Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Part 1: The Problem: Squeezing Living Out of Life
Chapter 1. Crowded Loneliness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Managing Too Many Worlds
Chapter 2. The Connection Requirement . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Created for Community
Part 2: The Solution: Restructuring Our Relationships and Time
Chapter 3. The Secret of the Bedouin Shepherd . . . . . . . 39
The Solution Is Not More of the Same
Chapter 4. The Circle of Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . 45
Restructuring Our Relationships
Chapter 5. The Hebrew Day Planner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
Restructuring Our Time
Part 3: The Obstacles: Overcoming Bad Habits and Myths about Raising Children
Chapter 6. Getting Life Out of Balance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
The Need for Boundaries
Chapter 7. Childhood: An Endangered Species . . . . . . . . 87
How Our Lifestyles Affect Our Children
Chapter 8. The Lost Art of Play. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . 95
Seven Ways Our Children Are Losing
Part 4: The How-To’s: Practical Steps to Making Room for Life
Chapter 9. Ten Principles of Productivity . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
Getting Work Done at Work
Chapter 10. Discovering the Convivium . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
The Importance of Sharing a Meal
Chapter 11. The First Church of the Neighborhood . . . . 143
Bringing Church Home
Chapter 12. Life Busters Part 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . 157
Dealing with Homework and Sports
Chapter 13. Life Busters Part 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . 167
Dealing with the Pressures of Work
Afterword: You Can Do It! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
Appendix: A Word to Church Leaders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185
Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189
Simply put, many of us have squeezed living out of life. We don’t have the time to soak in life and deep friendships. We’re always running around trying to get to the next event. This presents at least two major problems. First, our busy lifestyles stimulate a toxic disease called crowded loneliness. But there’s an even deeper problem. In our original design we were created with a connection requirement. If this requirement is not met, we will die.
Too Many Worlds
Consider the average day of a typical middleclass family in America. The family rises at 6:00 A.M. Everyone fends for himself or herself for breakfast. Dad heads out at 6:45 to beat the 7:00 traffic. His normal commute without excessive traffic is forty-five minutes. Mom and the two children are out the door by 7:15 (usually someone is a little cranky). Mom drops her elementary-age sons off at school by 7:40. Twenty minutes later she arrives at her workplace.
At 3:30 P.M. the children are done with school and enter an after-school program. Mom skips lunch so she can rush out of the office to pick the kids up by 5:00. She arrives home at 5:30. Fifteen minutes later one son has baseball practice. She gets both kids in the car and rushes to make it to the practice field on time. The other son has a game at 8:00. She calls her husband on the cell phone while taking her son to baseball practice to make sure he can grab the second child at the field and get him to his game by 7:30.
Dad leaves the office at 6:00 P.M., unsuccessful in his efforts to make it through his to-do list. Traffic is now an issue. The forty-fiveminute commute stretches now into an hour and fifteen minutes. He arrives at the practice field at 7:15 with all the signs of road stress. He kisses his wife, waves to his son in center field, whooshes the second son into his SUV (a mere $700 a month), and heads to the game field about fifteen minutes away. Son #1 finishes practice at 7:30, and he and Mom head for home. On the way they stop at Taco Bell for dinner. They arrive home at 8:00. The boy turns to the video games while Mom checks the e-mail.
Meantime, the baseball game gets started a little late and doesn’t end until 9:45 P.M. Dad is still in his business casual clothes, but he does appreciate the forced break to watch his son play ball. On their way home they make a quick stop at the McDonald’s drivein window. They arrive home at 10:30. Once in the house, son #2 reveals that he hasn’t finished studying for the history test he’s supposed to take tomorrow.
After forty-five minutes of shoving facts into her son’s shortterm memory while he inhales a McDonald’s “Happy” Meal, Mom sends him to bed. It is now 11:15 P.M. Time for bed. Mom and Dad flop into bed dead tired. They watch a little television; exchange a few words—mostly action items for the next day—and then lights go out. Mom falls asleep as soon as the lights are out. Dad, on the other hand, doesn’t. He lies there thinking about all the things that must be done. He knows he needs to sleep, so he gets up and swallows a sleeping pill. It seems to be the only way he can get a good night’s sleep lately. It bothers him a little, but he doesn’t see any alternative. Tomorrow promises more of the same. Things seem a little harried and out of hand, but the following assumptions keep the family from making any changes:
Maybe this mirrors your life. The activities may be different, but the movement and noise are the same. The initial thought is that the more financial resources you have, the more likely you are to have a stress-free, relaxing life. In reality, though, studies show that with increased resources comes increased complexity, not simplicity. If they aren’t especially careful, the ones who have more actually have more with which to destroy themselves.
Maybe you can relate to the cartoon caption below. Can you think of how many times you’ve made a resolution to do something about busyness and stress in your life only to find nothing really changing? Noise and movement make up so much of our lives that we don’t know how to effectively stop when a little “R and R” is attempted. There is among Americans a common illness called “leisure sickness.”1 This malady manifests itself in several forms, such as flulike symptoms, headache, sore throat, and muscle aches. Essentially, our bodies and emotions are so stressed out during the week that in the evenings and particularly the weekends we fall apart. The only prescription for this social fever is a change in lifestyle.
I am the pastor of a large church in a busy suburb, a husband, and the father of four children. The opportunities to send myself into the “rubber room” of insanity abound. Preparing sermons, managing staff, meeting parishioners’ expectations, tending to constant changes that need to be implemented, spending time with family, paying individual attention to each of my children, having individual time with my wife, exercising, staying in touch with my extended family, helping with science projects, going to children’s sports events—the list goes on and on. I don’t know how many times people have approached me with the words “I’m concerned about you; you have too much to handle.” I think I lived so long under extreme stress that I lost sense of what was happening. It had become routine and normal. This is a scary place to be.
So the impetus for my initial search for connectedness or community was not a need to prepare a sermon or write a book but a need for personal sanity. I knew I couldn’t obtain connectedness by increasing my speed or extending my hours of work. King Solomon tried it about three thousand years ago and found out that it doesn’t work. I’m nowhere close to being the smartest guy in the world, but I’m smart enough to listen to the world’s wisest person.
I needed something fresh, something deeper. I also had a sense of urgency. Several years ago as my daughter approached her sixteenth birthday, I realized that I wouldn’t have much more time with my children, and I didn’t think my health would hold out under the daily pressure I was voluntarily inflicting on it. At the same time I didn’t want my life to be meaningless. I didn’t want to retire from life and sit on the back-porch rocker watching little birds suck juice out of a jar. I’ve always lived with a strong sense that God has a calling on my life, that he has something for me to accomplish. But I needed to find some balance and establish some boundaries. Certainly, a big part of what God has for my life is what I can become as a person in Christ—not just what I do for Christ.
The solutions to my dilemma were rooted in God’s Word, coupled with the common sense of sages who have gone before us. It has rescued me from a life of running on a hamster’s wheel, a life of motion without meaning.
Let’s begin our journey together with some self-discovery. Grab a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Now look at the following illustration.
The individual in the center represents a person who is trying to make more room for life. Each of the smaller circles represents a relationship that they manage. They may invest time daily in a particular relationship, or only a few times a year. Think about your life and the various relationships you manage, and draw a circle for each.
When you’ve completed this, go back to each circle you have drawn and ask yourself the question, “Is that really one relationship group, or are there more worlds within each circle that are managed separately?” For example, if you have more than one child, do they go to the same school? If not, then you need to draw a separate circle for each school. If you are married, does your spouse work? If you don’t both work at the same place, then you need to draw an additional circle representing this separate relationship. If you have children, are they involved in sports? If so, are they involved in multiple sports like soccer, baseball, and volleyball? What about music lessons? How about extended family? You should already have a circle representing your family and another circle representing your spouse’s family. Do they all live in the same town, or are they spread throughout different states? If they are in different cities or states, then you need to draw a circle for each one. Are you in a blended family situation? If there is joint custody, then you need to draw a circle for each relationship. How about your hobbies? Maybe you have a group you golf with and a group you play cards with. Draw a different circle if these are not the same people. What about past friends you try to maintain contact with—college friends, friends you had in other places you lived, and so forth?
If you live in suburban America, you’re probably getting a little stressed by now, but please continue on for a few more minutes. Now consider church. If you are involved in a church, is it really one circle, or are there many circles of different activities and relationships (missions committee, women’s groups, choir, youth groups, small group, support group, elder board, and the like)? The average suburban American who is really involved in church life can have four to six different circles. If an entire family is fully involved, there can be as many as fifteen different circles. Draw a circle for each activity or ministry you are involved with. Before you’ve finished drawing your circles, get some feedback from others about ones you may have overlooked. Be sure you have a circle representing the persons you will ask before you seek their counsel.
Next, you need to consider the line drawn to each circle. These lines represent your commute to these relationships. You may consider drawing an object next to each line that represents the means by which you engage in this relationship. These may be automobiles, airplanes, letters, e-mail, telephones, and so forth. Place a time value on each line representing a round-trip commute to and from that circle. For example, if it takes you an average of forty-five minutes to get to work, write down ninety minutes. I’d invite you to multiply this for the entire month, but it just might put you over the edge.
Now let’s consider the issue of commuting in an automobile. Harvard University’s Robert Putnam, in his best-selling book, Bowling Alone, gives some startling statistics on American commuting. 2 His studies show that the average American family engages in thirteen automobile commutes a day! When I first heard this statistic, I immediately dismissed it as not a reality for my family. However, after taking a moment to calculate the average business and school day, I found myself easily within these parameters. To add to the misery, recent studies suggest that 80 percent of cars on the road systems in cities and suburbs in America only have one person in them—the driver.3 The only source for two-way interaction is either the unwholesome hand gestures exchanged when one is cut off or the cell phone.
Robert Putnam suggests this formula: For every ten minutes you spend in an automobile, you reduce your available social capital [time for relationships] by 10 percent.4 If his calculations are accurate, as you look at the drawing of your social world you may conclude that you not only don’t have any social capital available at the end of the day, but also that you are going into social debt. If you believe that we are created as social beings who require a quantity (and a quality) of people interaction each day to survive, then this means we are dying—not from physical illnesses only but from social illness as well. I’m quite confident that, as historians look back on this era in which we live, one of the marks we will bear is the death of community.
Many people turn to the church to solve their problem of loneliness and disconnectedness. Because the church has been commissioned by Christ to reach out and to develop a functioning community, it is an appropriate place to turn. The church’s principal solution for community over the last thirty to forty years has been the small group. Without question, the small group movement has made its mark on society. Studies show that 40 percent of Americans are involved in some kind of small group.5 Many people get involved in such a group to find a point of connection and a greater sense of intimacy and belonging, to have a place where they can share their fears and dreams. Testimony reveals that small groups are good and helpful. But studies also show that they often don’t work.6
Thinking of the old Chinese proverb that says “the beginning of wisdom is to call something by its right name,” go back to your personal galaxy and add a circle for your small group (if you haven’t already). Now rename the small group according to what you see and feel. How about the name “Another World to Manage”? The fault does not lie with the concept of smallness or with the people. The problem lies with orbit management. Most people confess to rushing from one world to a totally separate world of small group. In other words, the people in their small group are not involved in any other world they are managing. Very few small group members get together outside of the formal meeting date, not because there isn’t a desire, but because there just isn’t any time. While attempts are made, there is little chance the members of the small group can get their arms around your world or your arms around theirs. Their lives simply do not intersect anywhere except the small group meeting—and perhaps a quick “hello” at church on Sunday morning. We are simply not principal characters in each other’s worlds.
If you haven’t done so already, finish drawing your worlds, or add new ones that came to mind as you read. What are your thoughts about what you have drawn? If you’re the average person, you’ll be seeing a picture of stress. Take some time to give the right name to your life. How about “Lost in Space,” or “Everybody Knows My Name, but Nobody Knows Me,” or “Planet Hopper,” or “Space Shuttle Dweller.” How about a new name for your car such as “Cocoon on Wheels” or “Mobile Penitentiary Cell.” If we are going to make room for life, these are the kinds of honest confrontations on our existing lifestyles we must have.
As you read the following pages, determine now that you’re going to establish your own specific thoughts at the end of each chapter as well as a list of action steps that will move you further from mere existence and closer to authentic living. My goal and passion are not just to see you exist in a life of crowded loneliness but to give you a vision for a new way of life—along with the practical steps to get there. The ideas will be easy to understand, but the implementation will take courage. But if you’re like me and so many others I know, you’re ready for a change.