All year I look forward to Montana. I want to walk the Gallatin and the streams looking for that special trout. As satisfying as outfoxing the rainbow is the fresh air, mountains, running water, wildlife and the wonderful exhaustion that comes at the end of a full day. Two to four weeks in Montana can bring a level of refreshment that almost nothing else can.
A key component of healthy living is ensuring that we get the rest, refreshment and refueling we need. Not to the exclusion of other priorities but as one of our key priorities. Why? We cannot run on empty forever. When we do something suffers – physically, joy, spiritual perspective, or emotional health.
I was talking to a friend about a well known Christian leader last year and my friend said, “He says he is running on fumes.” Within weeks word hit the national news that his personal life was a mess and he lost his ministry. Our bodies and minds were not made to run on fumes. It is the red zone on our personal tachometer that if you do it for too long, engine damage will occur. Yet that is often the pace at which we live.
When we run too fast, we easily lose perspective. When we are lazy we give up spiritual influence. The trick is to live with intentionality, pay attention to the important things – the big rocks and build in opportunities for refreshment.
The book of Ecclesiastes is a fascinating read. You can read it and conclude that Solomon was a huge pessimist – “Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the Teacher, Utterly Meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Sounds pretty pessimistic to me.
But you need to read on. Solomon’s point is that all the work, success or money in this world will not fulfill us if we have not integrated an eternal purpose into our lives. That is why many of the most successful people in our world are unhappy people. They have everything but the one thing they crave, satisfaction and purpose, is missing. That only comes when we embrace our eternal purpose.
Solomon also says that all the pleasures of the world – and he had a lot of experience in those was equally meaningless, again, unless it was infused with God’s pleasure. That is why the toys of life and the experiences of life pursued by so many are equally frustrating because the guy with the most toys does not win after all. In themselves, they do not have the ability to bring satisfaction or meaning in life.
But, if we live our lives with purpose, understanding that it is about relationship with God and work for God, then both our work and our fun, our work and our relaxation are infused with God’s purpose, joy and satisfaction.
Thus Solomon’s words “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him who can eat and find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).”
Both work and refreshment are blessed by God when we understand the purpose of our lives – to live in relationship with him and carry out His unique role for our lives.
Those whose lives are most fruitful are also those who take the time to think, reflect, dialogue with key friends, and be quiet long enough that God can pop things in our minds that we actually hear. Being more productive in life does not necessarily mean working harder, it means working smarter – and taking the time to decompress and let our minds be available for bigger things.
All of us can find places of refreshment, even in our busy days. I think the genius of Starbucks, for instance is that one can get away, have a good brew, enjoy a quiet environment with a book or laptop and have a mini oasis in a busy day.
Because I travel regularly, I have used my airplane time to think, read, journal and meditate – rather than “work.” Hotel rooms can be a place of refuge in the evening – if the television is not turned on – a habit I have developed. I even have a recliner in my office where I can shut the door and be alone during a busy day.
Key to regular refreshment is finding those practices that bring refreshment to you. Every one of us is wired differently. I find it hard not to be doing something. Whether it is fly fishing, cutting trees, writing, reading or walking, I do my best thinking when I am doing activities that fill my tank. One of the main reasons I write, whether books or this blog is that in writing, I am able to crystallize my thoughts and I do my best thinking by putting it in words. The activity of writing helps me think deeply and clarify issues that have been ruminating in my mind.
I have other friends who use the 18 holes of golf to do some of their best thinking. Some do it with one or two other people over coffee and sharing their lives transparently with trusted friends. Our friend Barb loves to walk and does her best thinking and praying on her daily hike. Carol loves to garden and does a lot of thinking as she pulls weeds and pinches old buds. Mark loves to do it on his boat as he searches for the big fish in the Florida Keys. Bill does his best thinking reading a great book. For some it is knitting or some sort of handwork – like hand tying flies for fly fishing.
We live in a performance oriented society. But here is something to consider: who we are and who we become is more important that what we do and what we accomplish
The healthier we are emotionally, spiritually and physically, the more productive we will be. But there is no way to micro-wave health. And, it is easy to ignore and not easy to quantify. Others don’t necessarily see our emotional or spiritual health until the deficit of taking care of them cause problems in our lives.
What people see of us is a small portion of who we really are. Our thoughts, motives, intentions, intimacy with Christ, or lack of it, the habits that we practice, or don’t, the practices we cultivate in our hidden lives are the powerful but hidden core of who we are and they form the character that flows out of us.
Why do we find this so difficult when we know it is so important? Because it is hidden! Others do not see what is in our hearts, and the demands of life and work are so pressing. But we ignore our hearts to our peril. The public ‘us’ is only an extension of the private ‘us.’ Character is what we are when no one is looking – and character is formed in the dark, before we need to exhibit it.
Building times of refreshment into our lives is key to ensuring that we give ourselves and the Spirit opportunity to keep our hidden self healthy so that “who we are” informs “what we do.”
It will mean using the “amazing power of no” so that we have time for our own refreshment. It means that we will be proactive in planning or finding ways for refreshment during our busy days, weeks and months. It will pay off with greater joy and satisfaction as God does his thing in our hearts and as we allow our batteries to be recharged. It will allow us to live and minister out of greater personal health because we have taken the time to stay healthy spiritually, emotionally and physically.