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Prefer to listen to the podcast version of Navigating Life’s Demanding Seasons? Click here to go to this material on The Spiritual Coaching Dashboard.
As we finish this three-part series let’s again make sure we are clear about what a “demanding seasons” is. These are times when there is a lot of work and only so much time to get it finished. Or a lot of opportunities and only some many people and so much time to capitalize on them. And so the time we spend working begins to push out into the rest of life, past our normal boundaries, through our margin, and consumes everything in its path.
It is when ministry becomes an all-consuming monster that is difficult if not impossible to tame. In response, we tell ourselves that it is “only for a season.” And when it comes to ministry or serving others, it is difficult to tell when a season has ended… or should be ended.
Our response is often to skim on our priorities. We quickly or lightly touch our priorities like a stone we have skipped across the surface of the water. We give a brief, cursory glance to people and responsibilities because we feel we do not have the time to do more. We dabble in things that should never be just dabbled with.
In the two previous articles, I covered two myths that we believe about these demanding seasons of life.
In this third article, I make 7 practical suggestions for managing these demanding seasons given the reality of these two myths, and I make a couple of reading recommendations. Read either this short form or the longer one below, or listen to the podcast.
- Establish a rhythm to your life… And defend it
- Never skim on God
- Keep demanding seasons short
- The more relationships, the more you need to be present and available
- Manage your energy as well as your schedule
- Make the sacrifice mutual
- Sacrifice yourself before relationships with God or others
Keep reading if you have questions and want more details.
by Pastor Kerry Krissel
When A Demanding Season Has Been A Long Enough Season (Part 3)
So, three episodes later and I still did not answer the question, “What is one to do, especially if they feel it is required of them, to work and serve so hard for so long that their relationship with God and mankind is neglected and in danger of being compromised?” Here are my suggestions.
1. Establish a Rhythm to Your Life… And Defend It
To begin with, you have to have routines that protect your connection with God and others in order to leave them behind. How are you going to know if you are pushing too hard if you do not have a disciplined and healthy pace in place? Things you deliberately do because they have proven to protect vital relationships and priorities?
If you have relationships that are important to you, you need to build your life around them. Then add margin around that so you do not inadvertently allow those significant ones to drift away or your own heart to shrivel up. You need space for your own sanity and connection with the almighty. Space for play, exercise, hobbies, sabbath, and anything that helps you keep your balance in life.
If you play “loosey-goosey” with your relationships, you need to rethink your life! It will be far too easy to get into and stay in a season of neglect if you do not have theses established habits. It will be hard to know when you have pushed long enough if doing that to the point of skimming on relationships is your norm. If you struggle to get that daily and weekly habit in place, do what you have to to get help from a spiritual coach.
Next, that routine is not going to be worth much if the slightest thing is allowed to interrupt it. Like my “relationship” with the gym. I do not like going to the gym. Exercise is alright if I can trick myself into thinking I am not exercising! I play racquetball in part because it is much more interesting and attractive to me than “exercising” could ever be. And if I know there is someone expecting me to show up, I am far more apt to make sure I get there. Not so if the only thing waiting for me is a stupid machine and mindless exercise.
Because of my general dislike for exercise for the sake of exercise, I am not always quick to protect my routine. Add the complication of my physical disability into it and the fact that on gym days I run out of physical steam by about noon, well, you get the picture. I have the habit, but I look for excuses to break it! I protect that needed routine by doing something I like with someone else so I am motivated to get up and get there.
If establishing what is often called “a rule of life” is for you like the gym is for me, something must be proactively done to ensure you do not make or take opportunities to interrupt it. One way to make sure that less than compelling routines are kept is to plan to reward yourself with on the other side. A trip to Dunkin Donuts for my morning coffee is my usual reward.
Hopefully, the relationship with the spouse and kids will be reward enough. But if not, while you are getting help correcting that lack of emotion and connection, do whatever you can to protect those relational habits, and be ruthlessly intentional about it. I used to make appointments in my calendar to “date” my kids so it would not get forgotten and skipped.
I still put dates with my wife and adult children in my schedule so that they are not accidentally scheduled over. If anyone wants to get on my schedule I can legitimately tell them I already have a high priority appointment scheduled that I cannot break!
The point is that we must have healthy habits intentionally built into our daily, weekly, and monthly routines for the key priorities in life, and then they must be ruthlessly defended and strategically protected.
2. Never Skim on God
This should be self-evident. As long as he leaves you on earth, he expects you to take care of your devotion to, and love for, him. God will never call you to a work that forces you to bail out on your relationship with him for even a day! Besides, my experience is that when I take time out of my day to be with God, I get more done in less time. If I have too much to do, so much that I do not know how to get it all done, I need to spend more time with Jesus that day!
If you have a significant daily connection with God, skip maybe one sabbath but not two in a row. The more you miss sequentially the easier it becomes to skip yet another. Assuming again that you practice sabbath keeping. Skimming on your relationship with God will push you dangerously close to idolatry. In fact, a new pattern that begins to leave God out is a good sign that an idol has already taken up residence in your heart.
Remember this, a season of intense responsibilities wears on nerves, tires us physically, tests our patience and grace and forgiveness and… Well, the demanding season should be times when we have more of God in our lives, not less!
God will never call you to a work that forces you to bail out on your relationship with him for even a day!
Vacations are notoriously hard on normal routines… and they should be. That is what a vacation is, a break from the routine. It does us good to relax by breaking with our rhythm for a week or two. Especially if a vacation for you means you have more time to be with God (and family)! Since your normal routine is broken your time with them is just not in those normal places and spaces or for the normal durations.
But vacation ends, usually far too quickly, and it is back to life. And back to those established habits that keep life from running the show and robbing our heart of devotion to God.
3. Keep Demanding Seasons Short
Translation, rarely skim on your earthly relationships. Do not commit to projects that will put your relationships on the sacrificial altar of ministry. Not if you know it will force you to ignore significant others for prolonged periods. Just don’t.
If you find yourself in such a season, as we all do from time to time regardless of our best efforts, refuse to allow that season to drag on and on. The sacrifice you make should be the one that frees up margin to spend in quality and quantity time with loved ones. All you have to do is ask the family. They will tell you when it has been long enough. That does not mean you should put your family over God, just over the ministry. God is the only one who deserves our worship.
I told my wife early in our marriage that she was not, nor could she ever, become the love of my life. That place was already taken by my God. Do not say “yes” to anything or anyone that demands, that chooses for you, what your priorities will be. No job or ministry or paycheck is worth losing your family or your God-connection over.
Just Say No
Do not be manipulated or allow fear of failure or rejection or anything else talk you into putting too much of yourself into lesser priorities. Not for indefinite seasons. You may need to say “no” to an employer or pastor or other church leaders. If you are not well enough to risk their disapproval or self-differentiated enough to make your own choices about your priorities, get some spiritual counsel.
Find the wellness you need to be and do as God directs over what others try to dictate. Maybe you will need to embrace the adventure of trusting God enough to risk your job!
Just do not say “yes” to anything or anyone that demands, that chooses for you, what your priorities will be.
Break It Up
Practically speaking, make the choice to break into those demanding seasons with necessary time for valued people and God. Instead of one long season, break it into manageable bits. I suggest two-week blocks, maybe three, probably not four. A lot can happen to a relationship in a month.
Give loved ones something to look forward to and then do not cancel or disappoint, for any reason other than blood and death! Plan bi-weekly family nights during the difficult season and Saturday outings once a month. Be creative and let those you love become involved with planning these interventions in the middle of the demanding time. Then defend them with your life! Your family will love you for it and your God will be pleased.
Let me quickly interrupt our chat. If you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website and look around. When you are ready, click the “Get Counseling” link. Or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form HERE. If you are not local to upsate New York and cannot come to my office, we can always make a virtual appointment through using social media to connect face-to-face. Now back to our discussion.
4. The More Relationships, the More We Need to be Present and Available
Now, if obeying God means death – leaving behind a widowed spouse or an orphaned child – so be it. That is in God’s hands. Our life is not our own. (I wonder how I would do if I would have the strength, should God ask me to kiss wife and kids good-bye one last time to die a martyr’s death?) But as long as he leaves you on earth, he expects you to take care of your people. Do you have an aging parent(s)? Do not abandon them to fend for themselves for too many weeks.
The marriage relationship (between husband and wives) is more complex than friendships, acquaintances, and even kids, in my mind. The connection is on a different level. Two become one flesh. That is a deep connection so, generally speaking, it will be harmed more easily and quickly. (If you expected me to say it can endure more separation, you may need to check your habits for signs of neglect.) So if you are married, you have to take more care than if you are single.
You do not have kids? You are freer to push a little harder. You have two or three (or more) kids, especially if between the ages of one and six, and are not yet in school? That is a “difficult season” all of its own! You need to work harder at being home. Do you have a teenager or two, they still need you, maybe more than ever. So does your spouse. Invest in your relationship with them so that when the kids finally move out you do not discover that the person on the other side of your bed is a stranger.
Too many marriages end shortly after the nest becomes empty because the relationship at the top has been neglected, often for the kids. Sacrifice ministry to be with your brood! Get yourself home all but a couple of nights a week and reserve enough energy to do your part! That brings up another point…
5. Manage Your Energy As Well As Your Schedule
It is one thing to plan time with God and family, it is another thing to be awake and rested enough to be truly present. Falling asleep on the couch is not going to fill up relational needs. Being tired and stressed and frazzled will not leave you with the patience and attention you will need to make people feel valued and loved. And trying to talk to God when you cannot help but fall asleep is obviously going to negatively affect your connection with him. As a general rule, no matter the season, give the people you love the best of you, not the scraps, leftovers, and the worst of you.
As a general rule, no matter the season, give the people you love the best of you, not the scraps, leftovers, and the worst of you.
6. Make the Sacrifice Mutual
This one is clearly in reference to your family. Get them to join you on whatever project you are facing. Let them share the deadline. Serve with your family. That affords you the opportunity to model honorable behavior. Sacrifice with them not alone and apart from them.
At the very least pray together about it. In front of your family ask God to help you manage your time and energy in a way that does not damage relationships. Then plan celebrations midway through and at the finish line to stoke relationships. You can turn times of extreme pressure into a family bonding event.
This is especially true in ministry where it is often easier to share it with your loved ones. It can be redeemed instead of becoming something that stretches the relationship to the limit and threatens to damage them. Imagine the fun of a family trip or other celebratory time after you all have worked very hard to accomplish something meaningful for God and his kingdom! (Or the community, or extended family, or…)
7. Sacrifice Yourself Before God or Others
I am a little reluctant to mention this because some of you are all too familiar with having no life of your own. This is clearly not the best or a long-term solution. Some of you are not well enough internally to come anywhere near this one. But I mention it because of the Bible’s focus on self-control and selflessness. You may need to discipline yourself to avoid, for a season, things you usually do just for yourself, in order to be with those you love. Just do not abandon your family or your God.
If you must push something so far that it falls off the edges of your margin, push your hobbies and downtime and diversions away first. You just will not have the leisure of spending a weekend away with your friends, a day on the golf course, or an afternoon at the spa, if that takes you away from God and family.
For me, time with family is one of the things I do for the welfare of my own soul. So if you are like me, you can accomplish two things at once. And in these demanding seasons, anything that helps you make the most of your time is something to think about.
Again, taking care of yourself is extremely important so mind how long the season is. You need those golf outings and spa days! Oh, and just to be clear, do not include your relationship with God as something you give up!
I for one think that the church (and everyone else) have endured enough stories of prominent leaders who have crashed and burned in anything but a blaze of glory. Sure, the condition of their heart is certainly to blame. But what if part of the problem at the core is that they believed these myths?
- That skimming will not damage anything and there is no way to sacrifice too much when serving God?
- What if they violated many or most of these suggestions above?
- What if they lost touch with God and family, and one day found themselves far from both?
- What if, having sacrificed what God never ask of them, they severed or at least greatly reduced their relational connection with God and family?
- What if they let one demanding season run into another for the sake of the kingdom?
- What if they woke up one day neck deep in stuff that they never wanted and never foresaw being a problem?
- What if, at that point, admitting their mistake was too little too late?
- What if they skimmed for so long that they never recovered, and skimming became their new normal?
- What if…
At least think about what I am saying. There is a time for everything under the sun but… how long is long enough? When has a demanding season been a long enough season?
Again, if you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website and look around, and then click the “Get Counseling” link. Or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form HERE. If you are not local to upstate New York and cannot come to my office, we can always make a virtual appointment by using social media to connect face-to-face.
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