When I Relax, I Feel Guilty
By Tim Hansel
(Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co.)
Slow Me Down, Lord
Slow me down, Lord.
Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.
Give me, amid the confusion of the day, the calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory.
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations–of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to smile at a child, to read a few lines from a good book.
Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values, that I may grow toward my greater destiny.
Remind me each day that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than increasing its speed.
Let me look upward to the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.
–Rev. Wilferd A. Peterson
How is your life these days? Is it possible that your days are hurrying by so fast that you don’t fully taste them anymore? Are “play” and “rest” foreign words in your vocabulary? When was the last time you caught yourself enjoying life so deeply that you couldn’t quite get the smile off your face?
Chances are, it’s been too long.
I never cease to be amazed at the incredible paradox of seeing so many unhappy people in a world that has so much to offer. What surprises me even more is the sight of so many Christians who have succumbed to busyness, unhappiness, tightness and boredom. Many suffer from a nagging sense of guilt that no matter how much they do, it is never quite enough.
In our worthy attempts to avoid idleness and questionable pleasures, we begin to feel everything must be useful. We regress to a kind of neopuritanism that says, “You have not been born into the world for pleasure.” A curious psychological need to justify everything emerges, leaving no room for discovery and pure enjoyment. The simple joy of existence seems ever more distant and evasive.
Weary Servants of the Impossible
Overwork is one of the greatest problems for sincere, dedicated Christians today, and I have often been guilty of it. How, then, am I qualified to write a book on leisure? The answer is, I’m not. Yet that may prove beneficial because, as you will soon see, I know by experience (a lot of it) the consequences of overwork and busyness.
Play came quite naturally when I was young. In fact, I was accused of overwhelming others with my enthusiasm for play. But something happened. I can remember “growing old” in my early twenties. Work had always been highly esteemed in our family. I figured if it were good to work ten hours, it would be even better to work fourteen.
I never knew what Jesus meant when He said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28â30). My life wasn’t restful; it was a frantic sprint from one hour to the next.
I can remember times when fatigue left me feeling isolated and alienated–feelings that previously had been foreigners to me. Unprepared for such parasites on my energy, I became frustrated, and laughter, which had always been my most treasured companion, had silently slipped away.
The Western mind and culture leaves little time for leisure, prayer, play and contemplation. The pace I was trying to maintain had no time for rhythm and awe, for mystery and wonder. I barely had time to care adequately for friends or for myself. In order to keep up my incessant activity, God was simply reduced to fit my schedule. I suffered, because He didn’t fit.
Many of our sins are caused by hurry and thoughtlessness. The good becomes the enemy of the best.
Hurry gives us an “excuse” for our lack of spiritual growth. Only by breaking the chains of busyness can we escape the prison of status quo and experience a life that draws ever nearer to God.
As I began to unfetter myself from some of the excessive hurry and overwork, I discovered that I wasn’t really giving up anything. In turn, I was able to enjoy my days and achievements as never before.
Committed to Joy
The pursuit of happiness has become our nation’s number one industry. We spend more on leisure and recreation each year than we do on education or construction of new homes. The latest figures compiled by U.S. News and World Report show that Americans will spend more than $160 billion on leisure and recreation this year. By 1985, the total is expected to be $300 billion. But will doubling our spending double our pleasure? Probably not.
The pursuit of pleasure has always been a most unhappy quest. Despite more money and time being spent on leisure, the suicide rate among young people (the second leading cause of death among that age group) has gone up 25 percent, and our mental hospital population is on a steady rise.
What’s wrong? How is it that we can spend so much time and money and energy and still be profoundly unhappy?
Part of the problem may be clarified by a statement I overheard a few months ago while leaving an airplane. A large man from Texas was nudging his way down the aisle talking to the woman in front of him. As they passed me, he was saying, “Well, that’s the real problem, you see. Most people spend their whole lives practicing being unhappy.”
He’s right. Many people seem determined to be unimpressed with life. Somehow it’s not proper to enjoy life, to feel excitement, to be content. Advertisers subtly infect us with their message that we cannot be happy until we buy their product. And when we do, it doesn’t change our lives, but then, we hardly notice because we’re being told about another new product we simply must have. Thus we continue our art of practicing unhappiness.
Walter Kerr begins his book The Decline of Pleasure by saying, “I’m going to start out by assuming that you are approximately as unhappy as I am. Neither of us may be submitting ourselves to psychiatrists, neither of us may take an excessive number of tranquilizers each day, neither of us may have married three times in an attempt to find someone to make us happier. We are not (quite yet) desperate, but we are, vaguely, dissatisfiedâ¦. We are vaguely wretched because we are living half lives, halfheartedly, and with only one-half of our minds actively engaged in making contact with the universe around us.”
What can we do about this half-alive infection?
The Worth of Work
Because we are imbued with a strong work ethic, our identity has in many cases been limited to what we do between the hours of nine and five.
Think about that for a moment. How are men ranked and rewarded in society? It is usually on the basis of their accomplishments at work. If a stranger approaches and asks, “Who are you?” how do you reply? The odds are that after offering your name and where you are from, you will identify yourself in terms of your work. So will nearly everyone else. In our culture, work has become one of the biggest factors in determining personal identity. It’s not surprising, therefore, that it becomes a basis for measuring human worth.
The problem is that work, in and of itself, does not have the intrinsic value to deserve such veneration. Yes, work is both good and necessary. It should be pursued with diligence, honesty and pride. But it should not be worshiped and glorified as the basis of human value and worth. People are valuable totally apart from their work productivity. Work never saved anyone from sin, death, or evil, nor has it ever unilaterally produced faith, hope and love. When work becomes a person’s all-consuming interest, even if the work is good and necessary, it becomes a form of idolatry.
Jesus would not have been a good promoter for the work ethic. Not only did He leave His own job as a carpenter, but He called other people away from their jobs. He preached about the dangers of becoming preoccupied with work and the pursuit of wealth and power. He told a rich young man to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor–hardly a wise investment of capital from a businessman’s viewpoint.
Likewise, He said, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26). Early Christians put much greater emphasis on salvation than they did analyzing trends, making long-range projections, and worrying about budgets. Their first priority was to grow closer to God.
I should make it clear that this is not a treatise against work but against overwork. It is an attempt to counteract the sometimes blind loyalty to work that frequently causes us to have false and superficial ideas about ourselves, our families, our leisure, and our Creator.
Therefore, let’s identify some of the common notions about work that we need to be aware of. Pointing out these myths is the first step to overcoming them.
* Work is the primary source of your identity.
* Work is inherently good, and therefore the more work you do, the better person you are.
* You are not really serving the Lord unless you consistently push to the point of fatigue.
* The more you work, the more God loves you.
* If you work hard enough fifty weeks a year, then you “deserve” a two-week vacation.
* The purpose of work is to make enough money to buy things so you can be happy.
* Most of your problems would be solved if you would only work harder.
* The Bible says that the most important thing a person can do is work.
* The biggest problem in our society is that people don’t work hard enough.
Laboring under these assumptions, many of us may feel a vague frustration because we sense our lives starting to atrophy, and we can’t identify the cause. In many case, it is due to a preoccupation with work that blurs other more important things–my relationship with God, my health, my family, and my personal growth.
“I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please–not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.”–Wilbur Rees, $3 Worth of God
The great problem with Jesus’ message is not that it cannot be understood, but that it can. The difficulty is not with which translation we read, but whether or not we can translate what we read and know into our lifestyle.
I know many Christians who claim that “with Christ all things are possible–except to help them lose weight. I know those who extol the benefits of quiet time–but don’t have enough time for contemplation themselves. Others lecture on the resurrection–and try to do everything in their own power. Some people applaud the security we have in Christ–but are afraid to take any chances. And still others glorify the freedom that is ours–but are enslaved to their work.
Alvin Toffler, among others, has been incisive in his diagnosis of our age. He says we live in an age of unprecedented change, eruption, and above all else, hurry. We live in a precooked, prepackaged, plastic-wrapped, instant society where relationships are increasingly temporary. “Future shock”–too much change in too short a time. We’ve come to look for instant intimacy, instant leisure, instant happiness. We develop simulated, artificial everything (including lifestyles) in an effort to catch up with a world that is changing faster than we can cope with it. The result is dissatisfaction and overwhelming feelings of instability. The result is an attempt to keep up, which forces us to increasing levels of superficiality. The problem is that most people don’t recognize the way our hurry-up culture is shaping us.
When we overcompensate, our commitment to Christ can become our prison rather than one that frees us. We become Christian workaholics. But we are called to be different. We are called to be His witnesses.
“Almost” Christianity reveals itself in feverish work, excessive hurry, and exhaustion. I believe that the Enemy has done an effective job of convincing us that unless a person is worn to a frazzle, running here and there, he or she cannot possibly be a dedicated, sacrificing, spiritual Christian.
We need to remember that our strength lies not in hurried efforts and ceaseless long hours, but in our quietness and confidence.
Play Is a Feeling to Be Learned
When was the last time you woke up rested–I mean really rested and exuberant and excited about meeting the day?
When was the last time you laughed until you cried?
Or, do you insist on being one of those nice, dead people who continue to spend most of their time preparing to live? Are your vacations only something that prepare you again for work? Or are they special times of loving and living, of learning and relaxing? Are you truly able to relax? When the Psalmist said, “O taste and see that the Lord is good,” was he in touch with reality or merely putting words on paper? Is life something to be celebrated or endured?
Do you have time to play? Do you have time to rest? Do you even know what it means? Interestingly enough, Scripture not only calls us to enter into God’s rest, but to live out that rest. The temptation to overwork is potentially one of the greatest problems for dedicated, sincere Christians today. We are more often characterized by frantic activity, fatigue and weariness than love, compassion and joy.
A friend of mine once reminded me that the God of Israel neither sleeps or slumbers–but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to. Jesus frequently encouraged His disciples to rest. “Let’s get away from the crowds for a while and rest,” said Jesus (Mark 6:31). So many people were coming and going that they scarcely had time to eat.
I don’t understand how the Master could take time to go alone into the desert to fast and pray when the whole world was starving and in chaos, when countless individuals needed Him and His healing. I just don’t understand â¦ but He did. I don’t understand how He could continue to love and give when He was rejected like He was. I don’t understand how he could tell us not to worry about life when times are so difficult (Luke 12:22). I don’t understand how He could say that sometimes it is better just to sit at His feet than to be up doing things for Him (Luke 10:38â42). Or how He could promise rest in the midst of a world filled with turmoil and pain (Matthew 11:28â30). Or how He could ask us to be like little children, when the world needs more firm leadership and harder workers (Matthew 19:13â15). I don’t understand how Jesus could play and celebrate and enjoy life, when the world was in the condition it was in (Matthew 11:19). I don’t understand â¦ but He did.
And I am deeply grateful that the truth is not dependent on me and my perceptions.
Perhaps we’re taking ourselves too seriously, placing too much importance on ourselves and the work we are doing. Yes, God works through people, but our work isn’t the only reason God created us. We can trust God to continue His ultimate purposes for a little while even without our sweat.
Another problem is that we have not given play and rest a proper dignity. We still house a subconscious guilt that if we enjoy life too much, something must be wrong.
Much of the time, I have the distinct feeling that my life has not yet started, and I’m still waiting for the proper moment to begin. Yet each day is a new, unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime gift. To waste it by always waiting for tomorrow, by continually preparing to live, or by thinking that enough is never enough, is pure folly.
Is it so small a thing to enjoy our days and to enjoy God? Is it so small a thing to be grateful and to be happy, to be at peace with ourselves and with God? Is it so small a thing to fly a kite with your child, to take a walk, to play catch, to wrestle on the lawn, and to have pure fun? Is it so small a thing to make our days count rather than count our days?
The Time of Our Lives
Â I once read a thought-provoking article entitled, “If You Are 35, You Have 500 Days to Live.” Its thesis was that when you subtract the time spent sleeping, working, tending to personal matters, hygiene, odd chores, medical matters, eating, traveling, and miscellaneous time-stealers, in the next 36 years you will have roughly the equivalent of only 500 days left to spend as you wish. No wonder the Psalmist advised, “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”
It is for that reason that we need new attitudes. We need new principles and new skills to help involve us more deeply in the time God has given us.
In this chapter and those that follow we will offer some practical suggestions for redirecting our lives. First we’ll present some general principles, and later we’ll list some specific things you may want to try. Before we can do that, we must understand something about time.
For a Christian there is no such thing as “free time.” All of the Christian’s time belongs to the one who has set us free.
Second, all of us are given exactly the same amount of time each day–24 hours, or 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds. No matter how you look at it, it’s the same for each of us. The difference lies, however, in how each of us deals with it.
What would you do if every morning your bank phoned, informing you that your account had been credited in the amount of 86,400 pennies ($864)–but with the stipulation that it had to be spent that very day? No balance could be carried over to the next day. Every evening cancelled whatever sum you failed to use. You would probably draw out and use every cent every day.
Leslie Flynn, in his book It’s About Time, says we do have such a bank–called The First World Bank of Time. Every morning this bank credits your account with 86,400 seconds, but no balances are carried over to the next day. Every night erases what you fail to use. Failure to draw it out and use its treasure is your loss. No previous day’s time can be reclaimed.
The New Testament uses two different words to describe time. We need to be aware of the different meanings if we are to learn God’s rhythm for our lives.
Chronos is time governed by the clock. Kairos, on the other hand, is measured by events or special moments.
The difference between chronos and kairos might well be illustrated by what just happened to me while I was writing this. Chronos says that this book is due in a few weeks and that I must be very disciplined about my time. Kairos says that my sons just came in the door and nothing is more important than that. Chronos says that I have an outline I’m trying to follow and a schedule that must be met today. Kairos says that some things are more important than outlines–like my sons inviting me to go for a walk.
We took the walk.
Mark Twain once said, “To get the full value of joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.” My joy was just divided and multiplied in geometric proportions by the walk with my two young sons.
Midget Gurus of Play
Children have so much to teach us. They are such natural models for what we seek to know. One evening not too long ago I sat and watched Joshua (then 14 months old) play in the kitchen. He had been sleeping, and I was reading. He woke up, and I thought my work would be interrupted. He didn’t bother me, but watching him, I soon discovered that he had far more to teach me than the book I had been reading. Some of the principles my midget gurus have taught me are:
* Total immersion. No matter what he is doing, he is not superficially involved. Whether he’s throwing a ball, laughing, running, drawing, pulling pots and pans out of the cupboard, or pushing a toy truck, he does it with his whole self, without inhibitions.
* Total concentration. His mind is on one thing at a time and one time only. It is interesting to note that the word worry comes from the Greek word merimnao, which is a combination of the two words merizo, meaning “to divide,” and nous, meaning “mind.” Hence, worry means to divide the mind, or to be double-minded. Watch your children, especially the younger ones, and you will notice how free they are from this problem that plagues our society.
* Ability to bounce back. With children, only their bodies are small. Their curiosity fills entire rooms. Their energy comes in gigantic proportions, and their spirit is indomitable. When Zac was younger, he climbed some short stairs, only to tumble down the full length. His tears were barely dry when he was back at the bottom, ready to climb again. I remember wishing that I could display such tenacity in so natural a manner, with such lack of fear of failure.
* Total honesty and expression. I admire how Joshua is so open and honest with his feelings. When he is happy, he is laughter, and he is sadness incarnate when he cries.
Children have taught me of wonder and uninhibitedness, of gratitude and spontaneity, of unimpeded trust and freedom to change, of imagination and creativity. They have taught me to see everything as if it were for the first time, and to share as if there were no end. They have taught me why God calls us to be like little children.
Commandments of Contentment
The apostle Paul said, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). For years I read that section of Scripture in wonder and awe at this saint who had this gift of being able to be content amid difficulties. I didn’t realize, until one of my students pointed it out to me with a question, that this was not a natural, easy gift for Paul. It was a trait he developed through diligence and practice.
Here are four commandments that help develop contentment.
Thou shalt live here and now
People have a tendency to cherish their dreams but rarely act to make them happen. So they continually look to the future for happiness, and their lives right now are filled only with anticipation.
What we need to constantly emphasize is that life, God’s life within us, is happening here and now. We are sitting on a miracle, but we don’t often recognize it–God has given us everything we need to be happy.
Avoid the temptation of wishing and regretting–the most common tactics for evading the present. Abstain from the ritual of idealizing the future. Abandon yourself to God’s presence and His will as it unfolds in your life moment to moment.
Live in the here and now. No matter who you are, life will not allow you more than one minute at a time.
Thou shalt not rush
Our world seems intoxicated with hurry. It seems to be inundated with a hurricane desire to precipitate the future. In our impatient desire to make things happen, we have inadvertently overlooked what was really important.
Small wonder, then, that we have lost the ability to immerse ourselves in the simple delights of the earth–the wind against our faces, savory aromas in our nostrils, most grass beneath our feet, a child in our arms. In our hurry to be someplace other than where we are, to be someone other than who we are, we have lost the ability to wonder and enjoy many small pleasures.
Thou shalt not take thyself too seriously
Things were going pretty badly for a certain British shipping line, and one of Sir John’s colleagues was in his office filling the air with gloom. Sir John said to him sharply, “You’ve forgotten Rule Number Four.”
His colleague responded with surprise, “What’s Rule Number Four?”
“Rule Number Four,” said Sir John, “is ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously.'”
“What are the other rules?”
“There aren’t any others,” Sir John replied.
One of the greatest obstacles I wrestle with is that of taking myself too seriously. The result is a pretentious, defensive, brittle man who works five times harder than he needs to in order to continually prove himself to the world, and who forgets to laugh–especially at himself.
The problems with taking ourselves too seriously are countless. Afraid to fail, we no longer risk. Afraid that someone will see behind our image, we no longer share. Afraid that we will appear to need help, we can no longer be vulnerable. Afraid to appear not religious enough to some, we can no longer confess. The tragic result of taking ourselves too seriously is that in our fear of becoming childlike, in our fear of becoming a fool for Christ, in our fear of being seen as we are, we discover all too late that it’s impossible to be fully alive.
Thou shalt be grateful
Someone once said, “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” The Bible expresses the same idea a different way: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1Thessalonians 5:18).
The point is, the essence of happiness and peace lies in gratitude. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. â¦ Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4â7).
Two things should be noted: (1) gratitude is not merely an option for a Christian, and (2) gratitude is the source of peace. We are not required to understand the process before we can employ it.
Possibly the greatest principle of leisure I know is the principle of insistent, consistent, persistent gratitude.
Make Life Happen
How can we change to achieve a better balance in life, a change, and a closer relationship with our Creator? Here are at least a few practical suggestions.
Prepare by planning
Maximum use of the time at your disposal demands creativity, planning, and good decision-making. There is no such thing as lack of time. There is more than enough time to do what you want to if you realize you are master of your time, not its slave. Control starts with planning. Two keys are: (1) knowing what you want to do, and (2) planning how you are going to do it.
Have you ever stopped to make a list of your goals and priorities for your leisure time? Boredom is one of the major causes of suicide and drug abuse in this country, and yet, what folly to dread the thought of throwing away life at once and yet have no regard to throwing it away piecemeal.
Put off procrastination
The habit of putting off an experience until you can afford it, or until the time is right, or until you know how to do it well is one of the greatest burglars of joy.
Leave your ruts
A sign on the Alaska Highway reads: “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next two hundred miles.” I believe in routine, but not in ruts. Dare to move out of some of the attitudes that enslave you. Take a chance.
One of the biggest ruts for many people is television–holding millions of people in our country prisoner each year. It has put more chains on more lifestyles than we could ever imagine.
Schedule family time
Often we cram our schedules with our work-oriented commitments and hold tight to them, but don’t do the same with the other half of our lives. Leisure is also important.
Look at your calendar. Aren’t your kids important enough to be on your schedule? What about your wife? My wife and I have found it important to schedule time together; otherwise it always seems to get erased. We try to get away for dinner at least once a week.
Likewise, we’ve found a need to create a family day, and then let our friends know those days are special times. They are reserved for one of the most important priorities in my life–and I try to make sure that other commitments don’t preempt it.
Along the same line, however, don’t overschedule. Joy can’t be overcrowded. It needs some space.
Balance is a delicate art. Now that I have (hopefully) convinced you of the importance of seizing each day, of the rigorous discipline necessary for quality leisure, let me present the other side, which is just as true.
Working harder at your leisure does not automatically mean that you enjoy it more. It only widens the perspective and depends the capacity. But you can’t bulldoze your way into pleasure. Effort can plow the ground and remove the weeds, but it can’t make it a garden of gratitude.
If I can be satisfied with a little, then more becomes a banquet. Some of God’s miracles are small. Some of God’s truths are quite simple. If you cannot do great things for God, then do small things in a great way. Small things can be not only beautiful but life-giving. Yield to them.
Have you forgotten how to enjoy the fragrance of the flowers in your front yard? When was the last time you were touched by wonder? Can you find joy in a paper cup of time or a thimbleful of love? Or are you one of those sadly described by the Psalmist, who “have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk” (Psalm 115:6â7).
The mark of a believer is not only love but joy, wonder, appreciation, surprise, creativity, peace, tenacity, hope, simplicity, and even play.
How to Take a Vacation
“If happiness could be found in having material things, and in being able to indulge yourself in things that you consider pleasurable, then we in America would be deliriously happy. We would be telling one another frequently of our unparalleled bliss rather than trading tranquilizer prescriptions.”–John Gardner, Self-Renewal
The real test of this book is not just whether or not you like it, but whether you are willing to do something about it. The acid test occurs when you lay this down.
Here are a few ideas that can help you put these principles into practice. As you read through them, think on this: Christianity does not consist solely in doing things no gentleman would think of doing, says R. L. Sheppard, but in doing things that are unlikely to occur to anyone who is not in touch with the Spirit of Christ.
* Discover the magic of seeing. We take our eyes for granted so often and use them just to keep from bumping into things. Said Helen Keller, “I have walked with people whose eyes are full of light but who see nothing in sea or sky, nothing in city streets, nothing in books. It were far better to sail forever in the night of blindness â¦ than to be content with the mere act of looking without seeing.” Allow your eyes to marvel at the world around you.
* Take a vacation from complaining. One of the assignments I frequently give my students is to try to go 24 hours without complaining. It is undoubtedly one of the toughest assignments they have during the entire year. No one has successfully made it yet, but the experience is both painful and enlightening. Few of us are aware of the extent of our complaining. Attempting such a “vacation” will bring you to your knees in humility. Have some friends do it too, the same day. Take notes during the day of your experiences, and then get together later to discuss it. It may bring about some important changes.
Midget vacations open our eyes to all we have right at our feet, right in our own home. It might include going outside every morning for a week to see something you’ve never seen before. Just because you’ve lived in the same house for a long time doesn’t mean you’ve seen everything.
Here are some other “morning midgets” you might want to try:
* Praise God for the sunrise (that means you have to be up to see it).
* Don’t get up out of bed until you can think of one thing you’re thankful for, and secondly, say, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (and mean it).
* Hug someone.
* Phone someone and wish them a happy day.
* Try to find something in your yard or house that you’ve never seen before. You’ll be surprised at how many things there are.
* Laugh at least once by the time breakfast is over.
* Do something special for yourself in the morning–make yourself a special cup of tea or coffee, kiss your wife, pat your dog, read a favorite section of Scripture. In other words, help yourself set the pace for the day.
* Do something different. Wear tennis shoes with your suit, sit in a different chair at the breakfast table, write a poem, go to work a different way. Somehow break the normal routine of your morning.
* Tell each member of your family one reason why you’re glad they’re in your family.
* Tell Jesus one reason why you’re glad He’s your Lord.
* Thank God for five things about yourself.
* Pray for someone. You’ll be amazed at what it does for his or her life as well as yours.
* Choose a line of Scripture and follow it for the day. Give the world living proof that Jesus is real in that way in your life.
* Make it a point to meet someone new before lunchtime.
* Phone your mate in the morning, whether at the office or at home, and just tell him or her how much you love them. Have no other reason for phoning other than to say how glad you are that God chose them for you to live out your life with.
* Thank someone who works with you or who services your home for contributing to your life. For example, thank the secretary who answers all the phone calls. If you get a chance, thank the garbage man for picking up your garbage. Stick a note on the mailbox for the mailman. There are countless people in our lives to whom we forget to say thank you. This morning pick just one and tell him how much you appreciate him.
And what about the afternoon? The afternoon often begins with lunch. Why not do something different today.
* Tell the waitress that she’s really doing a fine job, or leave her a note with your tip. Or really enjoy your food. Take time to thank God for it. And if possible, try not to hurry through it.
* Go on a picnic during lunch. You might say, “That’s impossible, because I work downtown.” Then sit on a park bench or a bench by the bus stop and eat a sack lunch and watch the people go by. It might give you a whole new perspective on life.
* Take a few minutes out of your lunch break to read a couple of pages of something special–something that will inspire you to move into the afternoon with a little more power.
* On your way back from lunch, find or buy a flower to give to your secretary, your wife or your child. Life is made up of little lumps of happiness. It’s a mistake when we wait and wait and wait for the big things to change our life, when actually it’s all the consistent little things that make life magic.
* Take thirty seconds out of your afternoon to be thankful for one thing at work or at home.
* Ask somebody a good question today. What is their most important priority? What is their reason for being alive? Or, is what they’re doing now moving them toward their ultimate goal in life? Or, what are the three things that make them happiest? Or any kind of question that helps you figure out what makes them tick and helps them figure out what makes them tick.
* Take three minutes out of your busy schedule and try to write somebody a note today.
* Think of twelve reasons you’re glad to be alive.
Now, what about your evening? Here are a couple of ideas to help cheer up your evening.
* Did you take any time to get some exercise today? One of the most important ways to stay alive and enjoy life is to get that oxygen and blood pumping through your body. If you haven’t, go for a short walk. Take someone from your family. Ride a bike, jump rope, or do something to make your heart beat.
* Make dinner special in some way. Maybe you’ll find some flowers in the yard and put them on the table. Maybe you’ll put on some music that will help everyone relax. Maybe you’ll get everyone to dress up a little bit and help celebrate how special eating together is.
* Have everyone share one thing they’re thankful for at dinner. Again, gratitude is the basic attitude of happiness.
* Instead of your usual grace for the meal, thank God for each thing on the table.
* After dinner, do something unusual, like help clear the table and wash the dishes. Maybe you can even make it a celebration.
* Play a game after dinner. Try to do something together with your family, rather than just sitting around watching TV. Play catch or go for a walk around the neighborhood or bring something to the neighbors. Doing things together doesn’t seem like much at the time, but in the long run it pays off.
Â * When was the last time you put on some music, lay on the floor and just absorbed the music? When you did nothing but listen, and enjoyed the privilege of having ears that can hear, and let every fiber of your being relax and rejoice?
* Make a little love note for someone in your family and hide it somewhere they’ll be sure to find it in the morning. If the surprise doesn’t cause them to have a heart attack, it may change their whole day.
* Write down a little passage of Scripture and maybe tape it to the mirror so someone sees it in the morning. Or put it next to their plate at breakfast. Or tape it above the sink where your wife will be washing dishes that day. In some way try and help them remember that you love them and that God loves them too.
The Second Fire
When I invited Jesus into my life, I in a sense lit the fire. But obviously there is more to the Christian life than one step of faith. The process continues. The second fire is the one you light as you commit yourself to a journey of excellence in Jesus Christ, where you choose to remain on the growing edge where life is more significant.
It requires discipline. It also requires tenacity. The prefix re, meaning “again,” begins to preface much of your vocabulary: rededicate, rediscover, rebound, receive, redefine, reflect, refresh, regenerate. Keep on relighting the fire.
One of the best things we can do with our leisure time would be to pursue the quality and excellence of lifestyle that our country and our community needs.
John Gardner, author of Excellence, said: “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
Many would argue that there is a real tendency these days toward boredom and mediocrity; few are willing to make the investment necessary for excellence. We must remember that God does have a distaste for mediocrity. Scripture compels us to do each thing as if it were for Christ Himself. Don’t allow good to become the enemy of the best either in your work or in your leisure.