Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Sufficient, But Not Saving

I often notice that a lot of commercials and ads have one big message in common: if you're not buying or doing or subscribing to or wearing such and such, your life is not as good as it could be. There seems to be almost a moral pressure to consume the advertised thing. It's easy to wonder if I'm good enough, doing the right thing, living life the right way, or consuming the "right" things. These ads seem to advise that if I follow their suggestions, perhaps I'd be able to get control over a small corner of life-and in so doing, to live a little more abundantly, be a little more in the moment, and overall, enjoy life more.

One of the things that I feel pressure to be better at is saving financially, especially for the sake of retirement. My family situation, as of this writing, is such that I'm the only full-time worker. That means we're living off of my income alone. It's sufficient to live, to be sure. But it's not quite sufficient to save for the long term.

I consider this cost against the fact that my wife gets to be a stay-at-home mom. My wife and I believe that her regular and reliable presence at home will be invaluable for our children as they grow.

But as a father and the one who is responsible (for now) for providing financially for everything my family needs, I inevitably have those days when I wish I could do more. When those feelings creep in, I get a little anxious about the future. Saving for retirement is supposed to be a form of control, at least somewhat, over a little corner of life that isn't here yet, but is coming nevertheless.

When I was growing up, I saw a lot of people who seemed to work all the time, taking little time off. For a while, this became a model to me, causing me to assume that this is what I was supposed to do with my own life.

Of course, one can be driven to approach work in this way for a variety of reasons. Perhaps one started with nothing, and never wants to let that happen again. Perhaps there was a time when one was out of work, and there's always that lurking fear that it could happen again; so, (over-) working becomes a way to protect oneself from future unemployment that may or may not come. Or perhaps they felt the same pressure that I often feel when I think about saving for retirement.

As I consider the various kinds of pressure that are always before us, calling us to improve our lot in life, I find myself wondering if there's something deeper at play. Perhaps there's a spiritual anxiety that gets hooked into everything that promises to make our lives better. I wonder if, in some unwitting way, we're all trying a little bit to save ourselves, to secure a future that is free from certain kinds of anxiety, pain, suffering, or lack of meaning.

For me, while I am undoubtedly haunted by a similar kind of pressure to do something about my own future by saving for retirement, I also feel a reticence to invest too much of my own emotional energy into it all. It may seem careless, but I'm fairly confident that there will come a day when I'll be better able to put some money away toward retirement, rather than only live off of my current income. (I hope I'm not wrong.) So, when the anxiety comes that makes me wonder if I'm doing the right thing for my future (or doing enough), I find it easier to shake it off than others might.

But this has nothing to do with carelessness. For me, it has everything to do with where I place my hope. As a Christian, I take seriously Jesus' call to worry less about the things of this life and more about the age to come. But I also admit that I don't always know how that's supposed to look or feel. And furthermore, my take on how to live it out might be rather different than someone else's.

Where are you struggling with these things? Are you anxious about having some kind of control over the future, perhaps in terms of financial security? What effect does that anxiety have on your daily life?

Or are you trying to live more in the moment, and worry less about the future (but not live carelessly so as to put it in jeopardy)?

Or is there some other approach we should all know about?

Written by Chad Lakies

You can let us know what you think by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Binging, Self-Control, and the "Great Life-Waster"

I'd like to take a moment and consider the word binge. According to Webster's dictionary, a binge is "an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence." Another definition is "an act of excessive or compulsive consumption." Of those definitions, I find the word "compulsive" to be the most significant and the most frightening. The implication is that if I'm binging, I literally cannot stop myself.

When I was a kid, the word had an inherently negative connotation, and was typically associated with food or alcohol. Modern technology has changed all of that. Netflix, and other streaming mediums, have very much changed how we consume entertainment, and how we discuss it. We laugh about how we may binge a new TV show, or YouTube channel, or video game.

At our house, after the kids have been put to bed and the long hours of two full-time working parents start to fizzle out, we often use Netflix, et al., for detoxing our day. The problem I find is that when I intend to take a short break, maybe an hour (or an episode), suddenly I've watched four and it's well past when I should have gone to bed. And those papers I needed to grade now need to be squished into tomorrow's responsibilities. I almost always regret my choices and wonder what kind of example I am setting for my kids. (Do as I say, but not as I do.)

We've all heard about the literature for what technology does to the brain, specifically children's brains. It has been studied and documented to negatively affect their growth and development...but I didn't need that empirical evidence because I have watched it firsthand.

After two separate week-long stays in our local children's hospital, my eldest daughter was early-diagnosed with asthma at 18 months old. Prior to this, TV wasn't really a part of her life. She never seemed interested in it, and since we basically have strong emotions of disdain for most kid-themed music and cartoons, we never really pushed the issue. But post-diagnosis, she was required to sit still for 45 minutes of breathing through a nebulizer, sometimes more than once in a day. If you have ever attempted to get an 18-month-old to sit still for 5 minutes, you'll understand the dilemma we faced.

TV quickly became integral to this process, and initially we were watching educational shows (hello, Baby Einstein). By the time she was two, she could contentedly sit through the first half of The Sound of Music, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or Mary Poppins in its entirety.

Fast forward a few years and television is now engrained into our family function. We routinely would all sit in front of the TV first thing in the morning (especially weekends), while eating, or as the final slow-down from our day (like my frequent nighttime Netflix binges). Some days, all of the above.

We also had a very temperamental and strong-willed 3-year-old with, it seemed, anger issues.

One day her behavior went too far too many times and she was "grounded" from TV for an entire weekend. I won't lie to you and say that it was easy to hold our ground. Her initial tantrum was of epic proportions. That Friday night was awful, and eventually she cried herself to sleep. The following day, when we would normally have watched some cartoons in the morning, we saw another monster tantrum. By that evening, we could tell she was starting to lose some steam. Sunday was a glorious day that was not only tantrum-free, but also was generally a good day. After this, she didn't even ask to watch anything for several weeks.

The change in her behavior was palpable. We could see immediate reactions to any exposure to television or electronics. When we used a movie or short TV show as a reward, it almost always backfired into bad choices and tantrums. Even now, the same behavior vortex has proved true with phones and tablets as well.

We see that when Grandma comes over and hands her an iPad (which we don't do), in less than 30 seconds she becomes so zoned into what she is doing that I often have to physically remove the device from her grip to bring her back to the real world. This is true even if her screen time is educational or artistic in nature.

Removing technology from both of our daughter's lives has been a change for the better. We do watch TV together sometimes, as special treats...and of course when they are sick it can help to stave off the boredom. But we have never once regretted adding a layer of separation from what my childhood friend calls, "The Great Life-Waster."

I'm not naysaying the value or opportunity that is possible when technology is correctly utilized. I'm not saying we should never let our kids near a screen. But my observation has been that it can easily control us more than the other way around.

At our elder daughter's recent 6-year checkup, the doctor wanted to confirm that she was getting "less than two hours of screen time a day." We were surprised. That seems like a lot for a six-year-old. But when I sit back and think about my own methods of daily detox, or exposure to "screen time" in general...I almost always exceed the two-hour mark.

Does my marriage benefit from those three hours watching Game of Thrones, or could we have used that time to sit outside and actually talk? How present was I while "playing" with my kids? That probably depends on whether or not I had my phone out the entire time. Did I sleep better or worse as a result of falling asleep while scrolling Facebook or Twitter? The list goes on.

Perhaps I should start holding myself accountable to the same restrictions that I have for my kids. I think the mere act of asking myself these kinds of questions (however uncomfortable I may find them) is a good place to start.

Written by Aaron Roose

You can let us know what you think by clicking here and leaving a comment.

You can let the folks at THRED know what you think by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What's So Big About Church?

For many of us as kids, church was the place we found ourselves Sunday mornings, week after week. It was a habit many of our parents brought forward into their lives, having gone to church regularly when they were children.

When it comes to church, there are a number of terms used to indicate one's association with a local congregation. We have the "churched" (regular attenders), the "unchurched" (non-attenders), and the "dechurched" (former attenders). If somebody hasn't already, it seems we could also include the "pre-churched" (as the name implies) and the "re-churched" (returnees to the fold).

When I talk to non-church-going buddies, it seems one of the reasons they don't go (besides not feeling a particular need to, not having any denominational tie in particular, not interested in the whole singing and preaching and praying routine, and not being a big fan of that "crowd" in general) is that the times when they actually attended a church service were often awkward, uncomfortable or, very likely, both.

I've felt that way, too.

And I try to remember that when I'm there now. When I see someone as an island of one in the middle of a sea of people, I try to reach out to that person with a quick hello and handshake. When I'm asked by a well-meaning preacher to introduce myself and greet the person next to me, I try to do it (though I must admit there are times when I still squirm). When I'm walking through the church hall between groups of people chatting and mixing, I hold my head high, smile, and put forth a pleasant demeanor.

And often when I do this ("putting it into manual" is what I call it), there are results. People lighten up, and connections begin to form. This acting like a loving, caring person can actually start an interior change. You see that people are not your opponents but, rather, they are potential friends and allies. And, oddly enough, it all begins with a few proactive moves in the right direction.

Surely, Jesus must have experienced something like this. Surrounded by people from various walks of life, He acted in love, drawing others close with a willingness to discover more about them. He'd drill down a little, ask questions, get to know them better -- always eager to talk about the things that really mattered.

I don't always -- or even mostly -- do it, but that's what I'd like to be doing at church: honing my people skills, finding ways to care, being more like Jesus.

That's kind of what church seems like it should be.

How about it? What do you get out of church? Is it a place where we can become more like Jesus? You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Labors of Love

Another Labor Day come and gone.

For most of us, the hardest work we ever faced was something unpleasant, usually during our teen years, as we entered the workforce. For some of us, it was toiling in the blinding heat of summer, carrying stacks of roofing shingles up a ladder to a carpenter. Maybe it was cleaning the grease pit at a convenience store "kitchen," which specialized in chicken wings, high-fat burgers, and crinkle-cut French fries. Or it might have been enduring the mind-numbing repetition of assembly-line work, trying hard not to lag behind the experienced workers, as you plotted your way into a new career.
For me one of the hardest jobs I ever had involved scraping and shoveling asbestos insulation from ovens used to cure sewer pipes. That was a very long summer.

Each of us keeps a memory tucked into some corner of our mind of the hardest jobs we ever had to do. It's good to pull out that memory once in a while, so we can put our current job in perspective.

For example, a veteran sitting all day long in an air-conditioned office, attending boring meetings can seem a grind at the time, but it's absolutely delightful next to being yelled at by drill sergeants and endless hours of physical training.

When it comes down to it, hard jobs aren't always defined by soaring temperatures, blitzed muscles, or intolerable bosses; they can also be measured by the amount of stress produced, anxiety raised, or nightmares generated.

I can do great doing most anything physical or mental, but the hardest work for me involves relationships.

One of the toughest jobs I ever signed up for is being a husband. Even today, after years of married life, I struggle to define my role and responsibilities in this mighty endeavor. And, of course, the transition from husband to father creates vast opportunities for other hard jobs to surface: changing diapers, giving baths, helping with homework, encouraging broken hearts, and teaching one to drive.

In retrospect, my job as husband and father may be one of the most difficult in terms of stress and anxiety, but it's one I would not trade for all the air-conditioned corner offices and six-figure salaries in the world. That being said, there are fringe benefits, too. Like yesterday afternoon, when my son bolted across the backyard, threw a couple of well executed head dekes, and caught my screen pass just before going "out of bounds" at the side of the house. Yep, the hours we spent playing catch in the backyard are paying off. And with the NFL season kicking off this week, his timing couldn't have been better.

When have you found a tough job turn into something rewarding?

You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What Makes Our Prayers Different?

We often hear about doing things in the Name of Jesus. In fact, Jesus is pretty specific about this. Here are three instances from the Gospel of John.

"Whatever you ask in My Name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My Name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14).

"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He may give it to you" (John 15:16).

"In that day you will ask nothing of Me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you" (John 16:23).

So, Jesus encourages us to ask for what we need in His Name. What does that mean? If you go to a Bible internet site like Biblegateway.com and you search for all the times the Bible uses "in my name," you quickly begin to see that "in my name" means "under my authority" or "with my signature added" or "with me co-signing for you." When we pray in Jesus' Name, we are praying with Jesus' full support behind us. We are like people who come to ask a favor from a king, and we have a letter from the king's son with us, which reads, "Father, please take this concern seriously and give a good answer, for I myself am giving them the authority to ask you just as if I were asking you myself."

That is what makes a Christian prayer different from any other prayer from any non-Christian around the world. Everybody prays, but Christians alone pray with Jesus' signature added to the bottom of our prayer. And that signature is there regardless of whether we actually say the words "In Jesus' Name we pray," because our whole Christian lives are lived "in Jesus' Name" -- not just our prayers, but also our service, our teaching and preaching, our acts of charity, and basically everything we do because we belong to Christ. We are His ambassadors; what we do is done in His Name (which can be a huge and frightening responsibility sometimes!). And so, we are responsible for making sure that what we do in His Name is something that should be done in His Name: something that is good, loving, and honors God the Father.

So, you can see why so many people routinely add the words "In Jesus' Name" to the end of all their prayers. They are reminding themselves of this privilege Jesus has given us, to come to God the Father in His Name. But as you noticed about the Lord's Prayer, not every Christian prayer ends with those exact words spoken. If you look in the book of Acts, you will find many Christian prayers from the early church, and I don't recall even one of them ending with the exact words "In Jesus' Name" though the meaning was there.

So, when you pray, you can use the form "In Jesus' Name" if you wish to, or you are free to leave it out. The meaning will still be there in everything you pray, because you belong to Jesus. Sometimes I use the formula "in Jesus' Name" because I want to remind myself exactly what's going on when I pray; sometimes I use it because I am praying out loud among fellow Christians who have grown up thinking they must always say those words, and they get afraid and disturbed if someone prays without using those exact words. So, for their sake I add them in.

That's a good principle for however we pray when we are with fellow Christians; if they can't stop worrying about this issue, we can just go ahead and say it to put their minds at rest. But it's clear from the Bible that God has given us all the Christian freedom either to use those exact words, to paraphrase them, or to leave them out entirely when we pray. Jesus' Name will still be on what we pray, whether we say those specific words out loud or not.

Have you thought much before about the phrase "in Jesus' Name"? Is it something you add to your prayers?

What kinds of words do you think about when you pray, as in what favorite phrases or repetitions do you use? Any come to mind?

You can comment by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Fending off Demons

This Friday a couple friends and I will be watching the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri. It's one of golf's four major championships and the season's final major. We'll be there for round two cuts, which means the entire field will be in full swing. At the end of the day, the top 70 players, including ties, make the cut and finish out the tourney on Saturday and Sunday.

As this particular PGA Championship is a milestone, the Gateway City was lucky to land it. On hand will be those upper-echelon players who consistently breathe the rarified ether found at the game's top tiers. Guys like Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, and Ricky Fowler will be there. Also playing in St. Louis are household names like Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, and that other guy we may have all but forgotten: John Daly.

Remember him? He's the dude with a penchant for cocktails, a flair for drama, and twitchy fingers at the slot machines. Though his lifestyle seems to have mellowed in the last few years, he's still a colorful character. Thing is, we're gonna to have to get there early to see him at the opening tee. He begins at 7:34 a.m. Nevertheless, I hope to seem him launch one of those trademark boomers that propelled him to 18 pro tour wins.

Daly brings to mind one of the things I really like about golf, and that's the commitment you must have to get good and stay good. The game demands constant attention. Like a virtuoso instrumentalist, top-notch players have devoted the lion's share of their lives to their craft: scrutinizing tee-offs, analyzing bunker play, honing fairway shots, laboring over every nuance of their putting game and, perhaps, most importantly -- like Daly -- fending off their demons.

We all have things that trip us up.

What do you do to steer clear of those landmines that would derail you or run your ship aground? How do you handle the unexpected occurrence/appearance of some pet sin that always seems to satisfy -- and then leave you ... empty?

You can pass along your tips of wisdom by clicking here and telling us about it.

P.S. And if you've got a way to cure a slice, we'd like to hear that, too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Happily, Ever After?

I enjoyed fairy tales when I was young. I don't think I'm alone in this because those same stories continue to be passed on from generation to generation -- even turned into TV shows and feature films. Why so popular? Because in the end they all live happily, ever after. But experience teaches us that's not how real life works. Throughout our lives we will continue to struggle with various problems: sorrow and heartbreak, financial struggles, relationship problems, sickness and, finally, death. Whatever we may have thought as kids, fairy tales don't come true.

Or do they?

When I was a senior in high school, I wondered about life after high school. It seemed a distant land full of promise: no more term papers, no more daily assignments, no more rules and regulations, no more curfews.

But I soon discovered life after high school was work, and rush-hour traffic, bills, and uncertainties. Then came college and a whole new set of hurdles to jump. Each time I crossed a threshold from one phase to another, I've found the new phase was never quite as golden as I thought it would be. Finishing college, taking my first job, watching my bride walk down the aisle, hearing the doctor say the baby is on his way -- those new phases are full of promise and joy, but they aren't happily, ever after, are they?

I expect the same thing will be true going forward if, God willing, I see retirement and the later years of my life. Each phase will have plenty of troubles, trials, tears, and frustrations of its own.

So, the fairy-tale ending is not realistic, at least not for this life. But what if we step back and look at the larger picture? What happens after death?

The night before Jesus died, He made a fairy-tale-like promise to His disciples -- and to each of us. "In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:2-3).

God the Father is our Heavenly King. Jesus Christ is His Son, our Prince Charming. All of us as believers are the Cinderellas He raises from the dust to live with Him in His Kingdom.

On Judgment Day Jesus will return to take us home, and then with glorified bodies, we will live happily ever after in our Heavenly Father's house.

So, when you think about it, your life really is a fairy tale. We just won't get to that happily-ever-after part until Jesus returns to take us home. I think Paul had that fairy-tale ending in mind when he wrote, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

A fairy-tale ending ... that's not quite what we expect from this life, is it?

It seems knowing the end would make the journey we're on now all the more satisfying. Maybe that's where we step out in faith and let God do what He would with our lives.

You can comment by clicking here.