lost? What positive pursuits have you abandoned to fear or complacency? What motivated you earlier on in life? What feels unfinished?  

As I get older my fears have changed. I have become more afraid of having wasted my life – or at least of having missed significant opportunities of lasting value. Where have I built up my treasures? Here or in heaven?

My word for the year is ‘simplicity’ and I think it holds a key to the solution. I will develop the idea in a future post. The word scares some people and encourages others. What about you?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Twelve Steps

The 12 step process of Alcoholics Anonymous is almost universally accepted as the premier method for dealing with addictions. It has been around for over 75 years and has traveled the world. As I read through the steps again I realized how some could stand alone as wisdom for those not directly dealing with addictions, but as principles for gaining moral, emotional and spiritual health.

If you are one of those who have heard about the 12 Steps, but have never read them, I am listing them below. In an attempt to make the 12 Steps more universally applicable the qualifier phrase (as we understood Him) was added.  But those of us who are Christ followers know the power comes from God alone.

The words “alcohol” and “alcoholic” can be replaced by any addiction (shopping, raging, video gaming, gambling, etc.)

It takes courage to face our shortcomings and be willing to take action. You might ask yourself which of the steps scares you the most – those are ones you probably need the most.


1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to trun our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of the Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

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