Five Things You Think You Need, But You Don’t

AM Five Things

Not long ago, my wife and I felt like our family was on The Great Hamster Wheel to nowhere. Maybe you feel that way, too. You’re spending a ton of time and effort to earn a paycheck so you can give your family “the good life.” And now you have a lovely home and some neat toys, but you’re often too tired, too stressed, or too busy to truly enjoy it all.

That was us.

So we decided to try a little experiment. We challenged ourselves to check out of the consumer culture for twelve months to see how it might impact our family. Before you think we’re complete whackos, realize that our challenge did not require us generate our own electricity, make underwear out of old burlap sacks, or only eat things we could kill with our bare hands. For us, it was less about saving money and more about focusing on people and shared experiences to see if it might have a positive impact on our relationships. So we lived by a simple set of rules that were restrictive, but not too crazy.

Rule #1: We wouldn’t shop for “stuff.” Sure, we could buy consumable items (think food, cleaners, hygiene products, etc.), but if it couldn’t be used up within the year, we put in the “non-essential” category.

Rule #2: If something broke, we could fix it unless we already had a suitable replacement lying around.

Rule #3: Gifts had to be in the form of charitable donations or “experiences” to be shared.

Entering this challenge, we recognized two things. First, the majority of humans on the planet live by these rules (or even more restrictive ones) out of necessity. In fact, my wife and I had spent a year serving as missionaries in Guatemala, and experienced first-hand how anything beyond food and shelter is a luxury for those living in poverty. So our experiment wasn’t really a sacrifice.

Second, there are far too many people like us in the United States who live under manufactured stress, never realizing that our never-ending quest for more is what is ultimately giving us the feeling of dissatisfaction.

While you can read about entire 12-month journey in our book, The Year without a Purchase, here are a few nuggets we have personally found helpful to review now that we’re finally allowed to shop again.

FIVE THINGS YOU THINK YOU NEED BUT YOU DON’T

1. NEW CLOTHES

My wife often asks me, “Are you naked from the waist down?”

As you might imagine, this question always captures my full attention. That is, until I realize that she is simply responding to my comment that, “I need a new pair of pants.”

Clothing is one of the big areas where we often confuse “need” with “want.” And I’m not the only one. The EPA estimates that each American throws away nearly seventy pounds of clothing per year.

Seventy pounds!

So, I only need those new pants if I am, as my wife says, in danger of getting arrested for public indecency. Otherwise, it’s an option. And our family was able to survive an entire year without buying a single stitch of clothing. And no one made fun of us.

At least not to our faces.

2. MORE STORAGE

It is estimated that the average American home contains over 300,000 items, and America itself is home to 50,000 self-storage facilities. That’s over twice the number of Starbucks locations worldwide! Our problem isn’t that we don’t have enough storage, it’s that we have too much stuff.

Often times we hold onto items because we can easily rationalize their value to us, whether it’s sentimental, or tangible. We can think of millions of situations where we might need an item. Yet, miraculously, we haven’t needed the item but one time in the past four years.

If you’re holding onto something, take the “Not Much, Not Me” challenge by asking yourself these two questions. 1) “What horrible thing would happen if I didn’t have this thing in the future?” and 2) “Who would get the most use out of this thing?” If the answers are “Not much” and “Not me,” get rid of it and get a small piece of your life back.

3. A NEW CAR

There used to be a time when auto makers touted a three-year cycle for purchasing new vehicles. Whether that was ever true is subject to debate, but the latest research shows the average age of vehicles on the road is 11.4 years.

Today, cars last far longer than they used to, and are far cheaper to maintain. Whenever you get that urge to upgrade and take on another car payment, remember this statistic: it only costs $151 more per year to maintain a car between 6-15 years old than it does to maintain a newer auto. That’s far less than a single month of payments, and the old wheels still get you from point A to point B.

4. MORE SPACE

Hypocrisy alert! It’s hard for me to write this, as my family is in the process of moving to a different home. But any time we say, “our little 1700 square foot house is too small,” we know it’s all in our heads. Even though our two extremely loud kids make the place feel like an echo chamber.

But statistics show the average American home size has nearly tripled since the 1950’s. Back then, a single family home averaged just 983 square feet. Today, it’s 2624. At the same time, the average size family has shrunk from 3.5 people to 2.5. Granted, people are bigger these days, but I’m guessing we don’t need an extra 1641 square feet for our girth alone.

Bottom line: rather than asking, “What are we missing by not having more space?” I need to remind myself to ask, “What do we gain by being closer together as a family?”

5. THE APPROVAL OF OTHERS

Ah yes! This was one of the biggest things I learned from our experiment. When I found myself wanting to buy something, whether it was different clothes or a different car, I would have to ask, “Why do you want it?” At best, I simply wanted the item because it would make my life simpler or better. Like a four slice toaster or an ultra-thin laptop for traveling.

But often, when I dug beneath the surface, there were many things I wanted because I thought they would make me better.

I am a professional, so I should get some better clothes!

How can my clients take me seriously if I show up to our meeting in my 15-year-old, compact car?

Our kitchen table looks like it’s been bouncing down a rocky cliff since the late 1980’s and just now landed in our house. What does that say about us?!

You see, “stuff” isn’t inherently bad. What is bad is the meaning we derive from it. The instant we begin to let our stuff define who we are, that’s when we start to tell Our Maker that the way he designed us just isn’t good enough. When we start to compare the cutting room floor of our own lives with the highlight reel on Facebook or TV commercials, we start to believe that perfect is normal. We start to believe that we are “less than.” We start to believe our worth is tied up in how others perceive us.

Here’s a news flash for you. There is no bigger lie.

The truth is, whatever your life situation, your stuff does not define you. In the end, the only thing we truly need is to fill ourselves to overflowing with the knowledge that we are all beautifully flawed and wonderfully made. To see ourselves as God sees us, and then give that same unconditional love to others.

I’ll buy that.

And I hope you will, too.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott’s book about his family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press (We know… dripping with irony…but there’s always the library!). And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @sdannemiller.  Cheers!

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Incredibly Ironic Cheap-o Book Offer for Blog Followers

Hey there avid readers!  By now, you’ve probably figured out that I wrote a book called The Year without a Purchase about not buying anything for a year.  Some of you were there with us to follow along on the blog, and maybe even tried the little experiment yourselves.  For this, we thank you!

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* Me visiting my book at a friend’s house, since she got it before I did. But I’m not bitter.

Now we’re redefining irony and hypocrisy by selling the book about not buying anything.  Our publisher, Westminster John Knox Press, has been kind enough to provide a special discount code for those who want to get in on the preordering.  So, if you have any interest, you can visit the publisher page and enter the code YEAR40 at checkout to get 40% off the cover price. (New price = $9.00 just for you!) The page even has a gigantic button to download the first two chapters for free so you can try before you buy.

That said, if you are a loyal Amazon or Barnes & Noble person who gets free shipping, you can visit their sites and purchase as well.  B&N has a slightly better deal at the time, but that can always change.

Thanks again for being loyal followers of the blog.  We’re grateful.

Peace!

-Scott

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To The Moms: My Apologies

Hey there folks!  I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago that has spread across the interwebs like wildfire.  Or a case of herpes.  It all depends upon your perspective, I guess.  While many found the piece helpful and uplifting, some of those who read it were deeply offended.

To those who I offended, I sincerely say thank you for taking the time to write to me comments or emails and let me know about it.  I appreciate hearing your perspective.  The online forum is an open one where everyone can and should participate via email or otherwise.

First off, the words on my page are mine, and I own the fact that they hurt some people, including you.  This was not the intended result, but it is indeed what happened, and for that, I apologize.  Some interpreted my words to mean that I hated crafting, that people who do it are only doing it to impress other moms, and that everyone should stop doing it because it was a big waste of time.  Again, not the intent, but that’s how some viewed it, in many cases due to the way I crafted the message.  I’ve been called a “dick”, “sociopathic”, a “sack of shit”, a “douchebag”, an abusive husband, awful father, misogynist, and much more.   I haven’t read all of the comments, but I definitely got the message.

My blog was aimed specifically at moms who are constantly trying to keep up with some image of perfection in their heads.  It was for the ones who see gifted moms doing wonderful things and then thinking they are not good enough because they can’t measure up.  I wanted to highlight that this competition was all in their minds because most of these people who do the fun crafts are doing it because they love it, not because they want to one-up another mom.  My wife is one of the people who created the cute little fruit cups out of a sense of obligation, staying up late and wondering why she was doing it.  This is all spelled out in the article, but my attempt at humor obscured this message for some.

The “Suzie” I mention in the article is not a real person.  She’s just a caricature and not reality.    What I was trying to convey is that Suzie is good at being Suzie and she should keep doing what she loves.  Because Suzie isn’t judging.  She’s just doing it out of love.  It’s the intent that truly matters.  And I honor your intent and celebrate it.  If that did not come across in my article, I am sorry for that.

With that said, I do hope you will continue reading, but I completely respect your decision if you don’t.  Thanks again for your attention.

Peace to you and yours,

Scott

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To The Moms: Just Stop It

Writers note:  While most have found this piece helpful and uplifting, some have been offended by it.  If you get to the bottom (or even just mid-way through) and find yourself wanting to punch your computer screen, please read my apology.

I got home after midnight from a business trip last night. That’s probably why I didn’t notice it until the morning. This bag. Alone. On the kitchen table.

Moms bag

Normally, getting my kids to the breakfast table is like trying to coax a couple of cats into a swimming pool. As soon as they wake up, they hide under blankets on the couch and make strange noises. But this morning was a different story.

Audrey came out of the bedroom, wiped the sleep from her eyes, and went right to the table. She sat in front of the bag with a smile on her face.

“What’s the bag for?” I asked as I created my super-duper breakfast parfaits. Colorful layers of yogurt, fruit, and cereal.

“We got it for our end-of-year party yesterday.” She reached into the bag.

“What did you get?”

She started pulling out different items and commenting.

“Goldfish crackers… Some cookies… ooooooh! Gummy worms! And a mustache!”

“Cool!”

The morning went on as usual, with me reminding the kids to brush their teeth, make their beds, and get a summer job. (Note: “I’m only seven” is not an excuse.) We finally made it out the door and walked to school as a family unit.

When Gabby and I got back home, I tidied up the breakfast mess before getting to work. When I reached down to pick up all of the things that Audrey had removed from her bag, I did a double-take.

moms all goodies

moms fish

moms worms

moms orange

moms cups

Every single item was accessorized. Little notes. Ribbons. Sayings. Like a professional stylist had just prepped them for the red carpet at some weird awards ceremony for pre-packaged snacks.

Follow me on this one. I truly appreciate that people have taken so much time to make sure my child felt important yesterday. Craftiness is a gift. One I do not possess. I am awestruck by the flawless execution of cuteness on these snacks. And I realize the inherent hypocrisy of my statement, since I am guilty of adding a bit of “flair” to the breakfast parfaits from time-to-time.

But for some of you, it’s exhausting, right?

As the man who is married to the person who reluctantly put googley eyes and a graduation cap on all the fruit cups, I feel I am qualified to offer this sage advice to the mothers of the world who do this kind of thing through gritted teeth out of a sense of obligation.

Stop it!

Just. Stop. It.

Here’s a theory for you. There’s a type of person who actually enjoys doing this kinda thing. She sits whistling in her craft room, making little doo-dads out of marshmallow fluff and fairy turds while bluebirds flit about her shoulders — and she’s having fun. Meanwhile, all the rest of the moms are like:

“$#!+. That f’in party is tomorrow, and I gotta’ come up with something cute for the kids, cause you know Susie Craftsalot is gonna’ make the Taj Mahal of lemon bars. Here, let me just slap some googley eyes and some construction paper on this fruit cup and call it good.”

So now we’re all working to impress Susie Craftsalot, hoping to measure up. All the while, she doesn’t give a flying unicorn fart what we made.  Not because she thinks she’s better, but because she’s honestly, genuinely surrounded by the intrinsic joy of making creative stuff. That, or she’s too damn distracted by the little field mouse she trained to ride a unicycle to deliver her handmade, end-of-year teacher gifts.

Whatever the case, for most of you moms out there, the competition is all in your head. And so is Susie Craftsalot.   Some folks love to do this kinda’ thing, and that’s totally cool.  But if it’s not you, then don’t try to be something you’re not. Because the results of our endless impress-a-thon are not good. A survey of 7,000 women show that their average stress level is 8.5 out of 10. Nearly 50% report suffering from “Pinterest Stress” – not feeling crafty enough. And three out of four say “the pressure they place on themselves is worse than any pressure or judgment they get from other moms.”

I remember when crackers used to be enough. You probably do, too. Can we get back to that place, please? Deep down, we know we’re not doing it for the kids. They couldn’t care less. My daughter didn’t even notice the adornments. But she did appreciate the snacks.

And you know what? No one will judge you for bringing a box of Chips Ahoy. Or an unopened bag of string cheese. And if they do, why do you care? Pardon my fit of cynicism here, but we spend far too much time and effort worrying about what others will think, forgetting that most don’t even notice.  And those few who do are likely too self-absorbed to be a true friend to you anyway.

So stop it. No more worrying. No more needless effort.  No more made-up competition.

Because oranges are enough.

Cookies are enough.

You are enough.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott’s book about his family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press. And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.  Cheers!

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What Would Happen If We Just Quit Asking?

AM Quit Asking

“Remember! Take your time! It’s not a race!”

I called out to my son as he headed off to school to take standardized tests last week. We had heard horror stories from other parents about how their kids were filled with anxiety over being assessed, curling up into crying balls on the floor. To prevent this problem, we didn’t talk about the exams at all, save for this one piece of advice.

Later that afternoon, Jake came bounding in, filled with energy.

“How was your test today, buddy?” I asked.

“Good,” he chirped.

I prodded, looking for more detail. “Just good?”

“Yeah. I’m white.”

“Huh?”

“The test says I’m white.”

“What do you mean?” I was confused, wondering if this was a new category on his color-coded behavior chart. Or maybe they had already received their test results and he was in the “white” range.

“Someone filled out the top part of the test for us. Ben was black. Arjun got Asian. I got white.”

He “got” white. Like they were handing out popsicles or something.

“But you’re not white.” I corrected. “You’re Asian-American.”

“Like Arjun?”

“No, he’s from India. Your mom is half Japanese.”

He quizzed me. “India and Japan are both Asia?”

“Yeah… I think?” Before he could test more of my geography knowledge, I added “You’re technically Japanese American.”

“But how can I be Japanese, Dad? You’re not Japanese.“ He paused for emphasis. “You’re like… pink!”

I wondered whether or not I should be offended. He continued his assessment, turning toward Audrey and saying,

“I bet I would be a lot darker if mom had married another Asian.”

To which my seven-year-old daughter replied,

“True. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

I wasn’t sure if I should laugh because it’s funny, or cry because it’s true. Here I was, a white dad, trying to explain the construct of race to my Asian-American kids, and they couldn’t care less about the subject. And all because of a pre-filled bubble on a standardized test. The whole episode had me wondering:

Why do we even ask the race question any more?

From an accountability standpoint, I understand why we need to know a person’s race. The Civil Rights Act was a beautiful piece of legislation. It was one of those rare times in our nation’s history when capitalism took a back seat to doing the right thing. Imagine if you owned a lunch counter in Mississippi in 1962.   Serving “colored people” might hurt your business. So the Federal government thankfully stepped in and made it illegal to discriminate based on sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. And today, capturing demographic information helps us see if particular groups of people are being denied jobs, loans, or opportunities based on the color of their skin.

It’s an accountability thing. So we count.

But not very well.

Consider a recent leadership meeting my wife attended at our church. The team was reviewing the demographics of our congregation to see if we mirrored the community where we live.   Gabby pointed to the document and noted,

“This says there are no Asians in our church.”

“That’s right,” someone offered.

She raised her hand, “Ummm… we should have at least one. Right?”

*insert awkward silence*

To be fair, my wife is like an optical illusion.  She can look Asian, Hispanic, or Caucasian depending on whether we’re eating at Pei Wei, El Chico, or Applebees.

Gabby filled the void by asking, “How do we determine this information? Do we just look at people and take a guess?”

That’s when someone chimed in and said what everyone was thinking,

“We definitely shouldn’t be guessing.”

Again, laugh because it’s funny, and cry because it’s true. All of us adults are trying hard to get it right, but still making mistakes.  There is a genuine intent to honor the experiences of others, and race plays a part.  At the same time, I’m finding that my own kids seem to be oblivious to their own race, and we’ve told them dozens of times. It’s like they have racial amenesia or something. Or maybe they’re allergic to labels.

If so, they’re not the only ones.

In the most recent US Census, “Some Other Race” was the third largest racial category chosen. And it’s not for lack of options. The form allows people to select between White, Black, African American, Negro, Hispanic, Latino, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Spanish, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Guamanian, Samoan, Chamoro, Filipino, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.

Yet “Some Other Race” was number three.

This has the Census Bureau confounded. They are trying mightily to fix this problem to assure people accurately categorize themselves. They’re even working with the US Office of Management and Budget to adjust the “official” race categories. I know it’s silly to imagine, but yes, there are people whose job it is to determine what races are “official” in America. And it’s rather arbitrary, like trying to determine how many squares a roll of toilet paper should have, or what name to give the latest nail polish color at the Clinique counter. Looking at a brief history of how these decisions were made in the past, I was simultaneously amused, confused, and outraged.

The funny thing is, we’ve been doing all of this counting, since 1790, and every decade the number of boxes grows ever larger, with no end in sight. In fact, Census Bureau is testing a question for the 2020 form that adds a space beneath each racial and ethnic category so each person can write in his or her own description.

Yes. A fill-in-the-blank census.

As crazy as it sounds, it is probably the most accurate measure we could have. While it’s human nature to want to put people into boxes to make sense of the world, humans themselves resist being placed into boxes. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s because our egos don’t like being pigeon-holed. Or maybe it’s because the Constitution says that we’re all created equal, and labeling groups of people only encourages stereotyping and generalizations.

Or maybe it’s because God never intended it to be that way.

I know I am a naïve idealist given the current state of race relations in our country, but I believe there’s some truth in the words of Roger Rosenblatt, who, at the turn of the millennium wrote this in his Letter To The Year 2100,

“U.S. immigration officials recently predicted that by 2050 (50 years ago for you), nearly half the country’s population will be nonwhite. There are more interracial marriages every year. I like to picture you all as a nice, rich shade of beige.”

It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Rosenblatt is on to something here. Maybe the solution to our problems isn’t ever more boxes to check on a census form, church register, or standardized test. Maybe what we’re truly after is something completely different. Think about it…

If we no longer asked the question, would division no longer matter?

It’s worth considering. And worth an investment of prayer and hope. That Rosenblatt’s words would somehow come true. All of us checking a single box. The human race. Created equal and treated as such. Seven billion unique expressions of the image of God.

Loving each other into oneness.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott’s book about his family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press. And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.  Cheers!

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The Two Most Important Things To Teach Our Kids

AM Two Important Things

I was lying in bed a couple weeks ago when it happened.

“$#!^!”

I tried to reel it back in, but the expletive was out of my mouth. I sat bolt upright, pulling the covers off my wife. She put down her book and looked at me like I was a crazy person.

“What is wrong with you?!” she asked.

Panicked, I said, “We only have six days left, and we haven’t done enough!”

Somehow, in my twilight sleep, my mind flashed back to an article she read when our kids were infants. It stated that parents are the chief architects of a child’s moral compass through age 8. After that, kids begin to question the infallibility of adults in their lives and look to their peers for guidance. Even if those peers are throwing bricks off an overpass and snorting cinnamon.

So, with my son’s 9th birthday fast approaching, a sense of doubt washed over me. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably felt it, too. Silently wondering if you’re doing it right, but knowing deep down that you haven’t done enough.

The next day, I Googled “top things to teach your kids” to find out just how much I had failed. One article listed five things of critical importance. Another had twenty-seven. One even listed 100 things. It was completely overwhelming. Especially considering I still haven’t been able to teach my kids to chew with their mouths closed or apologize for farting in my lap.

However, just before my downward spiral hit rock bottom, something miraculous happened. A still, small voice in my soul broke through the malaise and said:

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it has to be complicated.

And that voice is absolutely correct. Our problem as parents is not that we don’t have enough information – it’s that we have too much. Parenting today is like being trapped in a dryer full of “should have’s” and an “ought to’s”. The chaos spins all around us, but there isn’t a single thing we can hold onto for assurance.

In an effort to simplify parenting and get back what’s truly important, I dove into the research looking for common themes. And while there may be countless lessons we must teach our kids, I discovered two that stood out above all the rest. Two simple things that have the greatest chance of creating the society we all crave, filled with happy, productive adults that we don’t want to punch in the throat.

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#1: Courage

In the age of helicopter parenting, raising courageous kids can be difficult. As the television fills our heads with fear of kidnappings and sexual predators, we grow ever more protective. We teach about stranger danger and conduct our surveillance from the cradle to the college campus using every device imaginable.

But here’s what has me scratching my head. There has never been a safer time to be a kid in America. A recent Washington Post article points out that mortality rates have fallen by nearly half since 1990. Reports of missing persons are down by 40% since 1997. Before you say, “that’s probably because we’re now watching our kids all the time!” note that 96% of missing persons cases are runaways.

So, not only is our over-parenting unnecessary, it’s also counter-productive. Our well-intentioned protection is actually creating a society of fearful, dependent adults.

Surveys show roughly one-third of professional employers today report parents submitting resumes on behalf of their child. One-quarter say a parent has called to advocate for their child being hired. And nearly one-in-ten accompany their child to the interview.

As parents, we must reverse this trend. We must give our children the courage to face adversity on their own.

Make no mistake, courage is not confidence. Kids today are more confident than ever. Even when there is no justified reason. Courage, on the other hand, comes from the latin word, “cor”, meaning “heart.” Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens you,” or “strength in the face of pain or grief.”

And this is what our kids need.

Because one thing is certain in this life. Our children will fail. No matter how smart, confident or hard working they may be. But studies show that kids who are most likely to achieve their goals are those who find their true passion and doggedly pursue it. But it’s important to note that these passions are not painted on by a parent from the outside. No, they bubble up from within. And they become so all-consuming that the child can’t help but find joy in the pursuit itself, no matter the outcome.

Instilling such courage in our kids requires that we parent at arm’s length. Or farther. Offering autonomy, support, and en-courage-ment. So our kids can become who God made them to be.

In His image.

Not ours.

Yes, this is the courage we must teach. But it’s not enough.

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#2: Compassion

Like me, you likely feel that you do a good job of encouraging your kids without pushing too hard. You cheer them on, teaching the value of working hard to achieve a goal. The question becomes: how might our kids interpret all of this encouragement?

The Make Caring Common project at Harvard University recently surveyed 10,000 kids. What they found is both interesting and convicting.

Nearly 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Ouch.

Unfortunately, this is the result when we emphasize our kids’ courageous accomplishments in hopes of reinforcing effort and building self-esteem. They interpret this intense focus on achievement as an indicator of what is important in life.

But Brad Bushman, a research psychologist at Ohio State University, cautions that how we praise our children has a huge impact not only on what they believe is most important, but who is most important. His research found that overvaluing your child’s accomplishments, especially telling them how “smart” or how “special” they are, can lead to narcissism.

And this is how courage gets corrupted.

While self-esteem is believing your worth is equal to anyone else’s, narcissism is believing you are better than everyone else. And this can be very damaging character trait. Jean Twenge, who studies narcissism, notes that narcissists tend to lack empathy and have trouble maintaining relationships.

So why does this matter?

In the end, we all just want our children to be happy, right? But virtually every research paper written about happiness shows that the two biggest building blocks for sustained joy (besides health) are 1) having meaningful relationships, and 2) serving others. That’s right. These two trump money, trophies, and trips to the beach. Every. Single. Time. But all the courage in the world won’t give you strong relationships and a servant’s heart. It takes compassion.

Compassion comes from the Latin word meaning “to suffer with.” Compassion starts with sympathy – the ability to understand a person’s circumstances. And this sympathy grows into empathy – the ability to truly feel what another person is feeling. Even if they are suffering.

And compassion?

Compassion is empathy with action.

Compassion is how relationships are built and maintained. Friendships. Teams. Marriages. Compassion is about paying attention to the quiet voices of those on the margins. Hearing them. Feeling them. And then acting as though the interests of others are just as important as your own. Even when society and the scoreboard tell you something different.

Yes, we must teach our children to have compassion like this. And this type of compassion requires courage. The two go hand-in-hand.

Courage and compassion.

Inseparable.

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As I write these words, my oldest child is now 9 years old. There is already evidence that my influence is waning. We share fewer hugs in the school drop off line. His taste in music is becoming his own. Heck, he’s even spouting slang that I don’t understand.

Still, I refuse to believe that my time is up.

Amid the slamming doors and silent dinners to come, I’m sure there will be times I’ll feel like a failure. In those moments, my head will likely become a spin cycle of “should have’s” and “ought to’s”. But in those moments, my prayer is that I can be a father who has courage enough to show love without condition and compassion enough to see them for who they are. The ones I have raised. The ones I love. The courageous, compassionate children of God.

And in the end, that will always be enough.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott’s book about his family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press. And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.

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The Church Is Not Your Home

AM Church Is Not Your Home

An atheist walked into three churches last Sunday.

I know. Sounds like the beginning of a great joke. In fact, you could probably come up with an awesome punch line.

But it’s no joke.

A recent Christian Today article tells the story of Sanderson Jones, the leader of Sunday Assembly – also known as the “atheist church.” Jones’ mission was to attend three London church services in one day. But he wasn’t there to debunk Christianity. No. In his words, he was just “learning from the pros.”

Jones walked away with a great appreciation for communion and prayer. While he was not converted, he was most affected by the way in which churches welcomed him and gave him a sense of belonging.

I believe Jones experienced what every single one of our churches is trying to offer. We all want to do the work of Jesus by welcoming others like guests in our home. I’ve heard that phrase a lot lately as my own church seeks to reach the community in more meaningful ways.

Like guests in our home.

It’s a wonderful analogy, isn’t it? We roll out the red carpet for houseguests. We offer them our best food and drink. We break out the fine china. Heck, we even let them use the special towels that normally stay locked behind some sort of invisible force field in our bathrooms, never to be touched by an actual family member.

In this sense, Jones is absolutely right. Christians are pros at welcoming. If welcoming were an Olympic sport, churches would be Michael Phelps, only with coffee stations and tuna hot dish. But here’s the problem:

I’m afraid the mindset behind our welcoming spirit might slowly, subtly be killing our church.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying our churches should stop welcoming visitors. And I’m not saying church shouldn’t feel like a place where you belong. What I am saying is that we need to stop viewing our churches as our homes. And here’s the reason.

While I am very welcoming to my guests, I also see my home as mine. A possession. You probably do, too. And so I create rules and expectations to protect it. I’m kinda’ particular about the grass. The mower lines should run diagonally. And the spoons should never “spoon” in the dishwasher. Kids should never eat in the living room. And I’m fairly certain that failure to use a coaster is acceptable grounds for divorce in 36 of the 50 states. These rules are our custom, and we’re unlikely to adapt quickly.

When we do have parties for others, we relax these rules. We also vacuum the carpet, mop the floor, and scour the kitchen to make things bright and shiny for our guests. All the messy stuff stays behind closed doors or tucked away in closets, just waiting to pounce on someone who mistakenly thinks it’s the entrance to the bathroom.

Finally, while those parties may be absolutely fantastic, I have to admit that they usually only happen on the weekends, and they are normally limited to friends of friends who we know will enjoy each other’s company. But during the week, the house is largely empty, save for immediate family.

Sound familiar?

Again, please don’t misunderstand me. Our churches do amazing things. We go on mission trips. We sponsor charities. We bring the gospel to people desperately in need of a “good news” story.

But the truth is, when we think of the church, we see it as ours. Like our home. A possession.

And it has to stop.

We have rules and traditions that start to take on a God-like quality in the way we worship them. Then we wonder why some see Christians as rigid and inflexible.

We primp and prime for the big party on Sunday and greet folks with big smiles, while hiding the messy realities of church life in the closet. Then we wonder why some see Christians as lacking authenticity.

We spend roughly 82% of our church budgets on staff and buildings that are only open a few hours per week, mostly for programs designed specifically for our members. Then we wonder why some see Christians as selfish.

When I work with congregations, I often ask the members what they love most about their church. And 9 times out of 10, the response is,

“It’s like a big family.”

And every time I hear this, I cringe a little.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Families are beautiful. My own family is incredibly welcoming. At the same time, we’re also loud and boisterous and overwhelming. We have inside jokes and tired old stories. If you’re spending Thanksgiving with us for the first time it can be downright exhausting. And exclusive. As an outsider, you are left to try and quickly understand decades of history and assimilate quickly.

The sad truth is, we ask our church guests to do the exact same thing.

We absolutely want them to be members of the family. We invite them warmly. But rather than meet them where they are, we ask them to meet us where we are. The result? Those who are drawn to us, and therefore drawn to Jesus, will be those who tend to worship like us, believe like us, and look like us. Threading the impossibly narrow eye of the needle.

And we wonder why church membership is declining.

But here’s the good news. We need not take up such a heavy burden. Christ never asked us to own His church or His building. No. Man was simply the rock it was built upon. Consider the scriptures:

The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. (Psalm 24:1 NIV)

We are here to support God’s creation. As stewards. And it’s time we recapture that call. As church leaders, we must begin to see ourselves as caretakers of sacred ground rather than owners of a house.

Because the church is not our home. We do not possess it. We shouldn’t try to tame it any more than we should try and reign in nature. Consider the parks where gates are wide and all are welcome. This is what our churches should be. Open to all at any time. Some people come to work. Others come for recreation. Still more come to rest.

The caretakers of such spaces don’t care why you are there. They only want to assure that, no matter the reason you have come, you will feel the beauty and magnificence of Our Creator. They also hope the beauty you experience will be so real, so palpable, that you have no choice but to share the experience with others. Like vacation photos of the Grand Canyon that never quite do it justice.

There are glimpses of this in our own communities. Some churches operate food pantries. Others have given up their buildings altogether to provide transitional housing for those on the margins. I think of a recent Monday night at my own church, where a dozen homeless men slept in a fellowship hall, while Alcoholics Anonymous met in a preschool classroom, and a community development meeting took place in the sanctuary. Not a single event for church members.

But the family of God was there.

So I pray today that this will be our call. That we may tirelessly look for ways to be caretakers of the church where we serve. To look for ways to use our buildings and our gifts not for ourselves, but for others. And in so doing, may the light of Christ show through our generosity. Our openness. And our selflessness. Reaching out to the family of God.

Welcoming them home.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott’s book about his family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press. And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook.  Cheers!

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