27 April 2015

I Don't Have The Time

"I'm sorry, but I simply don’t have the time.”

How often have you heard this? It's used as an excuse throughout the country at the moment, as political parties tap on our doors asking for our support in the forthcoming elections. You hear it in the streets as you're approached by assertive charity collectors asking you to sign their forms... And when you've been the recipient of cold-calling, as a way of ending a less-than-productive phone call...

But, do we make the same excuses to God? 

You see, this week I came across the following quotation from Professor Bruce Hindmarsh on a website:
"Busyness is moral laziness [because it is often a statement of our self-importance and our excuse to be inattentive to people] ... But God has given us just enough time to do what we need to do moment by moment to respond to him. And his grace is there; it is eternally present. Every moment is a sacrament where time touches eternity and there is exactly enough time to do what God has called us to do."
Sure, I am aware that time is finite. We all get the same - 24 hours in every day. it's how we use it that can make all of the difference. Because everyone finds different ways to fill their day - working, reading, playing games, watching TV, doing the crossword. And so on. 

And yet I still keep coming back to Martha and Mary, and to the events recorded in Luke 10:38-42. What we do is a matter of personal choice.

So why do some of us choose to be busy? Are we doing this because we like to brag, to show people how important we are? Because, surely, that's got to be wrong!

However, the sort of 'busyness' that the professor also talks about here is a way of avoiding a harder, more costly choice. A convenient opt-out - a way to avoid getting involved in something far more difficult. "Sorry, although I'd love to help out, but I just can't spare the time..." It's a way of saying "the things I choose to do are more important that yours."

Thus, an overflowing schedule may simply be a shield protecting you from the inconvenient, time-consuming needs of others.

And if God always gives us enough time to do what He calls us to do - perhaps there are one or two others things on your busy agenda that you'll have to give up, if you do hear His call. 

Your choice.

25 April 2015

Distractions - part two

A few pointers now on coping with workplace distractions - following up from last time...

Emails form over eighty-five per cent of my day-to-day work. When I first went to work practically everything came by letter - if you cleared your post folder, you were guaranteed a breather until the next day. Now, letter post is an increasing rarity - and work flows into my email mailbox at an hourly rate. Controlling that inbox is therefore an important skill to learn - people tell you to minimise distraction by checking emails once a day. Mmm, not so sure. Some people seem to have got wise to this and have started phoning me up to ask me if you have got their email, thus emphasising that it's there!

The telephone used to be the best way of reaching people, but answerphones seem to have done away with that. I have lost count of the number of times I've left a message for people, who don't ever return my calls! Do they ever get them? It's a pity, I've always been encouraged to take calls in order to respond to people's queries. Now, the best advice is to minimise phone call distractions by refusing to take calls! How things have changed...

Instant Messaging (IM) is extremely useful tool; if their light is on, you can quickly track down a colleague to phone. However, remember to put yourself 'offline' or 'busy' if you don't want to be disturbed in return!

By far the biggest distraction of all comes from fellow staff members.  I'd love to have the luxury of an office door - so I could close it from time to time to minimise the problem. My most productive times are from 8am - 9am (before some staff members get in and the place starts getting noisy) and between 1pm - 2pm (when they're at lunch!).

Finally, a word about looking after yourself. Don't let any distractions come out of your own corner. I've learnt to my cost about what happens if I don't come to work in the right mindset for work, I'll get up getting distracted by the slightest thing. So, take care of yourself first:
  • Ensure that you are fully fit and ready for work - that you've had plenty of rest the day before.
  • Keep your mind on your work - avoid your mobile phone or only consult it when you're less busy.
  • Take that break when you need it - get some fresh air and go for a walk to help you feel more alert. The world will keep spinning without you!

21 April 2015

An Important Question

Will God ever allow His people to experience hardship, danger, or suffering as they work for Him?

Quite possibly.

Let's face it, He can put His people into some very tough places. Surrounded with a whole host of unlovely things. Unlovely people. Getting right in there to make a difference, to bring them hope.
It can - and will - be difficult.

People usually like to comfort themselves with the comment that “...God won’t give you more than you can handle."

Well, let's unpack that for a bit. Firstly, the Bible doesn't mention that at all.  The nearest we get to this is a quotation came from 1 Corinthians 10:13, “When you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (NIV).

However, the context of these words is related to temptation. We can’t choose a way out of danger or suffering.

It's a platitude, a bit like "it'll be all right". It's a phrase designed to make people feel better.

I am reminded that Jesus prayed earnestly for a way out of His suffering. Here's what He said to His disciples: "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." And then He said, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matt. 26:38-39).

Yet He willingly went through this for us, for our salvation.

When life seems too much to bear, that’s when we can throw ourselves on God’s mercy, and He holds on to us. God is with us every step of the way. And God will provide us the strength to make it through.

Because sometimes life does throw at us more than we can handle.

17 April 2015

Distractions - part one

  • The new Star Wars trailer?
  • The latest posts on Facebook?
  • News from the ongoing election campaign?
  • Football gossip?
  • The amazingly beautiful weather today?
How many of these distracted me from my working day today? Only two - I'll let you guess which two...

I get distracted countless times every day. The phone rings and shatters my train of thought. It's worse if it's the mobile. Or I get a text and have to just check to see if it's urgent. I have to research an idea on the internet and end up checking Facebook because the browser is open... People break into your working day and ask you questions, sidetracking you from the task at hand. And then it's time to go home, and you have to run otherwise you'll miss your train...

Regaining concentration after a series of distractions can take a while.

I've been trying to apply a few ways of minimising distractions in my day. I'll report back on this next week.

Once I just take this phone call....

16 April 2015

Better Than Life

This post was inspired by a documentary on the life and works of Burl Ives, that I was listening to one morning this week. It featured the song "Big Rock Candy Mountain", a folk song about a homeless man's idea of paradise. In the original version of the song, there are lakes full of whisky and there are cigarette trees. Yep, doesn't sound like paradise to me, either.

Yet, we're all attracted to our own image of an idyllic paradise, aren't we? A place where everything is positive, harmonious and eternal. This sort of thing seems to echo throughout science fiction tales, too. Even Red Dwarf had an episode set in a computer simulation called "Better Than Life" - Lister's fantasy paradise involved curries and lager (typically!).

Star Trek featured the word Paradise in two of the classic episodes. "This Side Of Paradise" was a tale about a group of colonists who were being controlled by plant spores. A side effect was the removal of worry from their lives... all seemed perfect. But it wasn't. Hmmm - the use of a mind-altering substance to make life seem better. No thanks...

Also, "The Paradise Syndrome" depicted Kirk losing his memory in a particularly shocking encounter with an alien device and living an idyllic life as a member of the indigenous population - free from worry and strife. That's more like it. The lack of worry bit. Not the shocking :)

Then I remembered a scene in one of my favourite films, "A Matter of Life and Death"(1946).  Set in the afterlife, Richard Attenborough looks out over row after row of desks in a huge admin office and says "It's heaven, isn't it."

And there's the point. To some people, the thought of working as an administrator would be paradise.

So, what would be paradise for you?


15 April 2015

Just Say - Yes

I've been thinking quite a bit this week about last Sunday's message at the Hall. We were looking at Philippians 2:5-13, and exploring why we should be saying 'yes' to God. The scripture passage can be found here.

The fact that we can even debate the matter, speaks of something about God. He does not demand blind obedience - He allows us freedom of choice. He doesn't want us as slaves.

Who does Jesus call? Why, ordinary people like you and me. He can use you, and God has a unique and special plan for each of our lives. Each of us has our own unique talents that God asks us to share with others. God values all of these. And God will not ask anything of us that we are not capable of doing.

Perhaps it won't be an easy path - I am reminded of the many who have suffered and died for their faith. For example, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu could have lived a very rewarding and fairly comfortable life in a convent, but at the age of 36 God asked her to consider another path, which led her to work with the “poorest of the poor” in India. He didn't command her to go there, but He asked and she said yes. It was hard work - she had very little support and, even while she tried to feed and help the poorest of the poor, she herself was constantly hungry and even had to beg for food. However, she persevered - and now everyone is aware of the legacy of the nun we now know as Mother Teresa.

Now, obviously, we aren't all called to do to heroic things like Mother Teresa, nor to give up our lives like the martyrs. Like I said, He doesn't promise an easy ride. He never tells us that it won't be risky. There will be things you'll have to give up, to leave behind.

What will your answer be?

We could say "no".
We could say "let me think about it and I'll get back to you".
We could say "sorry, I'm a bit too busy now, perhaps later".
We could say "I’d rather do something a bit easier".

But the answer He wants to hear ... is "yes".

13 April 2015

Energy Vampires

"People empty me. I have to get away to refill." - Charles Bukowski

Does dealing with a large number of people leave you physically and emotionally drained? Yep, that's me in a nutshell. I've shared this a number of times before.

However, some people are much worse than others. Interestingly, I have just learnt that there's a term for these people. They call them 'energy vampires'...

They take - and take - and never give. They'll drain you of energy (introvert or extrovert, alike) much faster than normal. You know the type. They're the serial complainers of this world. Nothing makes them happier than having something to moan about. To them, life is full of problems - their problems - and everyone is expected to show up to wallow at their regular pity parties.

However, I know that God loves them - and it becomes a real challenge to care for them. Sure, they are draining, but that's no reason to shun them. Sorry, it's not that easy. These folk are clearly in need and I certainly wouldn't abandon them without trying. However, I am aware that I may not be able to do this on my own - it may take several of you working together to talk to them.

I know that when I deal with these people, I need to have well-defined boundaries. If I've had a tough day, I need to be willing to say "no" if I really can't handle dealing with these people at the moment.

I know that it's important to identify those situations where you've had your energy sucked away. Afterwards, I can then prayerfully regroup, putting my life back into perspective and doing something that brings my energy back - like spending time with people who do energise me.

8 April 2015

Buridan's Donkey

One of the podcasts that I follow regularly introduced me to the following paradox:

Buridan’s donkey is standing halfway between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. It keeps looking left and right, trying to decide between hay and water. Unable to decide, it eventually falls over and dies of hunger and thirst.

If he only could, the animal would realise he could first drink the water, then go eat the hay. But, in this scenario, he can't. He simply can't decide. And that is his downfall.

So, what's stopping me from doing anything that I want to do?
  • Even if it’s humbling? 
  • Even if there’s a steep learning curve? 
  • Even if there is no guarantee of success? 
  • Even if I'm afraid? 
  • Even if the steps seem insignificant? 
  • Even if I have to give it all up, and place my future in God's hands?
Perhaps I just need to make a choice.

(The donkey in question is named after a 14th century French philosopher and cleric called Jean Buridan. In reality, the paradox predates Buridan, and it probably came from Aristotle. But such is fame.)

7 April 2015

Driving At Night

I hadn't realised what a pain it is to drive a long distance at night nowadays. Until this past weekend.

My son had agreed to volunteer as a young leader for a church-run children's camp, but there was the logistical problem of getting him down there, a journey of about 50 miles. Sure I would help... Two of the young leaders piled their luggage into my car on that particular night and I set off. My wife also came along to keep me company on the way home.

Now I knew the road - or I thought I did. Because I'd previously travelled down to this venue during daylight - but everything was totally different at night. There were road signs - but they were unlit, difficult to see, and often obscured by tree branches. Unfortunately I had to set off from a different start point, so although I knew where I was heading for, the route would be pretty much unknown. It would be easy to get led astray, to take a wrong road by accident.

In addition, it was disturbing to see how few roads now had street-lights at night. Those roads that were deep in the countryside had no lights anyway, however the county council had turned off some of the street-lights in remote areas to "reduce energy costs, carbon emissions and light pollution". Even the motorways were only partly lit. Much of the journey was undertaken in pitch black, with my car headlights as the only source of light.

We had satellite navigation, the 21st Century equivalent of a map, but this proved to be hit and miss. Relying solely on the 'tech' frequently led me astray, as it sent me down a dead-end. I ditched a lot of this information and desperately looked out for the street-lights that would show me that I was going the right way.

However, we got there. As much by God's grace as anything.

Psalm 119:105 (NIV) says:
"Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path."

I know that verse well. However, it's very real to me now. I have lived it out through that experience.

Because I now know how easy it is to take a wrong turn by accident. Particularly in our modern world, where it's so easy to get lost - even when all the signs are there, even when you have all the gadgets money can buy. When someone thinks it's a great idea to turn all the lights off to save money. This means that it can get pretty dark...

I want to be shown the right way, clearly. I want to be able to see any danger which may be in my path. I want to avoid all those other, tempting roads that would lead me astray.

And I want to show others that light, too.

4 April 2015

Overthinking - and Dealing With It (part two)

Last time I started looking at my own tendency to overthink. Here's a dozen ideas that I have gathered over the last few weeks about how to deal with this - with a comment or two from myself as I tried to apply them to my own life:

1. Starting the day better.
I'm told that it's important, in any activity, to start well and to finish well. Because of this, I have been taking a serious look at how I wake up in the morning. I usually have the radio coming on first, with a 'get up' alarm at 6am. This gives me a more gentle wake-up in the morning. Early morning DJs and their inane babble fill me with dread, and some talk radio stations are abrasively negative, so my channel of choice is BBC Radio 4 Extra with a little bit of comedy or drama to wake me. I have found I don't cope well with being suddenly woken up - so I have to allow myself at least half an hour from wake up to get up. I need that time. I have my regular chat with God as I walk down to the train; no distractions, no-one else around. I don't start thinking about the news until I get on the train, when I'm a lot more awake, then I then check my emails and Facebook. In go the headphones and I shut out the world until I get to work - I listen to music, or a podcast.

2. Taking care with what I fill my mind
I understand that what I watch, read or listen to, has a great impact on my way of thinking. I'm therefore increasingly careful now what I take in. I'll try to read books, magazines, blogs that are helpful to me. The same applies to listening to music and podcasts. There are certain types of emails that go straight in the trash without me reading them. I'll also try and seek out the company of people who encourage me to grow and support me. Philippians 4:8 (NIV) "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things."

3. Taking a break from music and other media.
I've noticed that I tend to distract myself from life as I go - this is my way of shutting out the world's chatter, which can be deafening or at best distracting. However, I am aware that I sometimes I lose out on the joy of simply being still. If silence is an option, I need to embrace it. It's so easy to drown out the quiet instead of enjoying it. Ditching the TV? Not a problem, that's a big advantage when I go off with my family, camping. However, what about taking a break from social media/emails? That's more tricky. I try to do this over the big public holidays (Easter, Christmas) in order to give more time for my family. Am I (like many) addicted to my social contact with friends from afar that I tune out those around me? Something l need to consider.

4. Taking a 'time-out'
I know when my mind is all over the place, when I need to take that break. A 'time-out' when I'm not thinking straight helps a lot. I can't always come up with a solution 'just like that', which can frustrate me. Taking a break to clear my head can help improve my thinking process. After a proper break, I feel refreshed and am best placed to then resolve the issue. I admit that my first reaction is to work through it, which I know leaves me tired and ratty. It's a weakness that I need to work through. Or, rather, not work through :)

5. Fight procrastination
I've struggled with this for a while. There's so much to do, I can't possibly do it all at the same time. So I have to prioritise. The art is not to fall into the trap of constantly delaying the same job over and over again. Quite apart from the practical reason, repeated delay just gives me an excuse to overthink - working through different scenarios until I end up exhausted. The solution requires a strong mindset and bags of determination. Get it done, move on to the next job.

6. Decision making deadlines
This is one I have found useful. The chief problem with decision making is the tendency to overthink. Letting my mind wander, exploring all the possible outcomes... Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it can be if I'm using it as an excuse for procrastination. So, I'll try now to set myself a time-limit. If it's a small decision, a minute or two. If it's a big one - till the end of the day.

7. Exercise
Why not go for a walk? The exercise will not only boost my health but can also help me organise my thoughts. Working out regularly can help arrange my time more efficiently, some say it can strengthen my will and determination. Hopefully one to try now the weather is improving...

8. Living in the now
Being content right now is a great thing to achieve. Like most people, I tend to worry about things that have already happened (dwelling on the past) or about the potential outcome of things that are going to happen (dwelling on the future). What is more valuable than living right now, in the present?

9. I can't change everything
My life isn't perfect. There are at least a hundred things in my life that I would change today, if I only had the power/ money/ resources to do it. But I can't. Trying to control everything isn’t going to work - in fact, it will hold you back. Thinking things through around fifty or sixty times isn't good, in fact it's a form of control obsession. Life is meant to be lived, not controlled or planned to the last detail. I need to work on changing one thing, then build upon it and move on to something else.

10. Don’t think of what can go wrong, but what can go right
What is the most likely outcome? If I persist in thinking about it, I'm just likely to make myself more anxious. Because I tend to dwell on the negative, rather than the positive. Too much negative thinking deprives me of the possibility of unleashing my true potential and daring to dream big. Not sure about this one...

11. Setting a physical boundary to work.
I rarely talk about my own work in this blog - however I'm just about to break that rule. This is so I can let know know that I work for The Salvation Army, which can cause difficulties as this is also my church. I need to explain this to show how difficult it can be to 'switch off' from work, when it's also an important part of your personal and social life. Setting boundaries between work and home can therefore be tricky, as demarkation lines get blurred all the time. Switching off is therefore terribly difficult because of this. So I need to set rules. I read recently of someone who set himself such a rule - he would stop thinking about work when he passed the bridge on his commute home. After that point, he couldn't think about work any longer. It's tough - but I'm going to have a go at this. Not sure how successful I'll be...

12. Ending the day better
It is surprisingly easy to get lost in TV or in social media right up to the time I need to go to bed. I know that isn't good for me - my mind keeps racing for a long time after my head hits the pillow. I've read research that shows TV or computer screen time immediately before bed interferes with sleep. Right, so off goes the computer, the phone goes on charge and I now pick up a good book to relax until my mind relaxes enough to allow me to rest. That also takes a while, so I leave half an hour to wind down at night...

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To end with, here's a great quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."