© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.
In my early 50s I was given a sabbatical: seven weeks with nothing to do. The elders at our church invited me to take it. Actually, they insisted that I take it. I needed it because I was becoming increasingly frustrated and impatient and preoccupied. I felt as if I had too much to do and not enough time or ability to do it. I was obsessed with the external things that needed to be done around me. I was operating on the unspoken assumption that my inner world would be filled with life, peace and joy once my external world was perfect. That’s a great recipe for a healthy soul, as long as you live in a perfect world.
During my sabbatical, it was easy to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life,” as my friend and mentor Dallas Willard had so wisely counseled. I found myself thinking that I’m a better person when I’m on sabbatical than I am when I’m working for God at a church, and I knew that was just plan wrong. I began to form a new goal: I want to be as relaxed as I am on vacation while being as productive as I am at work.
There was only one place to learn about that. So I drove to Box Canyon. I had a whole day to spend with Dallas. I told him that I felt frustrated because the people at the church I served were not changing more. I asked him what I needed to do to help our church experience greater levels of spiritual growth.
Long pause… “You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”
“No,” I corrected him. “I wasn’t asking about me. I was asking about other people. I was wondering what I need to make the church do. I was thinking about a book everyone should read, or a program everyone should go through or a prayer system everyone should commit to.”
“Yes, brother John,” he said with great patience and care. “I know you were thinking of those things. But that’s not what they need most. The main thing you will give your congregation – just like the main thing you will give to God – is the person you become. If your soul is unhealthy, you can’t help anybody. You don’t send a doctor with pneumonia to care for patients with immune disorders. You, and nobody else, are responsible for the well-being of your own soul.”
“I’m trying,” I said. “I learned long ago about the importance of having a quiet time when I read the Bible and do daily devotions; I do my best to start each day that way.”
“I didn’t say anything about having a quiet time,” he gently corrected again. “People in church – including pastors – have been crushed with guilt over their failure at having a regular quiet time or daily devotions. And then, even when they do, they find it does not actually lead to a healthy soul. Your problem is not the first 15 minutes of the day. It’s the next 23 hours and 45 minutes. You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”
“But how can I have total contentment, joy and confidence?” I responded. “My work isn’t going nearly well enough. Lots of people are not happy with me. I am inadequate as a pastor, husband and father. Every week I carry the burden of delivering a sermon and knowing I’ll have to feel the pain if it doesn’t go well.“
“I didn’t say you should experience total contentment, joy and confidence in the remarkable adequacy of your competence or the amazingly successful circumstances of your life. It’s total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday experience of God. This alone is what makes a soul healthy. This is not your wife’s job. It’s not your elder’s job. It’s not your children’s job. It’s not your friend’s job. It’s your job.”
~ Excerpt from Soul Keeping by John Ortberg
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.
So the other night Brynden (our 13-year-old) and I were headed to a dad/son gathering when he mentioned that his neck has been sore whenever he stretches it. I’m no doctor but he is healthy in every other way so I suggested that it might be tension or stress.
He tends to get worked up rather easily and is just a couple of months into a new school semester after two and a half years of homeschooling. It was his idea and we believed he was ready but he was still fairly nervous heading into it.
So we talked a good 10-15 minutes about learning to relax.
I explained that it’s not that uncommon for most people to get tense without even realizing it but that our body feels it and lets us know with little aches and pains. I mentioned that clenching or tightening our shoulders is a biggie and could easily cause the kind of neck soreness he was describing.
When I talked about being intentional with learning to relax he asked if that was why I did stretching every morning. I told him it was and explained that stretching is half of it while the other half is breathing deeply while doing them to help push oxygen all through the body.
I even mentioned learning to be aware of certain situations that make us tense and being careful to practice deep breathing whenever we felt the tension building.
About that time we pulled into a pizza place to pick up our order.
Five of the pizzas we ordered were ready but they had forgotten to cook the sixth one. I don’t eat pizza very often so when I do I make sure to get at least one that I especially enjoy. Guess which one they forgot to make? Yep! My favorite.
We substituted a couple orders of bread sticks but I was ticked. When we got back in the car to leave I growled and yelled “Dang it! That makes me mad!”
That’s when Brynden, in a matter-of-fact sort of way, asked:
“Would this be a good time for deep breathing Dad?”
“Yes! Yes it would! Thanks!”
[In… out… in… out… slow it down…]
When I talked with Brynden about learning to relax I hadn’t planned on having to practice it so soon, but it was good to know he had been listening.
I know… it was only pizza. But the point is that we all need to learn to be more intentional about relaxing. Perhaps that is a part of why David wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
Some of us wear hurry and stress like a badge of honor even though it tends to destroy our health and attitude.
May our breathing today be slow and deep no matter what we are facing. And remember, nothing we come up against is a surprise to God; and He is still on His throne!
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2013. All rights reserved.
A couple of months ago Susan and I bumped into a friend that we’d not seen in a while. She had lost considerable weight and when I asked how she’d done it she said… Get ready. You’re going to want to write this down.
“Eat less, move more.”
I know, I know. It will take a few minutes to wrap your head around such a radical concept. Take your time. Let the layers of wisdom unfold as you pause to reflect on it. And don’t get too upset. Reread the title of the blog. I never said it was a “new” secret.
I don’t know how much money is actually made yearly on new diet plans or books but I am sure it’s no small amount. Add to that the endless parade of new exercise products or workout programs and we could make a sizeable dent in reducing national debt.
But in the end it all comes back to simple common sense and basic physics. Eat less, move more. What great advice!
Susan and I have been doing that for a few months now with riding bikes and eating smarter – more protein and less carbohydrates. Besides losing weight and feeling better, it’s fun to rediscover a whole new wardrobe in your closet.
And along with a changed waistline is a change in what we enjoy. Riding bike wasn’t all that fun to begin with but now we look forward to it. Our bodies long for it if we skip a couple of days. And we no longer crave the junk food.
First, we made a conscious choice to exercise and eat better; then our bodies began to long for and enjoy those things more and more.
The same is true of God. The Spirit abides in us to stir our longings for fellowship with God but we can make a conscious choice to spend more time with God.
We can make time to enjoy His company in silence and solitude. We can intentionally do life with Him as we go through our day.
The more we give ourselves to fellowship with our Creator, the more we will long for it above everything else.
“As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ So humble yourselves before God… Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” ~ James 4:6, 8
It’s a new day and it’s our choice.
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.
Ever have one of those days when nothing seems to go right. Strike that! When was the last time you had a day when nothing seemed to go right?
Yesterday was one of those days for me. I actually woke up early and was excited to get the day underway. But it went downhill as soon as my feet hit the floor. I’ll spare you the details but it was definitely a “two steps forward, three steps back” kind of day.
I tried taking space. I tried talking with God. (more like grumbling at God) I even downed about 8 oatmeal/butterscotch cookies. Didn’t work, but they were good. And oatmeal is healthy right?!
If I still had hair I would have pulled it out!
So when I got home that evening, Susan and I took a bike ride. That was a big help.
Fresh (though humid) air, the chance to chat with Susan and a beautiful sky as the sun disappeared into the horizon.
No big spiritual insight here, just the observation that sometimes a good physical workout does more to put things in perspective than anything else.
Go ahead. Get active.
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.
Can you begin to fathom the kind of energy and effort and discipline it requires to accomplish such phenomenal physical feats?! It truly staggers the imagination!
In another interview in Outside magazine, Dean offers a unique perspective that many of us have forgotten:
Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.
I believe that in every area of life – spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, vocational – God desires to stretch us and grow us. He longs to bring the real us out because each of us is His gift to the world. We each have a role to play in furthering His kingdom plans here on earth.
It happened faster than I imagined it would. They laid me on a horizontal surface covered in white linens. Four probes connected me to their monstrous machine. Then the surface I was on slid inside a large donut shaped metal object that hummed and beeped. And a voice that came from nowhere told me to take a breath and hold it.
No, I’m not describing an alien abduction but rather a heart scan done at our local hospital. It’s a simple procedure that checks for hard plaque or calcium. It’s very non-invasive and only took about 20 minutes. I didn’t even have to empty my pockets or put on one of those infamous robes with the slit down the backside.
Given my family’s history with heart issues it was long overdue. And though I don’t have the results yet at least I’m moving in the right direction. I’m only three years younger than my dad was when he died of heart issues; and his brother and father died the same way – and at a young age. Some people inherit money or good looks or rare talent… then there are the rest of us. Ha!
I don’t have many regrets in life but I do wish I had taken better care of myself physically. It wasn’t an issue when I was younger and working construction; staying in shape came naturally. But entering full-time ministry was a drastic change in my lifestyle and activity level.
I know that our body is only temporary but that’s no excuse to not take care of it. Along with being stewards of all of God’s creation we are also responsible for the care of our own physical health.
I would rather be writing an account of success at having eaten better and exercised more. I’d rather be telling you how healthy I’ve gotten over the last couple of years. But I can tell you that it’s never too late – as long as we’re still breathing.
God is not honored by those who put too much emphasis or pride in their physical physique; but neither is He glorified in our neglect of such a rare and one-of-a-kind resource. So here’s my mantra starting today.