Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Island Time

One of the luxuries of vacation is having time – even time to think about time. In a book I’ve been reading, it spoke about ‘island time’. I’ve not only read about it, but occasionally experienced it as well. The author of the book says that in the tropics there is a general lack of respect for time – or rather timekeeping. Time is quite special, but clocks are an aberration.

I have felt that way often during counseling sessions. Why one hour? For some sessions it’s too short, and others too long. When a “special moment” arrives I would rather throw the clock away. I don’t think God operates on the same time schedule as we do.

Do you sometimes feel that way when you wake up first thing in the morning? Like the clock should never have been invented – that you would love to just stretch time for a while and breathe in the new day before having to attend to obligations? 

How about our spiritual life? The three minute devotional often leaves us empty. It’s like having Cheetos for breakfast. It is better than nothing, but we are still hungry and unsatisfied and know that we could have done better for ourselves. Yet, the day calls and we answer. I wonder if we answer too quickly – or we try to crowd too many things into our schedule making it impossible to have room for any form of spontaneity.

Relationships often suffer under rigid adherence to time schedules.

I think of couples on their honeymoon who cannot relax and enjoy each other, but must use every minute to see and do as much as possible at their destination. Somehow I don’t think that was the original intent of taking time off after a wedding. I also know couples who leave no time to talk or be together during the typical work week. They lead parallel lives and wonder why they are unsatisfied with each other.

And I know of parents who have scheduled their children just as tightly. They don’t leave much time for the kind of relationship building that can only happen at random moments during a day. There is no such thing as “quality time” with kids – there are only quality moments in the midst of a quantity of time. A lot of grandparents seem to understand this. Age has a way of shifting our priorities.    

I am not advocating abandoning our time commitments. When I agree to a certain time, I must keep my promise. Being late is just plain selfish. I have seen quite a few cars with a bumper sticker that reads: "Always late, but worth the wait." I think to myself  "Probably not".

I know I have missed a good deal of life by being strictly on clock time. Everything is about hurry and efficiency and productivity. My focus is narrow and my goals are clearly defined. But then I remember the Garden of Eden. I’ll bet they weren’t on clock time.

When I am on island time I do not feel like I am wasting my life – rather I feel like this is what I was designed for. I can’t say that I’ve lived much of my life this way so far, but I am learning.

Maybe island time is really God time.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. (Eccl 3:1)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fighting For the Right Things

One of the advantages of aging is the potential to gain perspective. I use the word “potential” because perspective is more a result of maturity – which is not specifically age dependent. There are wise young people and clueless older folks. Still, life experience gives us an advantage if we are actively aware.

So many of the clients I have seen get stuck in the small story of their lives.

Often, the things these people fight over are of little or no value. Who lost the car keys? Why are you late? Did you really need another pair of shoes? Who forgot to……? Why can’t I spend money on what I want – I work hard.

All of these little squabbles erode the closeness of a relationship. Over a period of time we begin to judge the quality of the relationship as poor. We fight for power, control, significance and sometimes just being “right”. But we find ourselves emotionally alone and unhappy – the master of our own broken world of one.

Those who are able to see their lives as a part of a bigger story will make different decisions.

If I am a father, my children will be observing how I treat their mother. If I am an employer, my employees will watch how I deal with conflict and difficulties. If I claim to be a Christian, but love does not flow from me how is Christ honored? Will my anger, bitterness, resentment and argumentativeness ever serve a higher cause? It is in the small corners of our lives where our integrity is established. All our small decisions add up to the measure of who we are – whether anyone is watching or not.

There is a point in our lives where more of our focus needs to be outwards, not just inwards. The inward journey is establishing who we are to become: our identity, our values and our spiritual self. But the outward journey is letting others benefit from our ongoing self-development. Often this is a difficult shift because it requires maturity and self-control. The basis and process for making decisions change. Can I see the world more in terms of “us” rather than just “me”?

The big picture says I was not put here on earth simply for my own pleasure, to get as much as I can and to let the chips fall where they may. I realize that those chips fall on others, often painfully. Will I use my strength to promote positive outcomes even if it means sacrificing my pride or embracing some other form of suffering?

Choosing that path is entering into the big story – a transcendent life, the one worth living. But it will change the things I fight for. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ending Unhealthy or Unproductive Relationships

I always struggle with knowing where to draw boundaries with certain people. And it’s no surprise that the closer the relationship, the more difficult the decision. I am quite aware of the difference between loving detachment and emotional cutoff. With some relationships I am just called to endure with grace and patience and loving-kindness.

But are there some relationships that just need to go away? In a word – yes.

Every time I say yes to spending time with one person, I am saying no to a multitude of others. Our time is finite and it’s quantity in our particular life is unknowable. I have found that we can spend many unproductive hours trying to cultivate relationships that yield little results for either party, or the benefit feels so lopsided that I see them as an intrusion and I resent them.

I am not just talking about personal relationships, but business relationships as well. As a sales person I have had to walk away from clients who had high demands and delivered little in return. Often these were the people that got my stomach acid churning and made it difficult for me to keep a positive attitude as I made my next sales call. Deciding to cut them loose always came with a sense of relief – and gave me more time to be with the really wonderful clients that I have or cultivate new ones.

If I am a leader, one of the goals is to develop other leaders and release them. I have to be wise in my time investments and careful with my choices. Does this person have the capacity to learn and become a humble and worthy leader or will my time be better spent with someone else?

It is always particularly hard to end toxic relationships in our personal life. It is often these people that make the most demands on us, get the angriest with us, and use manipulations like guilt and shame to try to control us. It is easy to recognize these people. When they leave a voice mail I am reluctant to call back. When I interact with them I feel uncomfortable and trapped or anxious and alert for signs of hurting their feelings. After being with them I feel emotionally drained and relieved to be away from them.

We cannot walk away from all undesirable relationships, but with some of them we must. A firm, but kind break-up is usually best. For those who hate conflict (most of us) this is not easy, especially when their attempts at reconnection through manipulation follow. In those cases I need to remind myself that I will suffer less if I hold fast. After ending a difficult or unhealthy relationship I find it is best to spend time with an energizing person who will fill us up and help reinforce our decision.

How do I decide who to leave behind? This is a decision that is often best made through prayer, and the input of wise and loving friends or mentors. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Truth In Dating

Way back in the 1970’s our band played for many singles events at a string of apartment complexes that only allowed single people as residents. Over the years that we played for theses dances I got a perspective that may be helpful with today’s largest single events – online dating sites.

It was clear to me that many of the residents were confused about the purpose of living at a singles only facility. 

There were a great many (mostly guys) who believed that staying single was the purpose of living in the complex. Their goal was to have fun while moving from person to person in uncommitted relationships.

Then there was the other group (mostly women) who saw a large group of persons of the opposite sex who were available for relationships, and had the primary goal of finding a marriage partner.

What I saw was a lot of over-drinking and over-thinking going on – and many disappointed and disillusioned young adults making bad choices. Obviously the atmosphere was perfect for a lot of promiscuous behavior.

It occurs to me that the same conditions exist for online dating if the goals are not communicated or if they are not clear and truthful. There are (married or other) predators among both men and women, and a Christian or other religious dating site is no guarantee of honesty. However I do think that one probably stands a much better chance on a dating site that is supportive of your belief system and strives to operate with integrity. Many of the right questions are asked on these dating sites and being honest and thoughtful as you answer them will hopefully yield good results

If it seems I am being negative or critical about Internet dating, I am not. A large percentage of couples who come to us for premarried counseling have met online and have done very well in finding a good mate. It is a wonderful way to increase the size of the pool from which you can seek a partner.

How are you at communicating your dating intentions? Are you afraid of scaring away potential dates if you are truly honest? Are you too eager to connect? Are you willing to sacrifice your integrity and values to get and keep a relationship? Are you willing to settle for less than you should, or are you one of those who hold unreasonable relationship expectations?

Sometimes it is hard to know the answers to the above questions without outside help.

If you have had many disappointing relationships or bad dating experiences, it is possible that your “chooser” is broken. Being in a close community with wise and supportive friends or mentors who will be honest with you is invaluable to get a perspective.