Too Busy to Love My Neighbor

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I’m a college professor, so my life is marked by the rhythms of the academic calendar. We gear up in August and January for 14 intense weeks, then we enjoy the slower pace of the winters and summers.

This past fall was especially busy. I had new classes to teach, a department to chair, plus other obligations too boring to recount. In addition, I taught a new class at my church for ten weeks in a row.

I’ve had busy seasons before, but this fall wrung me almost dry.

The Effects of Busyness

Looking back at the semester, I noticed one unpleasant effect of this busyness. At least in me, busyness aggravates self-centeredness.

As my to-do list filled beyond to-doing and my calendar crowded to standing room only, I focused more attention on myself than usual. I was concerned about my tasks, my meetings, and my responsibilities.

My time and attention were squeezed, like a half lemon giving up its juice. I felt mentally out of breath—my commitments seemed to rush at me, each one faster than the last. Though my days were full, the mental consequences of this busyness were more damaging than the shortage of time.

With my vision narrowed, I ignored critical areas of my life. I didn’t go beyond the bare minimum in my most important relationships.

  • My prayer life was almost nonexistent.
  • I scheduled no date nights with my wife.
  • I didn’t spend much time in meaningful conversations with my daughters.
  • I didn’t anticipate how I could bless others in my church, my neighborhood, or my wider circle of friends. I neglected all acts of proactive love.

Have you experienced anything like this? I doubt I’m alone when it comes to the detrimental effects of busyness on my heart.

Toward a Solution

This isn’t a healthy or sustainable state of affairs, so is there a solution to be found?

Answers are probably as different as the people asking the question. I’m still sorting through my thoughts on busyness, but here’s where I am now.

The main thing I’ve learned is this: the areas of our lives are all connected. The decisions I make regarding work affect my personal/home life. Family choices influence pressures on the job. The threads are all linked behind the screen.

Digesting this lesson of connectivity—perhaps obvious to many—is an important first step. But there must be practical changes if I want to avoid another semester like this past one. Here are some steps I’m trying to take moving forward.

First, I need to repent where appropriate. Though my situation may introduce temptations and pressures, it’s never an excuse for sin. If I’ve neglected my family and friends, I need to take this matter to God and to the people I’ve sinned against.1

Second, I need to remember my particular weaknesses, tendencies, and temptations. If extreme busyness tempts me toward selfishness, I must avoid that type of schedule whenever possible.

It’s helpful for me to review my weekly calendar ahead of time. If I know what’s coming up, I can adjust my expectations accordingly.

Finally, both at work and at home, I want to be present and take advantage of the time God has given me. At home, this consists mostly of building relationships and serving my family in practical ways. At work, there are three ways I’m trying to clear out some space on my calendar and in my brain.

  • Say no. Especially at the beginning of my career, I felt pressure to agree to every request. I’ve gotten better at declining invitations, but I haven’t yet mastered the art of delicately ending the small conversations that eat up my day. I need to say “no” or at least “not now” more frequently.
  • Build margin into the calendar. I’m feeling the effects of stress as much as busyness, so I need to make sure I have time to breathe during the day. Even a small step like scheduling at least 10–15 minutes between meetings can pay large dividends.
  • Be less available (at times). I need to be accessible to my students. But this doesn’t mean I need to be available at all times. I’ve found that I’ll never get any long blocks of work time (necessary for grading, research, and class preparation) if I spend all day in my office with the door open. So, I’ve taken to stealing away to the school library or a local coffee shop for a few hours each week in an attempt to engage in deeper work. As a middle ground, I’ll also close my office door at times to work inside. The key is to communicate my availability as transparently as possible.

Personal Reviews

The times between academic semesters are valuable for me to take stock of what has happened and what’s to come. If your yearly rhythms don’t have this natural reflection time, I suggest adding it. Take a personal day, take advantage of a federal holiday, or just block off one day on a weekend.

As you think through your closest relationships and the opportunities you have (or the ones you want) to serve and love your neighbors, make sure your calendar and commitments aren’t working against you.


  1. I have written before that asking your children for forgiveness is one of the most powerful actions you can take as a parent. 

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Photo Credit: José Martín Ramírez C (2014), public domain

 

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Technology and the Purpose of Family

The Tech-Wise FamilyWhat is the purpose of the family? Why did God structure our lives to involve these people, so close to us, for so many years?

In his latest book, The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch answers this question with two words.

Family helps form us into persons who have acquired wisdom and courage. (53)

Wisdom and Courage

As so many have observed, the “information age” has not made us wiser people. Access to facts is not the same thing as wisdom.

Knowledge, these days, is very easy to come by—almost too easy, given the flood of search results for almost any word or phrase you can imagine. But you can’t search for wisdom—at least, not online. And it’s as rare and precious as ever—maybe, given how complex our lives have become, rarer and more precious than before. (56)

Crouch argues that wisdom is essential, but by itself it doesn’t have an impact. Wisdom makes a difference when it brings about action.

If all we needed were wisdom, that would be challenge enough. But it’s not all we need. Because we need not just to understand our place in the world and the faithful way to proceed—we also need the conviction and character to act. And that is what courage is about. (56)

How do we become people of wisdom and courage?

The only way to do it is with other people. We need people who know us and the complexities and difficulties of our lives really well—so well that we can’t hide the complexity and difficulty from them. And we need people who love us—who are unreservedly and unconditionally committed to us, our flourishing, and our growth no matter what we do, and who are so committed to us that they won’t let us stay the way we are. (58)

The Place of Technology

Crouch discusses technology in the context of the family. In particular, he writes about the relationship between technology and the reason family exists.

For technology, with all its gifts, poses one of the greatest threats ever conceived by human society to the formation of wise, courageous persons that real family and real community are all about. (62)

Crouch views the goal of technology as “easy everywhere,” and since this ethos often stands in opposition to growth in wisdom and courage, we need help.

What it all adds up to is a set of nudges, disciplines, and choices that can keep technology in its proper place—leaving room for the hard and beautiful work of becoming wise and courageous people together. (18)

Crouch is not against technology. He is simply passionate enough about the development of healthy, wise families that he doesn’t want anything (including technology) to stand in the way. So technology needs to be in “its proper place,” which Crouch summarizes in the preface in six ways.

Technology is in its proper place when…

  • it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love;
  • it starts great conversations;
  • it helps us take care of the fragile bodies we inhabit;
  • it helps us acquire skill and mastery of domains that are the glory of human culture;
  • it helps us cultivate awe for the created world we are a part of and responsible for stewarding; and
  • we use it with intention and care. (20–21)

Recommendation

Though Andy Crouch begins The Tech-Wise Family with vision and principles, the book is stuffed with practical suggestions. He writes about the guidelines his family has tried to follow with regard to technology, and at the end of each chapter (in a “Crouch Family Reality Check”) he reveals how successful they were.

At its core, this is not a book about technology. This is a book about family, and a fine one at that. Crouch will provoke you, surprise you, and make you laugh. He models a way to approach technology neither as a gushing fanboy nor a fussy grump. His winsome vision of the family is primary, and technology must take a supporting role.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and I think many parents will benefit from reading it.

Thanks to Baker Books for providing me with a review copy of this book.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

My View from the Worship Team

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I’m on the worship team at church, so when it’s time to sing, I’m looking out at the congregation. I see it all—the joy, the struggles, and the boredom. I’m reminded how Jesus welcomes all of us, that his body is made up of all sorts of different people.

To the passionate, early 40s woman—It lifts my heart to see you worship God. You close your eyes, lift your hands, and focus on every word. Not all of us are so demonstrative with our bodies in worship, but your love for God can’t come out any other way. I see the joy in your face and I see the children around you—they’re watching. You’re giving them a picture of devotion to our Savior. I’m so glad you’re part of our family.

To the young father near the front—I love to see you teach your son to sing. You crouch down and point to the words on the screen, helping him to follow along now that he is starting to read. The church needs men who sing, and it’s great that you’re training him in these early years. You’re helping build up the body of Christ; I’m glad you’re part of our family.

To the silent man in the back pew—you sit as far away from the preacher as possible. You stand during the songs, but you don’t sing. You don’t look bored as much as you look angry. You sit by yourself, though you act like someone is forcing you to attend. I hope you find our church is a safe place to doubt, to ask questions, or to simply show up as you are. I don’t know you well, but I’m glad you keep coming back.

To the two older ladies in the back—you are a treasure! You have trouble standing during the praise songs, and you might not be able to see the screen. I know we don’t always make our services easy for you, but I love seeing you here. You are models of faithfulness, wisdom, and grace, quick with a hug or an encouraging word for anyone that needs either. You point me to our Savior with your steady trust in him. I want to be like you as I grow older; I’m glad you’re part of our family.

Our church isn’t perfect. We’ve got a lot of learning and loving and growing to do. But as God gathers his imperfect people around his perfect Son, I’m glad to be a part of this family.


This post is an imaginative essay. I don’t sing on the worship team, and none of the people in the essay are specific individuals in my church. These characters are amalgams of people I have seen and known (and imagined) over time.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by email (see the box on the upper right part of the page), or follow my blog’s RSS feed here.


Photo Credit: John Price (2015), public domain

Ruin Your Family Vacation in Six Easy Steps

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Taking a vacation with your family can make your year. Especially when they are young, children look forward to these trips for months and have piles of memories afterward.

Because a vacation can be such a balm for a family, parents want everything to be perfect. But there are so, so many ways to fall short of perfect! Most of us are okay with imperfection, but we’d like to avoid disaster.

Partly out of my own experience, I offer six ways to ruin your family vacation. Though it may be too late for this summer, file these suggestions away for the future.

1. Ignore your children.

The kids will want to do childish things on vacation, like build sand castles, play in the water, and visit amusement parks. If you want to rest, you need a break from your kids. Let your spouse or parents handle the children as much as possible.

You might think you’re missing an opportunity to spend time with your kids. But you work so hard, right? Put your feet up and nap. You’ve earned it.

2. Be tight with time and money.

Your children will ask for LOTS of things on vacation. But stay strong; don’t go beyond the minimum. Money is tight and time is precious. Let this be your mantra.

Say no to the extra scoop of ice cream, the additional hour at the park, and the last ride on the carousel. Your budget and schedule are more important than these simple joys.

3. Be distracted.

Vacations offer a great chance to build relationships and engage in conversations. But that doesn’t sound very relaxing, does it? So make sure you’re not present.

Hang around in the background, but take your mind and attention elsewhere. Put your nose in a device and convince everyone that you’re busy with Important Things. (Acting annoyed can help, just ask George Costanza.)

4. Insist on your own way.

Let your family know the places and activities you enjoy, and push hard to prioritize all of them.

In the interest of fairness, you’ll probably have to go to some places you don’t love. As you get dragged along, make sure your mood is sufficiently sour to ruin the experience for everyone else. If you make your displeasure known (non-verbally, of course), then next time you’ll either be left out or the activity will be cut from the schedule. Either way, you win!

5. Don’t lift any burdens.

Though vacations present an opportunity to bless others, don’t go out of your way to do anything extra. You need your rest.

The person in your house who cooks, who does the laundry, who cares for the children most of the time? Let them carry on as usual, unless that happens to be you. In this case, insist on your right to a break. Enlist someone else to take up your slack (and try to ignore the hypocrisy).

6. Abandon all spiritual practices.

Vacation is about rest and fun. So, cast aside anything that feels like work, including your spiritual disciplines.

It’s easier to read a novel than the Bible, right? Who wants to pray as a family when you can watch TV instead?

By taking a break from your spiritual life, you tell your family (and especially your children) that there is no joy in following Christ, only duty. You also communicate that it’s okay to set aside your efforts to love and obey God whenever the mood strikes.

The Big Idea

There are lots of ways to ruin a family vacation; I’ve just picked the low-hanging fruit. The big idea is to make the vacation all about you. Don’t serve others, and don’t make any sacrifices.

If you follow these steps, you’ll not only ruin your vacation, but you’ll be well on your way to poisoning all of your family relationships.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2009), public domain