Things I Learned from my Artist/Wife: Love the Process

Love the Process: Learning from Artists

 “Thy lyfe so short. The craft so longe to lerne.”

I like to do a little woodworking from time to time. When I was first getting started with it, I was limited by my tools and my skill, and for quite a while I really felt that limitation. I was frustrated, not just by those limitations, but at my lack of ability to appreciate these first steps into this new world. I knew it was something I would eventually enjoy, but I struggled to love the process of building the skill. For a couple of years I tinkered halfheartedly with various projects. My wife would often ask me on days when I looked bored, “Why don’t you go do some woodworking?” And I would reply with all the reasons why that wasn’t a viable option.

My wife, Jen, is a very talented artist. It’s easy to look at her and think “Wow, I wish I were that talented.” But she has been working her whole life to develop the skills she now possesses, and when she talks about “getting better” she’s referring not to a certain level of achievement, but to a deeper understanding of her mediums, techniques, and approach. Her learning process never ends, and she loves every second of it. I know from experience that there are times when she feels frustrated by something, but she never throws in the towel and says “That’s it. I can’t do it.” Her love for process is inspiring to me.

Looking back, I can see that I missed out on a few solid years of learning woodworking skills because I focused on the “why-nots” instead of the “how-to’s.” And I’m sorry to say that I’ve done the same thing to many other potential skills. I missed out on what I now believe to be the most important truth about skill-building: It’s about the process, not the product. Whether we’re designers, artists, musicians, construction workers, truck drivers, chefs…whatever, we don’t learn much from the destination, we learn from the journey.

I have always struggled to love difficulties and challenges. I’m often engaged in battle with an inner voice that says “Hey look! The path of least resistance is right over there!” And for a long time I gave in to that voice. I will not pretend that the process of learning and mastering a skill is not difficult and time consuming. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. That’s a daunting number to come to grips with at the outset. But I think there comes a time when, like my artist/wife, you fall in love with the process and the practice. Suddenly, practicing your scales ceases to be drudgery and becomes part of you and your creative process. At that point 10,000 hours just doesn’t seem like enough.

These days, I have adequate skill in woodworking. And I’m cool with that because I’m learning to appreciate the process. I’ve learned to buddy up with failure and to stop expecting perfection of myself out of the gate. It’s a great feeling to stand back and look at a finished project and take pride in it, but I’ve learned that that pride is founded in the work it took to get there, not in the final product.

 

Life Lessons from Chuck Swindoll

In early March 2011 I sat in a roomful of men and women who have dedicated their lives to various forms of broadcast ministry. We were all about to hear Dr. Chuck Swindoll deliver a message that he told us he had been “writing for over 50 years.” In a moment you’ll understand what he meant by that.

This was the first time I had ever heard him speak live. And to be honest, I’ve not spent much time listening to his sermons or radio addresses, or reading his books. But if there was one time I could have heard him speak, this was the one to be at.

Dr. Swindoll took the stage graciously, despite the inconvenience of going on 30 minutes late. Over the next hour or so he shared these 15 thoughts which he had carefully collected over the course of his life, marriage, and his years of service in ministry.

  • Tell people how you feel about them now. Not later… Later may never come.
  • Things that I’m not even aware of are being noticed and remembered. Little things mean so much to people.
  • Authenticity will keep you from a lot of trouble.
  • When things fit they flow. When they don’t fit, they have to be forced.
  • It doesn’t pay to talk anyone into, or out of, a big decision.
  • Days of maintenance are a lot more in number than days if magnitude.
  • Half of ministry is just showing up. Most of it is just plain hard work. It’s not “fantastic.”
  • Some people aren’t going to change, no matter what. Ruth Graham says of her husband, Billy Graham “It’s my job to love Billy, it’s God’s job to make him good.”
  • I seldom feel sorry for things I did not say.
  • Perception overshadows reality.
  • Time spent with my family is always worth it.
  • Grace is worth the risk.
  • Learn to stop saying “never” and “always.”
  • Thinking theologically pays off… Big time.
  • Some things are worth the sweat: Truth, admitting inadequacies, expressing gratitude, apologizing, and being generous.
  • You can’t beat having fun.

What a great list! When hearing Chuck Swindoll deliver them you could just tell they were intensely personal lessons he had learned through many trials and even more errors.

None of us are perfect, not even great men like Chuck Swindoll, but we can always strive to be better than we are. Don’t get caught up in yourself. Do better, be better, and choose better.

5 Ways to Battle Burnout

So you started strong right out of the gate. Energized, motivated, ready to conquer the world with an “I’m invincible” mentality. But six months… 12 months… 2 years into it you’re waning fast and feeling like you just need to get out of there.  And maybe you do. But before you abandon ship into the vast unknown, why not make some purposeful changes in your life to battle the burnout.

  1. Read. If you’re not reading, chances are you’re not growing like you could be. And if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Look for things that speak to your passions or challenge you in the workplace. Books and blogs on leadership, management, productivity, spirituality, and personal development are a great place to start.
  2. Alter your environment. As simple as it sounds, sometimes simply removing clutter from your desk and getting organized is a great way to rejuvenate and clear your mind. Keep your environment between 65ºF and 75ºF for optimal working temperature. Throw open a window, get a new chair that improves your posture and breathing, and ditch those awful fluorescent lights!
  3. Innovate something. Even if you generally like your job, there are things that just suck the life out of you. These tasks are perfect candidates for overhaul and can provide just the the spark you need to pull out of the burnout slump. Look for things in your job that could be automated in some way, or maybe even eliminated all together. Even if you’re not a problem solver, innovation in your job can give you a sense of freshness in your work and could lead to learning new things and even a nice pat on the back from the boss.
  4. Pay attention to your body. I really can’t say enough about how important your physical condition is to your work. Like it or not, diet and physical activity is a major player in how you feel at work. Engaging in a workout routine and limiting  your intake of poor quality and unhealthy foods could be just what the doctor ordered. Your energy levels will soar and correspondingly you’ll see your job satisfaction and success level rise as well.At the risk of sounding superficial, upgrading your work attire could do wonders in battling burnout as well.  Feeling good about yourself both on the inside and outside helps to instill a natural confidence that will translate into your work. Your posture is also an important part of this, so pay attention to how much your slumping at your desk or slouching while you walk.I could go on and on about how important your physical being is in relation to your work, but I’ll save it for another post.
  5. Dive Deeper. Here’s an unpredictable method for battling burnout that has worked for me a number of times in the past.  When we’re weighed down and overwhelmed by our work, I think we tend to begin to disconnect and slowly begin to float towards the surface of our jobs. We switch to maintain mode.When this begins to happen we lose sight of that purpose and passion we once found in our work. By making a purposeful change of mindset to dive deeper into your work you can turn this around and rediscover the satisfaction you once had. It’s not an intuitive method, but it has worked time and again for me.

Burnout does not have to be anything more than a temporary dissatisfaction with the work your doing. Naturally we all get a little restless and come to points where we question what we’re doing with our lives. The mistake often lies in how we deal with, or don’t deal with, burnout when it does occur.

These are simple solutions for addressing the periodic burnout that I think we all tend to encounter every now and then. These things have worked for me at one time or another and so I pass them on to you in hopes that one of them might get you through this temporary slump you’re in. But if there are deeper challenges that you face –more serious and difficult issues that are weighing on your heart– then perhaps a more drastic change may be necessary. But before you make any drastic changes, I would challenge you to confront the burnout proactively and take steps to eliminate it from your life.

How To Lose Your Vision

The steps to losing your Vision are really quite simple once you understand exactly what it is that you’re trying to lose.

By Vision, I am referring to that lens through which you look into the future and make some attempt to aim at or achieve something. It is also that encompassing ideal… that faint wisp of a concept upon which you have based your life’s work, be it ministry or otherwise. Vision is like cancer to the uninitiated and candy to the idealist.

Like I said, the steps to losing your Vision are simple. All you have to do is dry up, disengage, and detach. It really is that easy! And I chose three ‘D’ words to help you remember.

[Exit Sarcasm]

Dry Up

Ministries are like toothpaste tubes – they work great when there’s a steady flow of ideas and activity, but when the tube runs out the spout gets crusty and corroded. It takes more effort to squeeze out what’s left and you end up with a smaller result for the strain. God’s work is about being creative and innovative. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be a dynamic range of ministries. We’d all be doing the same things, reaching the same people, working in the same places. Thankfully ministry is dynamic. It’s full of life, color, and variety. God’s work is always like that. (I cite the Earth as Exhibit A and mankind as Exhibit B.) Where one ministry ends, another begins. If one organization ministers to women, another works on the men. One might focus on providing medicine to a deprived group of people, while another helps to deprive a different group of the drugs they’ve been addicted to. I’d venture a guess that there aren’t many areas of the world – geographically and socially – that we haven’t reached in some capacity. So at least we have saturation on our side. But we must continue to innovate and find new ways of reaching the lost or we’ll dry up, get crusty, and eventually get tossed.

Disengage

I love the word ‘engage.’ The root word ‘gage’ in it’s verb form means to “offer a thing or one’s life as a guarantee of good faith.” In it’s noun form it refers to the thing that one would offer in that same pledge – an object of value. It was also used to refer to the glove thrown to the ground to symbolize a challenge to fight. Oh the implications! I just love this! What a literary gold mine! Just think of it… to be engaged in work, especially in ministry, means that you are offering your life, or something of value, as a guarantee of good faith that you are up for the task. It means that you are willing to sacrifice and do what must be done to accomplish your work. And it proclaims that you’re ready for a fight, that the gloves are off, and that you’re not going down easy. Are you hearing this? This is hard core stuff. And the benefits far outweigh the value of what you put in because they’re eternal.

I hate the word ‘disengage’. It’s the same as the word ‘engage’ but with a resounding ‘DIS’ in front of it. It means you wussed out. You sacrificed your ground, your fight, and probably your glove. Losing is different… it implies that you actually fought. But disengagement means you turned around and ran like a yellowbelly. This may be the worst thing you can do in ministry. Because when you’re disengaged, you can only be running away from God, into the hands of the Enemy.

Detach

You know that look in a person’s eyes when they’re daydreaming. And then you wave your hands in front of their face and say “Hellooo? Where’d you go?” That’s a form a detachment. It’s a disconnect between the life you’re actually living and the one you’re dreaming about. This same thing happens to ministry workers – we become detached. We can go about our daily tasks like we’re in a trance, but we’re thinking about the greener grass in a different ministry, or a different line of work. We remove ourselves from the reality of our situation and think of the things that might make us happy. What happens then is that seeds of discontent and resentment are sown, and they grow up around us like thickets and thorns, suffocating the rays of light bit by bit.

Detachment can be addictive. It can become our defense mechanism when things get tough at work. We just take a hit of detachment to soften the edge a bit. But each time we need more and more. Soon we’re just shells sitting at a computer, or standing behind a podium, regurgitating the words we’d formerly spoken with passion and zeal. When the passion leaves us, and we don’t pursue it, we begin to empty. And then, like a used up fuel tank on a space shuttle, we detach, and float off into the endless void.

If you think this all seems rather melodramatic, sadly you’re wrong. It’s actually rather understated. I’ve merely given you three simple steps to lose the Vision of your ministry. I haven’t even touched on the disastrous effects this can have. Maintaining and communicating Vision within your organization is imperative because it sets the goal line. The better you cast the Vision and the more effort you put into helping people understand it, the less likely it is that you’ll face these issues in your work.

Vision is supposed to be unattainable in a Christian ministry, so set your goals high and lofty – then jump like a lollipop-obsessed three-year-old at the bank counter to achieve them.

Punching Out For God

I work in ministry. That’s the shorthand for “my work on this earth will never be finished so long as I’m called to work here.” If you work in ministry then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re a Christian, then technically you should feel like this as well. Our work here is never done, no matter where you are, what you do, or who you boss around.

There’s something I’d like to point out about the statement “I work in ministry.” Word choice is very important here. A simple change of prepositions renders a completely different interpretation of just what one does each day. For instance, if you replaced the word “in” with “at” (and stuck in an “a” for good looks), your statement would read “I work at a ministry.” Now, tell me that doesn’t ring a little dissonant in your heart. You might as well say “My job is at a place where they do things that they think God wants them to do.” It reeks of discontentment, detachment, and what’s another ‘D’ word… inDifference. But to say “I work in ministry” implicates that you have invested and immersed yourself in the work that needs to be done. It communicates an attitude of dedication, commitment, and responsibility to the tasks laid before you. And if you find yourself in the former state of mind – using “at” instead of “in” – then try switching it up. Remind yourself of the mission and your part in it. Remember that you’re in a battle, and that you can be a hero, just by altering your prepositional tendencies.

Working in ministry is sort of like being on call. Whenever you finally manage to wrap up the day’s pressing responsibilities you end up going home with a vague sense that your work isn’t done yet – that it’s still, somehow, unfinished. And to the cynic, the realist, the workaholic, and the Christian… it is. But I have a nagging feeling that we take this too far. Maybe we take ministry too seriously in general. If you go home at night feeling guilty about all that you’ve left unfinished, and stressed out about all that you have before you, then something is wrong. Of all the work environments, the atmosphere of a ministry should be the most gracious and understanding of all because, in reality, those involved have agreed to take on a level of responsibility that surpasses earthly measurement. It goes beyond task lists, time tracking applications, and project management software. It stretches into the realm of the impossible because we all know our work will never be “complete.” For every person reached, there are millions more that have yet to hear the message we work so hard to impart.

This is an eternal perspective. Whether your in ministry, at ministry, or a Christian working a 9 to 5, if you think that if you work enough hours and get enough done that you’re almost finished, you need wake up. Check out Ecclesiastes 3 and you’ll see what I’m talking about. God has already instituted His blanket contingency plan for our uselessness and the vanity of our work. What is and what will be, has already been, and God has already done what needs to be done. Nothing we can do will add or subtract from that.

So, what’s the point? You’ll find that in Ecclesiastes 3:12…

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.

So do yourself a favor. Work hard, go above and beyond, and work with a sense of urgency. I guarantee that you’ll get more pleasure out of your work than if you only put the in the required amount. But at the end of the day, CLOCK OUT! Go home, do good, enjoy the food, the drink, the family, the dog, and whatever else God has given you a passion for – God’s work is accomplished in those things as well. And when your boss calls you to do something, tell him the same thing – Clock out!