Finding the New Normal

salvador-daliSpring is such a time of transition. Things in life seem to start ramping up to…something. Hopefully not a cliff! But most of us start to become so busy that we can hardly fathom what is past the week we are in. As a recent graduate of George Fox Evangelical Seminary, I still find many things ramping up. Yet strangely I feel some things ramping down. My life is not the frantically paced ball of stress it was a month ago, and I am good with that. But in the quest for the new normal, I feel the need to push back at my tendency toward business and complexity. I have spent a year teaching at Penn, and one of the things I teach about is simplicity. I present this to the students equally as much in the directions of simplicity being a value, as I do in hammering home the idea that a simple life is often a “value first” life, one in sync with one’s identity and what one truly sees as important. I have also had the pleasure to close out my coursework at Fox with a Spiritual Leadership class by MaryKate Morse, in which I was tasked with reflecting on the most important values that I need to protect in order to stay sane for the long haul of ministry and keep my own relationship with God vital.

In the paper I created a personal mission statement, reflected on my call and my identity in Christ, and did some real examination of my strengths and weaknesses. All of this culminated in a process of connecting my core values with some super specific and tangible vital behaviors. In short, it was an attempt to distill down and understand the deep desires of my heart. I purchased and gave out to many of the leaders of College Avenue Friends a book called the Leadership Ellipse by Robert Fryling, who wrote in a very practical way how to connect spirituality and leadership. He produced something he refers to a Rule of Life, with “rule” used in the sense of a monastic rule: something of a wise list of behaviors to live a deeply spiritual life. At the end of the book he shares these behaviors, intimately connected to his identity and the desires of his heart. For my course I produced something similar. I want to share a short portion of what I came up with, for me, in the hopes that you will not only pray for me and hold me accountable in some ways to this “rule,” but in order that you might consider doing something similar.

My Core Values

  • Family-I want my family to be loved, cherished and discipled.
  • Learning– I have an insatiable drive to learn and seek the truth, and passionately share that learning with others.
  • Leadership– I have the desire, confidence, and natural ability to lead and people put their trust in me easily. I cannot “not” lead if no one else is. In circumstances where another leader is serving in this way, I do my best to help the one who I leading to succeed.
  • Communication– I have a drive toward writing, poetry, speaking, and content creation in general. I enjoy opportunities to speak and write, and love to use words to inspire, instruct, or encourage whenever I get the chance.
  • Excellence– I have a deep desire to improve anything I can, to seek mastery, and make the world a better place. I thrive under circumstances that require creativity in the context of challenging circumstances and limitations.

Priorities and Vital Behaviors

  • Priority: Pursuing personal excellence and spiritual vitality.
    • Heart’s Desire: “I want to be present and connected with God.”
      • *Absolute Vital Behavior: Keeping a true Sabbath every Monday.
      • Vital Behavior: getting 8 hours of sleep every night by going to bed the same time as my wife whenever possible.
  • Priority: Keeping my family close, connected, and vibrantly healthy.
    • Heart’s Desire: “I desire a smiling wife who knows she is loved.”
      • *Absolute Vital Behavior: Sharing a date night with my wife the third and fifth Friday evening of every month.
  • Heart’s Desire: “I desire a family connected to God and to each other.
    • *Absolute Vital Behavior: eating breakfast together as a family every Monday-Saturday and following it with brief age appropriate devotions.
    • *Absolute Vital Behavior: regularly planning for a daddy/daughter date with each of my girls the first and second Friday lunch hour of every month.
    • Vital Behavior: Calling my mother Monday during my lunch break every week.
  • Priority: Giving myself the freedom to create.
    • Heart’s Desire: “I desire to steward my creativity in ways that are fun and life giving.
      • Vital behavior: spending a few hours in the woodshop to work in solitude each month.
      • Spending a few hours writing each month (for myself or publications).

Vital Behaviors

 

The process of stewing over these things and dreaming about what kind of life and ministry I want to foster was one of the best possible ways to end my master’s program. As much as spiritual formation was emphasized, alongside this was a workload and rhythm that really didn’t have space for things like a true Sabbath rest. Now that I am free of this burden I get the change to unlearn some of the bad habits I have picked up along the way.

Seldom do people take the opportunity to stop and reflect about their priorities rather than simply reacting to outside forces and the general churn of life. My list here is probably nothing too profound. It is not there to be used as a new way to be legalistic, but at the same time I believe that a disciplined life is the only way to a truly fruitful life. I am giving myself a bit of permission to be “legalistic” about some of these core things. This is not simply a New Year’s Resolution that might get discarded within a month. These are serious things. I dare you, if you can spare the bandwidth to reflect on it a while, to narrow down your own handful of values and handful of vital behaviors that reflect your heart’s desire and who you are. Roman’s 12:1-2 says:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The pattern of this world calls out to all of us, but so does the transformation God offers. If we can bring ourselves before God fully, rather than giving Him the leftovers of a frantic life, I imagine we can find the strength needed to push back and break free of the mold encircling us. Fryling, Foster, and others have a great deal to teach us about putting ourselves in that place of receptivity. I am trying blaze a trail in that direction myself. There are no easy answers in something like this, no cookie cutter “7 steps.” But to those who take the time to reflect deeply, and who can muster the discipline to really test and approve the will of God, God offers renewal; a renewal desperately needed in a world drowning in busyness, a world where relationships are often left to wither slowly and fade in the face of constant hurdles.

As followers of Jesus, we should recognize the pattern of Jesus involved rest, deep reflection, time of prayer with the Father. Jesus withdrew at times from all the busyness surrounding him to spend time in prayer. If we would truly let our lives speak, we must offer ourselves fully, as living sacrifices. This is also the only way we will find the strength to offer our best selves to the world. If we as Christians are run-ragged, exhausted. Our witness, like our lives, will be vastly diminished. Yet if we are refreshed, tranquil, present, and in tune to God’s will, I think people will notice. They will notice something different about us. They will smell the sweet aroma of Jesus. From there, I can imagine we will be a rich conduit of God’s blessings to the world, strong witnesses. Let us strive to offer our whole selves to God, to listen, and put pen to page. Simplicity has a wealth of wisdom, but only for those who are not satisfied only with its low hanging fruit.

Agape,

James

 

 

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About jtower11

Hi there! I am James Tower: A husband, father, dreamer, visionary, thinker, poet, mystic, metal-worker, and scholar. A former atheist trying to find my way as a Quaker minister. A former drop-out trying to find my way through an M. Div program at George Fox. A former addict who, over twelve years ago had a life changing encounter with Jesus that has altered the course of my life forever. I am a creative person called to pastoral ministry, spiritual direction and discipleship. I love "conversations of consequence" with people who are willing to wrestle through the deeper truths and messiness of life. I have found God in my brokenness, and He has shown me how to use that personal knowledge to work toward healing and reconciliation with others. I love the outdoors, camping and recreation, an eclectic blend of music and arts, and creativity in general. I am passionate about expressing my faith in Jesus, and allowing God to transform every area of my life and every decision I make. Together with my wife Liz and daughters Sophie and Greta, we are on a journey to figure out where, when, and how to live out the call God has placed in our hearts. For more about me check out the "about" or "my story" pages. View all posts by jtower11

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