Moving Past Weariness

tired_kidGordon MacDonald tells of a time when as a child he was traveling with his family on a dusty, deserted road in Canada. It was late, and the family had been traveling the entire day. They were lost, tired, and were becoming irritable with one another. They could not find a motel, and the few cabins that they did see had “No Vacancy” signs in the window. The trip had begun with excitement, but all of that had worn away as they pushed ahead thinking that down the road somewhere there had to be a place to sleep. MacDonald continues by saying:

I have often recalled the feelings and frustration of that late-night, dark-road experience whenever my life seemed to momentarily turn into a mindless or spirit less journey crammed with events (not experiences) and contacts (not relationships). In such confounding periods, my sense is that one feels like my family did that night in Canada. Where is all of this going? What does it mean? And, how will I know when the destination has been reached? Why has this exciting trip suddenly turned into a wearisome journey? Where will I find tranquility again?  Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, pp. 7-8

I can relate to this.

There are times when life has left me feeling tired and weary. These feelings are not the result of one incident or disappointment. Rather, weariness seems to be the result of numerous difficult situations stacked on top of one another.  The compilation of these situations over time can be draining and exhausting.

Does this describe where you are or where you have been?

Prolonged weariness can leave one feeling tired, depleted, and feeling as if you have not made much progress. If you are like many, you may even come to a place where you become numb to what is happening in your life.

During times when I feel particularly weary, I have found it helpful to pursue simplicity in my life again.  In other words, I re-visit my purpose for being alive and getting out of bed in the morning.

Some might push back and say, “My life is complicated.  You are not telling me anything I don’t know by suggesting that I return to my purpose.”

I won’t argue with you.

Doing this, however, has been very helpful to me.  Focusing again on the purpose for my life, my family, and my work can bring clarity and help life the fog.  Eventually, I am in a better place to take the next step toward keeping my life in line with my purpose.

The following are a few realities I try to keep in mind during such times:

1.  I have absolutely no control over so much of what happens in life. I can’t control the decisions and choices that others make.  Very often life is very, very hard.  Yet, I do have control over the choices and decisions that I make (Joshua 24:15).  I can choose my attitude, my outlook, and the direction of my life.

2.  I need to trust in God.  I need to depend upon God for my life and my future.  God is never weary or depleted.  If I am not praying, it may be because I am either overconfident or my view of God is too small.  I’ve noticed that the quality of my prayer life typically reflects my view of God.

3.  I need to be proactive instead of passive.  Stephen Covey encourages us to “choose with the end in mind.” Clarify your life’s mission. He suggests that we write eulogies that we would want our friends to read at our funeral.  Proactive people step into life while passive people spend their lives waiting for something to happen.

 

Question:

What is particularly helpful to you during seasons of weariness?

 

When Perfection Becomes an Obstacle

David Seamands, a longtime Christian counselor, told of a young woman whose mom always demanded perfection. She was never good enough for mom’s praise. When she was 6 or 7 she had a piano recital. She had worked hard and practiced and practiced. On the day of the recital she performed her piece flawlessly. Her teacher leaned over and whispered, “You were perfect!” The young girl then sat down by her mother who said nothing. Ten minutes later her mom finally said, “Your slip was showing.”   perfection.jpg


I wonder if some of us do not have a similar view of God. You do your best and then expect him, like this girl’s mother to say, “Your slip was showing.” No matter what you do, or how well you do it, it is not enough. Such a view of God, is not only inaccurate, but can be actually be paralyzing.


I remember sitting in my first graduate Bible class at Abilene Christian University, a number of years ago. It was “Introduction to the New Testament.” The class was full of students who seemed to know more than I knew. The professor would refer to various scholars and other students would nod their heads knowingly. Sometimes a student would raise his hand and interject thoughts from a book he had read recently.


I sat there feeling as if I was at the back of the line, behind most of the other students. It seemed they knew so much more.


Eventually, I finished school, and we moved back to Alabama where I began preaching for a small church full of patient people. I was new, and I wanted to do well. Yet, even though I had just begun my work there, I felt hopelessly behind. I wrestled with these kinds of questions:

  • How can I read all of these books?
  • How can I know everything that is in the Bible?
  • How do I know when I have sufficiently prepared a sermon or Bible class?
  • What if I steer someone in the wrong direction? Is this really the best answer to give them?
  • What am I supposed to do?
  • Am I doing this (ministry) right?
  • Am I praying the way I should?
  • Am I depending on God the way I should?
  • What if I don’t do ministry very well?
  • What if I fail?


Then, someone would call our church office. They wanted to ask a question about the Bible.

“I just thought I would call you. I figured you would probably know the answer to this question.”

“Right.”


I wanted to do my work right but for the longest I was so focused on perfection and not making a mistake that it became paralyzing. It was hard for me to finish anything without worrying about whether or not it was good enough.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Years later, I am thankful to be free from that kind of bondage! I am glad to be free to give the time and effort that I have and to trust God to be at work in whatever I have to offer. I am glad to be free to trust God instead of my own performance. I am glad to seek excellence but to be satisfied with what I have to offer, trusting that God will bless.


Question:

Can you describe a time when you found seeking this kind of perfection to be an obstacle or even paralyzing?


When the Sharp Teeth are Pulled From Human Anxiety

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time with The Paraclete Psalter: A Book of Daily Prayer. Yesterday’s reflection on Psalm 46 was especially meaningful to me.


God is our refuge and strength.


In 1529 the church reformer and former Augustinian monk Martin Luther paraphrased Psalm 46 in a hymn that has been sung with hope-filled zeal by generations: “A mighty fortress is our God / A bulwark never failing; / Our helper he amid the flood / Of mortal ills prevailing.”

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The theme running through this Psalm is the incomparable beauty and unshakable security of the city of God. The place where God makes his abode is the most glorious and the most stable place in all the earth. To live within its borders is to live without fear, for nothing in all creation–not the volatile power of nature, nor that of man, nor the destructive power of “our ancient foe”(in Luther’s words)–can do harm in “the holy place where the Most High dwells” (v. 4).

Where God is, there is no reason to fear. And, since God is “with us” (v. 7) and within us, there is no place to fear. In just a few short verses, the psalmist effectively pulls the sharp teeth from all human anxiety. What real threat exists that is able to subdue the faith of those whose “refuge and strength” is God? “Be still, and know that I am God.”


Yesterday morning, I read this meditation and this Psalm once and then I read it again. I read it another time later in the day. Today I read it again. Again and again, I need to need to hear the words of this wonderful Psalm. This Psalm (and this meditation) is a powerful reminder that God has pulled the sharp teeth from all human anxiety.

Let me encourage you to name your worries and bring these before this wonderful God who is with us.

If you are like me, you may know what it is to sleep through a part of the night only to awaken at 4 am. You lie in bed for a few moments only to feel that sense of dread again. As peaceful as your sleep has been, that heartbreaking problem has not gone away.

Read again these ancient words and know that God’s promise to be present is just as real now as it was then.


Question:

What has been particularly helpful to you in times of anxiety and worry?


8 Questions to Ask When You Are Overwhelmed and Exhausted

I wrote this post with ministers in mind. But it really is applicable to most everyone.question.jpg

The following are some questions that have helped me in times when I have felt overwhelmed and exhausted:

1. What am I thinking about? I ask this question because I know that if I am spending a lot of time rehearsing my worries or my fears that it costs me energy. At one time in my life, I would wake up in the middle of the night and lay in bed thinking one negative thought after the other. It was like I was I was allowing each thought to have its moment on the stage of my mind. Each one would come on the stage and appeal to my anxiety and worry. Such thinking not only kept me awake at night but will drained of energy.

2. Who am I spending time with? I have to monitor just how much time I spend with negative, critical people. Too much time spent with others who are constantly griping and complaining will sure enough drain me of energy. I am not just referring to people who may be critical of something I said or did. These may be people who are voicing some of the concerns I have had about some issue. Yet, I can’t listen to (what seems like) an endless stream of negative talk because it really does impact me.

3. What am I putting into my mind? On a typical day, I talk with people (e-mail, phone call, personal conversation) about matters that are very serious. Someone has learned that they have cancer. Someone else is deeply concerned about their financial debt. Still another is wrestling with marriage issues. At the end of the day, It is easy to go home and immerse myself in the national news, which much of the time is going to be very negative.

As a result, I have to be very intentional about what I put into my mind. I can’t continue to think about sad and tragic situations all of the time. So I often make sure that I watch something funny on television. Or, I might be sure to watch a good ball game of some kind. I might read a biography, especially one that is not filled with tragedy. What I think about really does matter.

4. When do I re-create my body? I generally work out at the gym four times a week. My motivation for doing this is not my weight nor is it because I am a health nut. My motivation is rooted in the way it makes me feel when I am regularly working out versus how I feel when I do not. If I am not getting some kind of exercise, it really does impact how I feel. Not only do I feel more sluggish, I tend to have less energy and motivation particularly in the afternoons.

5. When do I rest? Some ministers get their emotional strokes by talking about how hard they work. They go on and on about what everyone has asked them to do and how busy they are. There are ministers who do not even take a day off. Very, very unwise — in my opinion. Not taking time to rest, to get away, and to recharge will eventually catch up with a person.

6. When do I empty my mind? I have learned much from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. I have learned the importance of emptying one’s mind (or doing a “Mind Sweep“. That is, taking everything that is going on in your mind and putting it on paper. Several years ago, I was in one of his workshops. One of the exercises that we did that day was to take a clean sheet of paper and write down everything that we were thinking about. I remember thinking, “This won’t take long, I am only thinking about a couple of things right now.” We took about ten minutes for this exercise. I began my list and could not believe all that I wrote down. I put down everything from “Get the tire fixed” to “Got to call Steve on the way home.” Each time that I wrote something down, I then seemed to recall one more thing that I had stored in my mind.

Allen’s point is that if we do not regularly empty our minds, then stress is the result. He says that you must have a system in place where you can empty your mind and then know that you will come back to what you have written this down and deal with them.

7. Who am I resenting? Unresolved conflict and resentments can be such energy drainers! It is amazing how much energy I can spend thinking about a person who I am frustrated with or angry with. Occasionally I need to ask myself, “How much time do I spend thinking about old resentments or things that long ago should have been forgiven.”

8.   Who am I depending on? I deliberately saved this one for last. This is one that I have to think about occasionally. Am I trying to do this ministry in my own power or in the power of the Spirit? Am I depending on myself or on God? Nothing is more exhausting than to try to do ministry via human power and human ingenuity. It will always be inadequate for the task at hand. That alone is exhausting!


Question:

Which one of these eight questions do you especially need to consider? Why?

   

Burying Those Feelings Never Works

There is often a high price to pay when you bury your feelings.

Feelings exist.

I may not like these feelings.

I may not feel comfortable with these feelings.

I may be very uneasy by what I am feeling.

I can try to bury my feelings but they will not stay buried. At some point in time, they will surface again. Quite often when they do surface, they impact us in negative ways.

Consider:

*Your father dies of cancer. A few months after his funeral, you lose your job. Then, to top this off, your daughter files for divorce. One day you say to a close friend, “I don’t think that I have really begun to grieve the death of my father. So much has gone on in the last few months. There has been so much loss.”

*You are a minister in a church. You are so tired. It seems like there has been loss after loss. You have done one funeral per month in the last twelve months. A few of these were people you knew well and loved. You really don’t feel as if you ever grieved any of these deaths. You were too busy trying to deal with the conflict in your church. You’ve experienced conflict before in churches but this was particularly hurtful. You learned that a man you thought one of your best friends in the church was being openly critical toward your ministry and was accusing you personally of lacking integrity.

*You dated this girl while both of you were students at the university. To this day, you can’t figure out why you stayed together so long. She was manipulative and untrustworthy. Again and again, she cheated on you with other guys. Now, several years later, you find yourself in a similar relationship. You wonder what you are doing to attract these kinds of people. Some very negative feelings are starting to surface that you thought long ago were buried. You never went to counseling after this traumatic first relationship or even process these feelings with another person.

Feelings may be buried for a time but eventually they will bubble up and surface.

Recently I was reading a post by Anne Jackson in which she mentions an important lesson she learned in an English class regarding feelings and expressing them:

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As I entered into my last semester of high school in the spring of 1997, I was in an abusive relationship, was still lonely from moving, and had nowhere to turn.

It was also that semester when my senior English class had a student teacher from a local university. His project for us was to keep a journal every day for that semester.

My journal entries started out more like a diary:

“Went to school. Skipped third and fourth period. Went to work. Did homework. Went to bed.”

“It’s my brother’s birthday. I forgot.”

However, we didn’t just keep the journal in class. We read literature and we studied grammar and we wrote an endless amount of book reports. And I don’t remember the context, but at some point mid-semester, the student teacher said something in class that I’ll never forget.

“When you feel something, no matter how good or bad it is, feel it as deeply as you can. And remember it. Write it down.”

Now that last line really struck me. In fact, I read it several times. This is so much healthier than doing what I have done on far too many occasions when I have attempted to bury feelings.

So what prompts us to bury our feelings?

  1. We may hear old messages from the past. “You really shouldn’t feel this way.” “If you really loved the Lord, you wouldn’t have these feelings.” On and on it goes. Such messages can encourage one to bury feelings.
  2. We may decide that being “nice” is a primary value. Consequently, being nice is placed at the front of the line. If feelings don’t seem to harmonize with being nice then they are buried. Some ministers particularly get into trouble with this one, thinking that they are called to be nice (even toward someone who is rude, ill-mannered, and behaves like a jerk). Note that Jesus does not model being nice. He models what it means to be a loving person.
  3. We may be afraid of these feelings. Some feelings like grief, shame, and loss are very painful and quite difficult.

Question:

When have you been tempted to bury your feelings? Have you experienced the futility of attempting to bury your feelings?

  

When Christmas Tests Your Nerves

Some of you know what it is to experience Christmas as a very stressful holiday.

Perhaps the stress comes from moms and dads trying to create just the perfect Christmas experience for their loved ones. Or it may come from anticipating Christmas dinner as your older brother brings his new wife for the first time. (Meanwhile, the family grieves because his previous wife of twenty years is no longer present.) Or, the stress may come from the two brothers-in-law who do not get along and are now in the same room.

Craig Barnes, in his book The Pastor as Minor Poet, writes about how the Bible reveals God as the achiever and ourselves as the receivers. Far too often we live with much stress because we are trying to gain something through achieving that can only be had through receiving.

At no time is this more obvious to pastors than at Christmas, when our parishioners are knocking themselves out to achieve the perfect experience for their loved ones. It is amazing that the mythology of this dream is able to resurface every December in spite of its repeated failures. When I hear the aspirations that people have for their reuniting families, gathered around the piano wearing matching sweaters, joyfully singing carols, I always want to ask, “Is this the same family you had last year?” But no one is interested in reality checks at Christmas. So they knock themselves out to achieve what cannot happen. . . . (p. 95)

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Does this sound familiar? Could it be that many of us are under so much stress during this time of the year because we are trying to achieve so much? Perhaps some of the stress is due to our efforts to achieve something perfect instead of simply receiving graciously all that we are given. Ultimately, it is only what we receive from God that will satisfy. Our efforts to create and achieve something to satisfy will always be lacking and will have its limits. After all, the Bible presents God himself as the ultimate achiever. Barnes concludes:

In all my years of pastoral ministry, I have never had a child come to see me to talk about the stress of the holidays. They aren’t worried about making it to all the parties, buying the perfect presents, maxing out their credit cards, and travel plans. As every child knows, the only stress of Christmas is how can we possibly wait for it to arrive — the day we receive so much. (p. 95)

Question:

In what ways do we attempt to create a perfect Christmas experience for our families? How can these efforts test our nerves?

If You Need to be Refreshed

Early this morning, I read an article by John Ortberg entitled, “A River Runs Through It” (Conversations, 7.2, Fall/Winter 2009). I was sitting at our kitchen table with a fresh cup of coffee as I began to read this article. Each morning since receiving this new issue of Conversations, I have read a different article in this fine journal. The article was by John Ortberg and was about the life of God which flows from the Holy Spirit. I anticipated that the article would be good. What I didn’t know is that these words would feed me this morning: steps.jpg

When Jesus speaks of this central metaphor for our life with Him, the river is grace. The river is gift. Tow we desert people, the river is life. We don’t know much about the Garden of Eden, but we know this: a river ran through it. Genesis 2:10 says, “a river watering the Garden flowed in Eden” and everybody in Israel who hears that verse knows what that means; that’s life, that’s grace.” Beyond Genesis, other references to a river will bring tears to your eyes and hope to your soul if you will let it.  Where the river flows, life will flourish. Where a river dries up, life does as well. Psalms 42 reads, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” When I used to sing the praise chorus based on this verse. I often had a mental image of a little deer like Bambi walking through a green forest — a little thirsty but otherwise fine. That’s not the picture in this psalm, though. Remember, Israel is desert country. The waters are dried up. This deer is going to die if he doesn’t find water — and that’s me. That’s every human being. To be cut off from the Spirit of God means a life of perpetual unsatisfied desires, spiritual dryness, emotional death. (p. 25)

I am glad I read this paragraph this morning. Why? Because it is easy to go through the week feeling tired, depleted, and overwhelmed by the tasks at hand. It is easy to ignore the river of God and think that working harder, being smarter, or fixing others is the answer.

I think about the following people:

  • A young woman working impossible hours and trying to go to graduate school as well. She feels completely overwhelmed.
  • A minister who was ill last week and now feels so far behind due to all of the work that he needs to do during the month of December.
  • An older man deeply worried about his adult daughter who is going through a divorce.
  • A business person in serious financial trouble after his business plummeted last year due to this economy.
  • Parents alarmed about certain behaviors they are seeing in their children.
  • An elder in a congregation feels disappointed and discouraged at the behavior of a few of his fellow elders.

Perhaps these people need to hear that the Spirit of God offers life. That life can be found no where else. Only the Spirit of God gives the life that will sustain us through the rough and tumble of humanity.

What about you?

Tired?

Overwhelmed?

Exasperated?

Maybe just maybe you need to hear again that God has made the river of life and he invites us all to drink.

Question:

When are you most likely to feel tired, overwhelmed, or exasperated? What helped you during such a time?


   

When You Are In a Dark Hole and Can’t Get Out

I was nervous.depression2.jpg

I sat in a chair, of a large counseling center located just off the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. I had begun seeing this counselor just a few weeks earlier. I was there because I was struggling with depression.

I was in the middle of a church situation that was tough – very tough. I wasn’t handling it well emotionally. (To think of this in terms of systems thinking, I wasn’t “managing myself” very well.)

Life at this church was not good. Oh, there were some wonderful people at this church. The conflict at this church was by no means a reflection on most of these people. Yet, deep – seated conflict existed in the underbelly of this church. It was present before I came, and it was there after I left.

Whispering.

Gossip.

Ungodly attitudes and words.

I wasn’t sure whom to trust. I felt betrayed by a few people I thought were friends.

Meanwhile, I was second – guessing myself on a number of fronts. I second – guessed my preaching, my decisions, and my conversations. I wondered if life would ever get better. I felt as if I was in a dark, deep hole and unable to get out. Quite often, I sat in a pool of self – pity, condemning the situation and then feeling less than for not handling it better.

I decided to see a counselor after a push from my wife and our family physician. This counselor was male, about ten years older than I. He had a relaxed easygoing manner. I liked that he didn’t have that therapeutic voice. No, he seemed more like a regular person whose job it was to help someone like me who felt stuck. As I returned for numerous visits, I felt more and more free to talk openly. I realized that if was going to be able to serve in a church, I was going to have to learn how to do so without it destroying me.

That was some years ago.

Right now I am thinking about ministers who are in this same situation and who wonder how it will all play out.

I also think about the spouses of these ministers who watch their loved one in such situation lose their spirit, confidence, and who now feel such discouragement.

Question

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you experienced such difficulties in your life? Have you known others who have? What was helpful?


Question: What Body Issues Are a Part of Our World in 2009?


Recently, one of my daughters sent this video to me. This pressure is very real.


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We live in a time of great confusion about the body. Think about what we talk about or experience in this culture. We have conversations about:

  • Obesity
  • Anorexia
  • Botox
  • Breast Augmentation
  • Pornography
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Thinness
  • Starving, gorging, and purging ourselves
  • Exercise
  • Body image
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Cosmetics, diets, clothes
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder (imagined ugliness)
  • Bulimia
  • Fitness
  • Sexuality

Questions:

What should Christians be saying about the body? What other body issues would you add to this list? What stress do people face today because of the culture’s view of the body?

You might read the paragraph below:

“. . . It is important to discover the emotions and feelings that underlie your negative body image. The statement ‘I feel fat’ is never really about fat, even if you are overweight. Each time a woman looks at herself in the mirror and says ‘Gross, I’m fat and disgusting,’ she is really saying ‘There is something wrong with me or with what I’m feeling.’ When we do not know how to deal with our feelings we turn to our bodies and blame our bodies for our feelings. Every time you say ‘I’m fat’ you are betraying your body, and you are betraying and ignoring your underlying feelings. Remember that ‘fat’ is never a feeling, it’s avoidance of feelings. Learn to discover your emotions and feelings and realize that focusing on your body is only distracting you from what is ‘really’ bothering you.” Nicole Hawkins, Eating Disorder Referral Information Center

Don’t Ignore the Obvious

I really don’t want to ignore the obvious, and yet I do at times.

I graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in business. I recall taking a variety of classes including some in business management, accounting, business law, finance, statistics, etc. Yet, in spite of these courses, I ignored the obvious.

I actually paid very little attention toward thinking about the kind of work that I might do for the rest of my life. I am not suggesting that I should have known exactly what I was going to do. I am saying that I did not even give it very much thought. Oh I knew what I was going to do when I graduated. I had been working for UPS while in college and I knew that I would be driving and then going into management with them. Yet, beyond that, I gave my future little thought.

Maybe the following is obvious to you. Yet, I need to be reminded to not ignore the obvious.weekly_review.jpg


Am I thinking ahead?

1. In five years, I will be somewhere doing something.  In five years, do I want to be able to say that I have invested in my growth and maturity over these past five years? What will that mean TODAY in terms of the practical decisions that I need to make?

2. At the end of this year, I will be somewhere financially.  If I continue to spend money the way I am currently spending money, what will be my financial condition in January 2010? Do I need to make a change TODAY in terms of the way I spend money?

3. As I begin my week, I am going to make choices about the way I invest my time. Who needs my attention and time this week? Are there significant people in my life who have not been receiving the time or attention the need? Do I need to make a decision TODAY regarding this?

4. In front of me is an unread book.  I can easily say, given what I already have scheduled, “I don’t have time to read a book this week.” Yet, could I carve out thirty minutes each day to read? Could I carve out fifteen minutes each day to read? Do I need to begin this TODAY?

5. In several years, my body will be in some sort of condition.  I might be in good health. I could be in poor health. Am I investing in the health of my body? Am I conscious of what I eat and how I exercise? Or, do I ignore the obvious and choose to avoid thinking about it? Do I need to address this TODAY?

You may be a student. One of the most difficult ways of going to college (undergrad or graduate) is to wait until the day before the assignment is due to begin the readings, write the paper, etc. Far better to look at the time between now and the next class meeting and make a decision about what you need to do each day, beginning TODAY. You may be surprised at the difference in the stress you experience.

Perhaps this is obvious to you. Yet, I have seen so many people ignore the obvious and then a few years down the road wonder what happened.

Am I in control of the week? No. Only God knows what will actually occur this week. Only God in his providence knows exactly the conversations I will have and the people who I will spend time with. That is a given. Yet, at the same time, I have to make choices every week and every day about the way I will use time. For example, this week, I am speaking twice on Wednesday. I speak on Wednesday morning and then again Wednesday evening. I know that next Sunday morning I will preach again. In order to prepare for these times, I will have to make some decisions regarding the way I use my time each day this week.

I am not in control of the week. Yet, I am going to plan a time to go to the gym and exercise. I do this each day after I leave the office. This time each day is energy producing. Besides, I know that it is an investment in my health. Yet, for this to happen, I have to block out some time each day.

Will I read my Bible and pray this week? Will I spend time talking with my wife? Will I connect with my children this week? All of these questions require some time investment. Yet, if I don’t think about this at the beginning of the week, I could find myself at the end of the week watching something mindless on television while I have ignored a significant relationship that needed my time this week.

This is something that I am thinking about today as I consider my week. Maybe you will will find this helpful.

Question:

Do you ever ignore the obvious in your life? What is it that you typically ignore or just not deal with?