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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Dealing with Holiday Stress

As of today, Christmas is only 27 days away. And of course, there’s tons of shopping, planning, and traveling to take place in the Pierce household between now and the New Year. Since I missed out on all the great deals this past week, I guess I’m going to have to spend the big bucks to finish my Christmas shopping!

I’ve noticed that during the end-of-year holiday season, everyone seems to act differently. They’re more stressed, more rushed, less patient, and less available. When I step back and think about how my behaviors change, I realize I don’t want to be like that. I don’t like the person I become.

I wonder if most of us have ever considered whether we really want to live this way. And I wonder if we’ve ever considered whether we can do something to make things different. I encourage you to think through these two questions and draw your own conclusions. In the meantime, I’ll share mine.

Do I Really Want to Live This Way?

No! I don’t want to live this way. It’s absolutely crazy.

Americans seem to value Thanksgiving and Christmas for various reasons. For me, Thanksgiving is valuable because I get a chance to spend time with some of my family members thanking God for all he’s given to us, including yummy turkey, mashed potatoes, and yes, even green bean casserole. And I value Christmas because I get a chance to spend time with some of my family members to remember and celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus, whose payment has brought us into fellowship with God. Many others in my family share the same sentiments, so it works out really well for all of us.

But there are also other traditions we hold which seem like they’re not worth the personal cost. A great example of this is gift giving. Every year we all stress out about what to get for each other, but I think if you asked all of us, you’d find that the thing we value the most about Christmas is spending time together, not giving gifts. Why do we continue to let gift giving burden us year after year? Why can’t we simply gather together for Christmas like we do for Thanksgiving to enjoy each other’s company?

I get that some people look forward to some of their yearly traditions, such as gift giving. And honestly, there’s nothing unethical or wrong about it. If that’s something you and your family enjoy doing, go for it. The question we need to ask is this: Are our traditions controlling us? And if they are, do we need to consider doing something different?

Can I Do Something Different?

This raises another question: Do we even have the power to do something different? It’s one thing to say that we want things to be different, but it’s another to actually make it different. When it comes down to it, I think we have a lot more power than we realize to do something differently.

If we want to see change happen, probably the best place to start is with our immediate families. For example, Amy and I usually don’t buy gifts for each other specifically for Christmas. That doesn’t mean we don’t buy stuff for each other throughout the year, because we do, but we give them when we buy them rather than saving everything up to give all at one time. We’ve found that the spontaneity of it makes it much more meaningful and impactful than saving them all up for one day. And it greatly reduces our stress levels during this season.

However, change is never easy. It’s very difficult to change a tradition that people, especially family members, have been doing for years. Even in your immediate family, you may find that proposing a change to a tradition is met with much resistance. If you’re set on making a change in order to provide added benefit for the family that’s met with resistance, then I’d suggest taking baby steps to get there rather than trying to make a drastic change all at once. Drastic changes rarely work well.

It’s okay to make some changes to enable all of you to focus on what you want to focus on and let the other stuff go that doesn’t help to accomplish that objective. This is my encouragement for us during the upcoming holiday season.

Do you really want to continue living this way every December? Or do you want something to change? What can you do to bring about some change so that you and your family are less stressed this year?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Deceptive Dream

You spent your life pursuing the American Dream. When you graduated from high school, you went to college and got a degree that would help you be successful in a corporate environment. After college, you landed a job working for a Fortune 500 company. Every couple years, you moved into a different position to get experience throughout the company. During this time, you worked your fingers to the bone wrapping your arms around your job and managed to succeed at every facet of your positions. In time, you found yourself being selected as the CEO of the company. For ten years, you ran the company, making huge decisions that impacted thousands of peoples’ lives. Then you opted to retire at age 62 and move to southern Florida where you hope to have many more years to kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruit of your labors.

At age 70, if you were to step back and ask yourself whether it was worth it, what would be your conclusion? Although you’re most likely not in this place, imagine for a minute that you are. Imagine that you were a successful businessman who rose to the position of CEO of a Fortune 500 company and that you’re now a retired Floridian. For the remainder of this article, I will be asking some questions that will hopefully help you to not only determine the direction you’re currently going, but also assist in helping you find the path you actually want to take in your life.

What Did You Gain?

Amy’s parents live in Naples, Florida and we usually visit them every year around Christmas. During our visits, we’ve been on a couple boat tours that have taken us by some homes that are in the $20 to $50 million price range. These homes are truly mansions. But that’s not what’s really at the heart of why they cost so much. The same house somewhere in Ohio wouldn’t cost $20 to $50 million. They’re so expensive because they’re located in a gated community that is situated on the water. The residents have quick and easy access to the ocean by walking out their back doors and taking a short boat ride through the bay. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the boats they use to get to the ocean are multi-level, multi-million dollar yachts. As you can imagine, these people have lots of money!

Is this your dream? Do you dream of owning a $50 million home and a multi-million dollar yacht? If this was you, what would be your daily routine? Would you get up well after sunrise, grab a cup of coffee and sit by your private pool to read the latest news, grab a quick lunch, take your boat out for an afternoon joy ride, eat dinner, wind down in front of the television with a good sporting event, go to sleep, and then get up and do it all over again?

I have to be honest–If this was my life for a couple days, I’d gladly take it, especially if someone else fixed all my meals. But if this was how I had to spend every day of the rest of my life, I’d absolutely hate it. Do you know how bored I’d be? I can’t even image how mundane it would be to wake up every day and do the same things over and over and over again. I’d probably die in a couple years out of sheer lack of mental stimulation.

Is it exhilarating to live in a mansion? I guess maybe some people think it is. The best part for me would be that I could spend time in a different room every day for a whole month and probably not get through all the rooms. But after a while, all thirty-plus rooms in my mansion would be just as commonplace as a one bedroom apartment. It’d lose the excitement. Owning a multi-million dollar yacht would also be pretty cool, at least for a little while. But like with the house, it’d lose its excitement and I’d get bored with it. After a while, I’d learn all its limitations and become disillusioned with it. Having my own private pool out back would be pretty awesome too, especially if I didn’t have to clean it. But again, after a while, I’m pretty sure it’d lose its excitement and I’d get bored with it.

So if I retired at age 62, by the time I was 70, I think I’d be pretty bored with all the stuff I had gained from becoming a slave to my job and working my fingers to the bone for forty years. What good would it be at that point? What would I really gain from my forty years of labor?

I ask you to consider the same questions. If you managed to get all this same stuff, would the excitement of it eventually wear off? Would you eventually get bored with it? Would it give you happiness for the rest of your life? Or would you reach a point where it fails to continue to keep you happy?

Our Ultimate Goal

I don’t think we pursue all this stuff just because we want the stuff; I think we pursue the stuff because of what we hope to gain from it: personal happiness. We hold out hope that this stuff will make us happy not just now, but for many years to come. Maybe your experiences have been different than mine, but my experiences with just a small fraction of this stuff have led me to believe that although some of it has the ability to make me happy for a short period of time, none of it has the ability to keep me happy me for a long period of time.

I’ll prove it to you. Think back through your experiences. When you were younger and first began eating chewable foods, you didn’t know the difference crappy food and gourmet food. But as you got older, you began to experience different tastes and recognized that some food was so much more flavorful than other food. For example, after you’ve eaten a fresh steak at a fancy restaurant in the Midwest, you can never go back to eating the crappy steaks at Outback Steakhouse. For a while, the crappy Outback steaks made you pretty happy, but after eating a Mitchell’s steak, it no longer makes you happy. However, you’d run into the same issue with Mitchell’s steaks if you ate them every single day? Would they continue to make you happy in the same way they did the first time? After a while, you’d get tired of them.

In the same way, at some point in time, all the stuff we currently have made us happy. But most of this stuff no longer makes us happy. Why would a better version make us happier? Maybe it would offer some instant gratification, but in the long run, wouldn’t you be back in the same spot where you are now; wouldn’t you reach a point where the better version would no longer make you happy? So you upgrade to the next version and then to the next version and eventually you have the best version that’s available. Won’t the happiness it provides eventually wear off as well? Of course it will. If we can’t be happy with a little, what makes us think we’ll be happy with a lot?

Based on this conclusion, here’s my encouragement to you: Stop being a slave to your job and working your fingers to the bone so that if you happen to live long enough to retire, you can purchase a $50 million house and private yacht in southern Florida. I don’t see how the gains can outweigh the costs, especially when you’d have to give up deep relationships with your family, friends, and God, in order to make it happen.

My Alternative

What would I encourage you to do instead? Here are my thoughts.

Happiness is not found in gaining everything nor is it found in giving up everything. According to Paul and countless other people throughout the history of humanity, eternal happiness is to be found in knowing the creator of the universe, not in the stuff he created. As Paul also once wrote, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”[1] By gaining Christ, Paul gained happiness.[2]

At that point, Paul’s happiness was no longer contingent upon succeeding in his career so that he could own a large mansion and private yacht in southern Florida. He could be in prison, shipwrecked on an island, or even suffering torturous floggings, yet he was still happy. Wouldn’t you like to experience that type of happiness too, a type of happiness which isn’t contingent upon your situation? If this is what you want, stop chasing after all those other deceptions like careers, wealth, 401k’s, mansions, and yachts and start chasing after Jesus. He says “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”[3]

Lest you think I’m making this stuff up based on some personal delusion, here are three quotes from others throughout history who have said the exact same thing:
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.[4]
There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.[5]
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too week. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[6]
My encouragement to you is to give up chasing after the American Dream and instead, chase after Jesus. It’s the only pursuit I will, with 100 percent certainty, say you can chase and not be disappointed with the results.

Have you found something that keeps you happy day after day, or do you find that you have to continue moving from one thing to the next in order to continue finding happiness? What are the people around you experiencing? What can you learn from their pursuits of happiness? Have you considered trying to gain Jesus instead?

[1] Philippians 3:7-8.
[2] In Philippians 4:11, he referred to it as contentment.
[3] Jeremiah 29:13.
[4] Psalm 16:11.
[5] Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W. F. Trotter (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958), 113, thought #425.
[6] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, rev. ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 26.