Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

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This Ain’t No Instagram Life

In Keeping it Real,Relationships on April 19, 2013 by scottsund

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The house is clean for what feels like the first time in months.  Don’t get me wrong; we know how to make things look clean.  It normally happens in the stressful hour before company comes over.  Quick!  We’re having people over!  Everybody start cleaning as fast as possible!

Heather and I joke that we invite people over to ensure we clean once in a while.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re not dirty people.  We love a good clean house as much as the next person.  But the reality right now in our life?  With 3 jobs, 4 kids, extra projects, and just the 2 of us?  On many days we just run out of time.

So the house is clean for the first time in months.  And I have this thought cross my mind: I should take a picture.  I should take a picture of my life and post it on Instagram.  Or Facebook.  I love to post pictures on Instagram, particularly of a highlight moment on a highlighted part of my day.  These highlights, if strung together properly, give the illusion that my house is always clean.  My children always obey me.  My wife always is smitten with me.  In other words, if I take the right picture at the right moment and post it online, my life might appear perfect.

We all want to appear as if our lives are perfect.  The reality is that this ain’t no instagram life.  Not in my house anyway.  Seen my garage?  It’s a disaster.  Seriously, a disaster.  And I keep thinking “I’m going to get to it one day” but it just never happens.  Or my closet that has had piles of clothes for MONTHS.  Seriously…months.  Here is the laundry pile that MAY get folded this week- probably not.  My office is a wreck.  My cars are dirty.  Get my point?
ImageClearly, I don’t live in an Instagram world.  And my hunch is that you don’t either.  But if I take a picture of the best parts of my life, I can give you the illusion I have things under control.  Why do we do this?  Because though we crave real intimacy and authenticity, we’re also scared if the world saw all our messy and dirty and not instragram-perfect parts of our lives, people would reject us.  The fear of being alone causes us to hide.  And though we turn to social media like FB or Instacrack to make us feel connected, research shows for most people it makes them feel a little more alone.  The reasons behind this are numerous, but when we only show each other the perfect parts, the notion is that everybody else is doing better than I am.  Clearly, we would do better to stop showing each other the best parts, and instead show the real parts.

There’s a great article on the danger of Instagram’s Envy Effect found here.  The author writes, “My life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life. Everyone’s life looks better on the internet than it does in real life. The Internet is partial truths—we get to decide what people see and what they don’t. That’s why it’s safer short term. And that’s why it’s much, much more dangerous long term.”

And not to sound like a prude, but I do worry about the long term impact that our cyber-virtual-social networks are playing on real friendships and real community.  The reality is that Instagram is fun.  Facebook can be a way to connect.  But these are only tools towards friendship, not real relationships.  Have you ever checked your FB live feed and felt more alone?  Or haven’t you noticed groups of friends sitting down around a restaurant table and everyone is starting at their phones?  Or husbands and wives on a date and both typing away on their phones?  I’m as guilty as the next person about staying connected, but we must ask ourselves when connectivity is actually a death sentence for real relationship with someone near you.  For me, I don’t want to over rely on social media to fill the lonely parts of my life.

Real life is messy.  Way messier than social media can communicate.  Way more ugly at times, but way more beautiful too.  Along with my messes, I can show you some of the beautiful “snapshots” of my life recently.  I can show you the picture of our cute front yard where we’ve recently planted flowers.  The picture of my date with my wife last Thursday where it felt like we were newlyweds again.  The picture of my kids playing together so happy down at the beach on Wednesday.  Boy, I could show you other snapshots to show you how blessed and fortunate I am.  Shots to break your heart.  But a snapshot won’t adequately communicate the love I have for my wife.  The way we laughed tonight when we danced to Taylor Swift.  The tears that came yesterday when I saw the sunrise hit the top of the Olympic mountains.  Real life is so much more beautiful than my iphone can ever capture.

See for all of us, we have so much to be thankful for. So many “snapshots” that really are incredible and relationships to celebrate and a roof over our head and food to be thankful for.  But perfection isn’t attainable on this planet and the sooner we give up the fantasy that someone else’s life is perfect, the sooner we can get busy with trying to see the very best in our non-instagram lives.  No marriage is perfect- they all take work.  So start working, start investing in your partner, schedule a date, make love, enjoy one another, and talk about the real issues you’d rather hide in the garage.  And your kids?  The ones that talk back once in a while and that you’re secretly worried might have serious need for therapy in the future because of your parenting skills?  Take them to the park this afternoon and instead of taking pictures of them and posting them to FB or Instagram as a statement to the world “SEE I AM A GREAT PARENT BECAUSE I TAKE MY KIDS TO A PARK”.  No instead of posting those pictures, leave your phone in the car and just enjoy them.  Tackle a house project of something that bugs you and leave the other 14 things that bug you for another night, another week, another month.  Because it’s an illusion to think you’re ever going to “do it all.”  Give up the obsession with the busy life.

The bible says that “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (1 COR 13:12 MSG).  This is our life, all of us, and at times it feels quite foggy.  Its not till we see Jesus face to face that we’ll finally experience true perfection.  I imagine that moment, of finally seeing Jesus face to face, when we get to know him directly, and I hope I have my iphone.  Because I most certainly will be posting that picture on Instagram.

But here on earth?  No this ain’t an Instagram life.  It’s hard at times and chaotic.  But it’s also very beautiful.  Yes we have messes and piles of stuff to do and real relationships that need our care.  But the God in heaven that made all this stuff wants us to pause and stop glorifying everyone else’s life and start living our own.  He’s made us, loved us, called us, and sends us into our world to let other people know: He loves them too.

It ain’t no Instagram life.  But it’s a beautiful life.

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Grace, Marriage, and Princesses

In Family and Marriage,God's great love,Relationships on November 30, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

grace

The best love stories are those told at the end, not at the beginning.

Lately my daughter Harper is into “marrying”.  She wants to know when Mama and I married.  She imagines marrying some day.  She talks about “kiss on da lips.”  The other night she told me she will marry the prince at her birthday party and they will dance.  She then twirled on the steps of our house and I just knew I would remember this moment when she is heading off to Prom one day or when she gets married.  From our youngest days as humans we’re fascinated by love stories.

On Saturday night I officiated a wedding at Bethany.  Hundred of people came dressed up in their finest.  The sanctuary was decorated gorgeously.  Candles shone.  After the magical wedding, a limo whisked the couple down to the Fairmont Hotel for a gala celebration.  Thousands of dollars were spent.  Hundreds of hours were spent in preparation.  And it was fantastic…but all for a 45 minute ceremony.  Ironically, we spend months or years preparing for a wedding, when it’s really the marriage we should focus on.  The wedding is not the thing.  This is just day 1 of a journey of thousands of days.   And really, the best love stories are told at the end, rather than at the beginning.  We’ve grown skeptical of people’s promise to love, we want to hear about the couple that actually did it.  That couple that made it through 50 years of highs and lows and  that left a legacy of love by their actual example.  These are the best love stories.

princess 2Ever wondered why Disney stories typically end after the adventure and courtship of dating?  The book du jour my 2 year has me read to her lately is a princess book and it ends with a princess and prince running down the steps of a castle after the wedding.  Trivia question: name the Disney movies that actually show married people?  You could list “Up” (although the wife dies), “the Incredibles”, are there others?  All I know is you’ll not find married people in a princess movie.  “Little Mermaid”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Cinderalla”, “Snow White”- these all end at “happily ever after”, as if a kiss and a promise will ensure smooth sailing.  And yet, trouble arises.  Tim Keller of Redeemer Pres. in NYC wrote this amazing article about marriage- “We never marry the right person.”  Keller writes, “The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of the transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.”  His point?  Marriage is difficult.  Marriage is beautiful.  We’re called to the struggle.

Here’s what I’m learning slowly after 13 years with Heather.  I love my wife.  I love her more now than when I first met her when I was 21 years old.  I love her more now than when I proposed by the waterfall in Spokane when I was 22.  I love her more now than at the birth of our first child after a delirious 25 hours of labor.  I love her now more than when we held each other tight after our son Fisher had died at 9 months in utero and Heather delivered him through the night only to say goodbye.  These are highlights…these are days…these are points in the journey.  The call to marriage is a lifetime of average days…of good and bad…happy and sad.  People throw around the phrase “marriage takes work” and though I agree, I think what people mean is marriage takes patience.  And marriage takes commitment.  And mostly, marriage takes grace.  For grace is the best term of being accepted and loved even when you don’t deserve it.  Even on your bad days.

May grace reign in your home as you step into the Christmas season.  If you are married, may grace for your partner dominate your life.  And if you are unmarried, may you feel Christ’s grace in a new way this Christmas season.  We celebrate at Christmas the very arrival of grace.  God looked down and sent His son Jesus because humans just couldn’t get it right without God’s presence here on earth and in our hearts.  God saw that we needed a new way.  May your life mirror this grace and may your relationships thrive because you are able to extend this same grace towards all who you love.

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Rest

In Family and Marriage,Practicing Solitude,Relationships on July 5, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , , ,

I got the message from God embedded at the end of a seemingly innocuous email last week: “I hope you and your family are getting the chance to rest this summer.”
Rest?  Ha!  I almost spit out the coffee I was swallowing at the time of reading.  Who has time to rest?!?!?   But the question stayed with me.  And haunted me.  Yes I can be productive.  But can I also be faithful to God when I rest?

What does the bible say about rest?
The bible says “it is vain to rise up early and go late to rest…for he gives to his beloved sleep.”  Sleep? When there is much to do?  This is a hard one as many of us have such full plates it is hard to know how to stop.  The book of Hebrews says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”  Here the writer of Hebrews likens not resting to actually disobeying God.  If God indeed built us with a natural rhythm that needs recharging, if we ignore this rhythm we’re saying we don’t trust our Maker.  This isn’t right.  We need rest.

Why is rest so hard for some of us?
As I write this post, I look across the street where I live and can see big patches of blue sky breaking the otherwise gray backdrop that has covered us for a week.  Though writing inside, I can hear birds.  Lots of them- robins and finches and some other bird making a terrible racket.  I feel myself slowing down.

And then my 6-year-old son wakes, crawls down the stairs and onto my lap.  I rub his back for a while as he tells me of his dreams and how he slept and how bedtime went and everything else racing through his imaginative mind.  He slips on crocs and heads into the front yard on a “God walk”, what we do as a family to look for signs the Maker in the everyday.  He walks through the yard and goes exploring.  Then he comes to the window where I’m typing and says, “Come on papa, come outside.”

And for a moment, I’ll confess, I think about staying on my task and telling him “in a minute, bud.”  As parents we can often do this.  We don’t flat out say “no” when our kids want to spend time with us, we just say “in a minute.”  But often we need more than a minute and when we finally stop doing our task we’re engrossed in, our kid’s minds and imaginations have moved on.  Learning how to rest is also learning how to be present to the NOW of experiencing life.  Why do we think the email we’re working on is more important than a God walk?  Or a FB scan?  Or a blog post?

Rest is hard for me at times because I confuse my doing with my being.  I want to do more and more to be a good father and a good servant of Christ and a good husband and a good man.  But maybe God is teaching me that more of my goodness comes from who I am, a child of God, than what I do.  As my son waits expectantly at the window, I see him through the glass as my Heavenly Father sees me.  Beautiful.  Hopeful.  Good.  Not because of what he does, but merely for who he is.  I love him so much it hurts inside.  And then finally my dull mind gets the message from my Father.  “As you see your son, so I see you,” comes the message from up high.  “You are good Scott, now enter into some rest.”

I shut the computer screen, slip on my shoes, and join my son on an amazing God walk.  This blog post was finished a day late- but the timing couldn’t have been better.

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Community

In Relationships,The Journey on June 18, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , ,

Saturday night was the goodbye party of very good friends of ours, moving from Seattle to California next week.  This couple has been in our small group for the last 5 years, and before that, we’d been friends since all the way back to Whitworth College.  We had been buddies before, but only once we lived together in Seattle and started raising kids and living life together did our real bond flourish.  We became true friends.  We have experienced “community” together.

Community is the new buzzword of the evangelical world, the darling of churches here and there.  “Community”, we say the word and it rolls off our tongue like redemption or orthodoxy.  But what does this word actually mean?  And more importantly, if this sacred community with other people is the thing we should seek, how do we do it?

Well with these friends, we have truly done community.  We have raised kids.  We have buried kids.  We have celebrated great accomplishments.  And we have cried over disappointments.  We have had moments of fantastic intimacy and other episodes of awkward distance.  Why?  Because real community means real people are involved.  And when real people are involved, it’s not all just highlights and perfect moments.  There is the good and the bad.  The great times and the not so great.  The higher than highs and the somewhat lows.  But when you stick it out, with real friends like this, and don’t bail out when things get a little rough, well then you have begun to travel towards community.  Because real intimacy isn’t something that happens overnight, it is forged though long relationships and challenges and joys.  With these friends who are now moving away, we have forged a deep and true and beautiful friendship.  We have journeyed together.

The goodbye party was supposed to end at 9pm and so by 9:15 I started to gather the kids and say our goodbyes.  When I came back into the kitchen, I realized that though everyone else from the party had departed, our entire small group was all standing in a circle in the kitchen talking and crying.  And then it hit me, something very sacred was happening here.  Our small group which has been through so much in the last 5 years was losing an integral part of itself.  And the reality was that everyone was grieving the loss of these dear friends.  The gravity of the situation hit me: this was our last night as a small group together.  I pulled up a stool and sat and took it all in.

In the movement of a life, few nights can really be seen as the beginning of something, fewer yet be seen as the end of something.  More times than not, our lives are collections of small days and small moments, each stringing together to create the tapestry of our life.  Fill your life with more good days than not, you’re going to live a good life.  Choose good, serve others, live richly…the small moments are woven together to create something beautiful.  But every so often, you have nights that you won’t forget.  Times that weren’t really planned, but the spirit of God shows up and moments are shared with people who you won’t soon forget.

Saturday night was one of those nights.  Speeches were made, tears were shed, this couple was celebrated.  Soon Anna had a great idea to sing the doxology as a means to invoke the spirit of God into the midst of this farewell event.  And so we circled up and grabbed hands and sang the doxology.  I’m not sure if we were in tune or not, but it sounded perfect to me.  A bunch of rag-tag sojourners on the journey of life saying goodbye to dear friends who are started the next exciting leg of their journey.  Though I realize this sounds cliché, you have to trust me, it was a beautiful moment.  One I won’t soon forget.

And now our friends will be gone from the day-to-day but still present in our hearts.  I’m very sad when I think about them leaving, but excited for their new chapter.  Community isn’t easy, and it is something that can be idealized from afar. “Oh I wish I had their friends” or “It would be easier to have intimacy with others if I only had ____”.  Doesn’t matter how you fill in the blank, the point is that God made you to dwell in unity with others.  And to do this you need to step out and start to connect with others.  The bible encourages people in this verse and others to stir one another up for good deeds and continue to meet together.  Community doesn’t happen without gathering.  You can’t Facebook or Instagram or Tweet your way to true community.  You need to spend time together.  Might be in a small group or church setting, perhaps it’s a book club or bible study with friends from work or your neighborhood.  Doesn’t matter how, the important thing is whenAnd the answer is now.  Community takes a very long time.  Start seeking it now, be patient in the process because though we’re wired for intimacy with others, we’ve also all got defensive walls a mile thick.  As a result, it takes a LONG time to get to know others.  Start now, be vulnerable and seek real relationships with others, and stay with it when challenges or conflict arises.  Trust me, this isn’t the end of intimacy- it is the beginning.  Stick it out, that’s where the best fruit of a friendship is found, after you go through the hard stuff.

J and L- blessings on your journey.  We will miss you guys.  Thanks for all the great times and support you have been to our family.  Things won’t be the same here without you.  See you in NorCal.

-Scott

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Step Away

In Family and Marriage,Practicing Solitude,Relationships,The Journey on May 8, 2012 by scottsund

 “In the midst of creation, there is so much to do…Wake up…be careful you don’t become so consumed in your work that you don’t create some time and you don’t rest and you lose something and you find yourself back in another sort of Egypt.  Don’t become a machine that is so caught up in doing that you miss the joy, the wonder, and the awe of being a human in whole world God has made….
And may you slow down so you don’t miss a thing.”
-Rob Bell

To celebrate 13 years of marriage, Heather and I needed to step away.  Despite a home remodel going on, a busy church to lead, an upcoming fishing season that is bearing down upon us, and 3 wonderful kids and 1 pregnancy to focus on, we needed to get away.

We had 2 airfare credits that needed to be used by this summer so the trip felt like a waste if we didn’t get away.  And so we went.  And though I would have selected a beach somewhere very warm (or a golf course), Heather had always dreamed of visiting and staying on Cape Cod.  So Friday we flew to Boston, rented a Hyundai, and drove out to Chatham, Mass and spent a weekend walking the beach, eating seafood, exploring the small towns of the Cape, and mostly, filling up our emotional bank accounts.  This last season of life has been busy and as all busy times do, it was draining our emotional bank account.  We were doing fine…but definitely starting to gasp for more air and so we needed days to talk, to dream together, to laugh together, to share many good meals, and to reconnect.  Heather wrote about our time here and as always, she proves that she is the real writer in the family.

But as I sit and write on our cross continental flight back to life in Seattle, I’m mindful of the power of retreat.  When we retreat, we can restore.  We can rejuvenate. We can be renewed…we can be made new again.  This is powerful as individuals but also powerful as couples…we need time to remind each other of all that our marriages are built on.  With businesses and ministries and kids and obligations…sometimes our marriages end up getting the short end of the stick.  We give to everything and everyone else and sometimes unintentionally, our marriages get the cold shoulder of our emotional life.  And so our marriages end up drawing on the old resources and the old stories and we can slowly forget about the amazing person we share our lives with.  This weekend was about remembering…and reminding each other…and just dwelling in the wonderful mystery of a sacred love.

After 13 years of marriage, and over 15 years of being together, I am reminded that I am the luckiest man in the world.  And that our marriage is greater now than it was in those early years of bliss.  It is better because we have the strength of experience on our side.  We’ve been through hard stuff and because of this, we are stronger.

I’m also reminded that as humans, we need times to restore and be re-created.  I stumbled upon the Rob Bell quote above near the end of his “Everything is Spiritual” lecture.  We can become so consumed with the CREATION of our world and our lives and our stuff that we can forget to rest.  Bell reminds his listener that God commands that we rest, it is embedded in the creation narrative in Genesis 1.  Even God, in the midst of creation, rested.  And in the midst of His creation, God modeled a divine rhythm…”and it was evening and it was morning, on the second day.”  You can read the rhythm here, but Bell’s point is that as humans we’re always being moved from darkness to light, from mis-understanding to understanding, growing and moving and creating….but we need to rest.

For 4 days, I had a chance to rest and be renewed.  And in the midst of stepping away from my children, my church, my business, my busy life…I realized again I can return a better father, a better pastor, a better business owner, a better “creator” of a rich life.  Days spent exploring the beach, reading and journaling, eating and drinking great food, now I return back to the fullness of life, re-invigorated to make a difference in the world.  The  power of stepping away is that when we return, we are better prepared to do good things.  We must slow down…so that we don’t miss a thing. 

It seems ironic at times…but to be fully present- we need moments of being away.  This long weekend was a deep breath, a pause, a refresher of marriage and everything else, so that we return ready to live deeply.

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The fear of falling alone

In Relationships,The Journey on January 12, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , , , ,

Ever felt like you were falling and not sure what you were heading for or where you’d land?  Or worse, did you just KNOW, as you were falling, that you were headed toward immeasurable doom?    How did it turn out?  As bad as you thought?  Or did things turn out differently once you had a clearer picture?

When I was in my 20’s (yes…it was a LONG time ago) Heather and I headed to Nanaimo, BC to do a bungy jump at this place.  If you live on the west coast and have ever wanted to make a bungy fall, it is worth the trip.  You jump into an otherwise unused Nanaimo River canyon from a 140’ bridge built just for bungy.  It is incredible.  And if you time it right, at the full extension of your bungy cord, you actually dunk into the river, which is a frigid “cherry” on top of the ice cream of an epic experience.

After Heather and I had both bungy jumped, we sat back and took in the gorge and the natural setting and noticed a “special” they were running on a nearby sign:  JUMP AGAIN TODAY FOR ONLY $____.  I’m not sure what it was but it didn’t seem like a lot and I figured, what the heck.  I might never be back (I was right… I haven’t).  So I paid the extra dough with Heather’s blessing and climbed back up the otherwise empty bridge.  When I got up there, the jump assistant, a shaggy 20 year old looking dude who looked like he had been touring with LMFAO, said in a Fast Times At Ridgemont High voice, “Dude, want a real RUSH?  Fall backward!”

He seemed to know what he was talking about, I was up for another adventure, and so, “sure,” I said, “lets do it.  I will fall backward.”  I got hooked up with the bungy cord around my ankles and slowly shimmied backwards to the edge of the plank from which I would be leaping.  But as I prepared to flop, my shaggy assistant said, “Wait, there’s more.”  He tied a rope around my wrist and instructed me I needed to fall parallel to the ground for maximum effect.  He explained he would lower me back till I got all the way parallel… and then he would let me go.  He began slowly easing me backward until I was leaning over the river below.

I was almost parallel to the ground, when he looked down and looked surprised.  “Wait,” he said, “there’s a large ship down there and I need to wait before I can let you–“ and then the rope slipped from his hands.  He hadn’t even finished his sentence when his grasp on the rope failed and I began falling to my certain doom.  What do you do when you’re free falling to a certain death?  Well, I’m proud to let you know, I screamed like a little girl.  I still had my bungy cord around my ankles but as he had told me, I was falling for a huge boat.  The worst part is that as I cascaded down the 140’ length I kept trying to turn my body mid-flight to get a look at what I would be crashing in to.  But it’s not easy to turn your body while falling backward.  Screaming, flopping my arms, slowly trying to rotate, all the while absolute CONSUMED by fear….this was my 2nd bungy jump experience.  When halfway down I finally was able to get enough of my neck turned to get a clearer picture of the river below, I realized I had been duped.  There was no ship.  This was my RUSH.  I had been told a lie…I wasn’t falling towards anything dangerous at all.

I’m mindful know, many years later, that the lesson learned in my free fall applies to more than just adventure sports.  When I talk to people, many people feel like they are falling.  We live in a society that has achieved almost historic levels of material success, and yet marriages fail, anxiety and depression are rising, and a cultural and collective despair has set in.  In a recent Seattle times article, the writer Jon Talton discovered that, “A Rasmussen Poll last October found that only 37 percent of likely voters believed that America’s best days were ahead. In a Gallup survey, 55 percent of respondents said it was very or somewhat unlikely that today’s youth would enjoy a better life than their parents’ life.”  Read the article, you can see what I’m talking about.  Collectively people feel like they are falling.

The fear of falling is real, and the fear that follows acute situations isn’t to be minimized.  Much of the fear comes from the loneliness of falling alone.  When you share the challenges of present life with a strong family or a strong business unit or a church community, the “falling effect” can be minimized.  Don’t want to be scared about your present situation?  You might need a better rope- you want to know you are falling with others and that you will be okay.  The value of community, of sharing the load together, can minimize our individual struggles.  We learn this from the triune picture of God that arises throughout the bible.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all form the orthodox Christian understanding of whom God is.  And this 3 in 1 nature, this community of God’s self if you will, forms unity.  It is precisely this unity that calls us as believers into building strong unity with one another.  Its like God created us humans to be more fully alive when we are in relationships with another.

The bible says that when we bear one another’s burdens we fulfill the law of Christ. We have the DNA of attachment in our bones.  We crave to be connected.  And when we’re on our own, we’re more susceptible to the “free fall effect” of being gripped by our situations and totally alone in our pain.  I hope that 2012 is a year of CONNECTING for you, for your family and friends.  If you are like me, it is hard to be relational at times.  I am selfish and private and get too busy with myself to meet the needs of others.  But I’m understanding that when I’m party of a community, I am actually able to be more fully myself.  So may we walk together this year.  We’re not falling anymore if we journey together.

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Margin: Our Lack, Our Need

In Relationships,Spiritual Practices on January 5, 2012 by scottsund Tagged: , , ,

Over the holidays I dove into a book passed on to me by a friend: Margin.  The book by Dr. Swenson tracks the modern push to do more and be more and yet despite all the gadgets which should allow us to work less, many people are working more.  The result?  We don’t have margin anymore.  We don’t have any margin, extra time, in our life to be with friends or family, to feel caught up on work, to rest or exercise, or to do the things that rejuvenate and replenish us.  The result from marginless living is lack of sleep, higher stress, and lower satisfaction.  Swenson calls it the pain of progress.

He writes, “Why do so many of us feel like air traffic controllers out of control?  How can the salesman feel so stressed when the car is loaded with extras?  How is it possible that the homemaker is still tired despite the help of the washing machine, clothes dryer, dishwasher, and vacuum cleaner?  If we are so prosperous, why are the therapists’ offices so full?  If we have ten times more material abundance than our ancestors, why are we not ten times more content and fulfilled?  Something has gone wrong…Because we find ourselves in the midst of an unnamed epidemic.  The disease of marginless living is insidious, widespread, and virulent.”

Though a critical reader would take issue with some of Swenson’s widespread assumptions, mostly I think he is right on.  Through my role as a pastor I hear it all the time: we don’t have the money we want so we’re working more.  We don’t have the time we want so we can’t serve.  We don’t have the sleep we want…etc.  Most of the time, people seem to be living out of scarcity and not abundance.  But is this how God intended it?  Is this the highest calling life God wanted for us?  Or have we bought into the hamster wheel of modern culture telling us we’ll be happy if we have a little more, do a little more, more, more, more.

Swenson writes, “I’m not the one who’s making the fuss; I’m only writing about it.  I’m only being honest about what I see all around me.  Something’s wrong.  People are tired and frazzled.  People are anxious and depressed.  People don’t have the time to heal anymore.”  And because Swenson has studied the medical outliers that arise from such marginless living, we should pay attention.  Lack of time and space for God and relationships in our life is more than just an emotional or spiritual problem, it becomes a physical problem too.  Our bodies retain stress, retain excess pounds, retain toxins…all the while craving to have more time and space.

The book is worth a read.  I’ve come away from the last few weeks recommitted to getting good sleep.  To turning off the computer at night and engaging my wife.  To seeking to be a better friend.  We must carve out the life we want to have.  We must make time for relationship, for solitude with God, for sleep, for physical needs.  These margins are real and can help imbue our life with meaning as we refill our tanks.  As John Gottman teaches, our relationships are like Emotional Bank Accounts and we need to spend time each day making additions instead of constant withdrawals.  This is true whether we’re discussing our friends, our spouses or children, or our Maker.

For me this dark early morning, I start with a full pot of Starbucks coffee in my new stainless steel French press, a Christmas gift from my wife.  I read a few chapters of 2 Corinthians.  I pray for my kids and my friends and the church and those around us.  And I enjoy the sound of the wind blowing through the trees in the dark outside my home.  And I feel alive.

In this beginning of a new year, don’t forget margin.  Don’t forget in all the doing to spend some time just being.  You need it.