Wilted plant with overlay text that says joy in suffering the secret to a fruitful life. Blog post cover art

Embedded within the fabric of the universe, there is a method to overcome difficulties, reframe obstacles as opportunities, and experience life-changing satisfaction no matter the circumstances. It starts, by finding joy in suffering.

Choosing Joy

I’ve written before about the phrase that’s guiding me this year. The idea to Choose Joy has radically reframed my life in the last year. No matter the circumstances, I’ve been able to experience less stress, closer relationships, a more vibrant community, more life satisfaction, and a stronger business.

It all started because I started to see joy in suffering.

That small shift has changed everything about my outlook in life. Wilted plant with overlay text that says joy in suffering the secret to a fruitful life. Blog post cover art

Then, this morning, during my journaling time, I discovered the ancient secret that was at work.

Joy in Suffering

Paul, the ancient theologian and church planter, wrote to a group of churches in Rome. In the middle of his letter, he laid out the formula for growing as a leader.

  1. Find Joy in Suffering
  2. Use suffering to build endurance
  3. Implement endurance to develop character
  4. Display character to produce hope.

That’s it. That’s the formula. Four life-transforming steps.

But what I stumbled into a year ago, and realized concretely this morning, was the importance of step number one. You must first find Joy in suffering.

A Wilted Plant

Up until a year ago, I would have started at step two. I could fully admit I was suffering in life. At times it was in business. In other instances, it was personal. A time or two it was physically or mentally. Whatever it was, I could easily identify the suffering I was undergoing.

But far from joyful, I was bitter.

Angry.

Resentful at the fact I had to suffer.

And I became determined to show my endurance, in spite of the odds, to build a character and be a person of hope.

And what I realized, was that if my life were a plant, it was alive, but severely stunted.

I have a pepper plant in my backyard that I planted in a shady spot underneath a tree. For two years, I have tended to that plant by faithfully watering and fertilizing it. So far, in two years, it has produced one small and misshapen pepper.

Why?

It wasn’t getting adequate sunlight. That was the missing component. A few weeks ago, I transplanted the pepper plant, and it is already doing much better. Same soil. Same water. Now with hours of sun every day.

My life in character was the same. Was I alive? Absolutely. Was I producing “fruit”? Some, but not enough, and not fully formed.

What was missing? The sunlight. For me, it was the joy in suffering.

Reframing My Mindset

A couple of years ago, I began this transformation to intentionally alter my mood and perception of life. I was tired of being angry, grumpy, and a disappointment to be around. I knew I was isolating others … and myself … from a fully developed character.

A year ago, that crystalized into the phrase choose joy.

Now, I see what that shift has so profoundly changed my life.

Finding the joy in suffering is what allows us to not just go through the steps, but to be fully developed and thrive. We will all suffer, and we can all utilize it to produce fruit that is beneficial to others.

But the difference between those that look wilted with poor fruit, and those flourishing with a bunch of fruit, is their ability to choose joy in the midst of that suffering.

The ability to have joy in suffering is a life-altering, and world-changing, a realization that benefits you and blesses others.

As a leader, do you find joy in suffering or are you a wilted plant producing weak fruit? The choice is yours.

A shadow cast on a brick wall of a giant in armor with overlay text slay your giants while you're young. Blog post cover art.

That’s why it’s so important to slay your giants while you’re young.

Her words hit me like a ton of bricks.

Not only is she incredibly beautiful and funny, she’s also really, really smart.

I’m lucky she’s my wife.

We were talking about the importance of marked leadership growth and reflecting on the life of King David in the Bible.

Setting the Stage

I was walking her through a talk I was getting ready to give, and we were reflecting on what David’s life might have been like as he neared the end of his life.

A Forgotten boy to a ruler.

From shepherd to king.

Giant-slayer to sage. A shadow cast on a brick wall of a giant in armor with overlay text slay your giants while you're young. Blog post cover art.

Desert dweller to palace ruler.

As he neared the end of his life, he had to spend time reflecting on all that had transpired. A surprising amount is written about David in the Bible. We see his faith and folly as he is featured across the pages of Scripture.

Someone described as “a man after God’s own heart” has killed giants, led a country, been to war, stolen another man’s wife, committed murder, written songs, and experienced rebellion and treason from his own family.

Throughout it all, he remained committed to God and in trying to understand how to lead well.

And as my wife and I were discussing this, we were talking about the many ways in which his experiences of God may have changed, but the need behind them hadn’t.

That was true throughout the Israelite story.

It’s true for us as well.

Having Experiences

We all have a quest and desire to connect with God.

Unfortunately, we also want to keep having that same experience.

When the Israelites that saw God in the pillar of fire still wanted to see him like that. The problem is that as circumstances change, so do the experiences.

That’s why it’s important to slay your giants while you’re young.

David experienced God when he slew the giant Goliath. But he was never supposed to become a perpetual giant killer. Once he accomplished that mission, it was time for a new one.

Slay Your Giants While You’re Young

As leaders, we are all called to progress.

Grow.

Adapt.

Change.

Overcome.

In new ways, every day.

Far too many of us, however, take pride in slaying the same giants over and over.

Battling with addiction instead of getting help.

Hiding behind our fears and weaknesses instead of soliciting a mentor to overcome.

Engaging in the same pointless battles again and again.

I’m reminded of a story I heard once. An elderly leader was being interviewed about his life and influence. Having just passed 80 years old, he had a lot of wisdom to share with the crowd.

The interviewer asked him, “What’s one battle you regret not winning?”

Immediately, the 80-year old replied, “Porn.”

At 80, he was still trying to slay the same giant as his teenage self.

Instead of being able to be a person of wisdom to his community, he was stuck in a cycle of shame.

Don’t fall victim.

Slay your giants while you’re young.

The angel tells Elijah to go take a nap

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to tell yourself, “Go take a nap!”

This is a continuing series. Today’s post is “Go take a nap.” In this series, we are examining leadership burnout and the steps you need to implement as a leader to avoid (and recover from) burnout.

Contain within the Hebrew Scriptures is one of my favorite stories of all time. Written like a great movie blockbuster, this story has it all.

Murder.

Betrayal.

The beginning of a revolution.

Drama.

Rebellion.

Intrigue.

The Backstory

Elijah, a prophet to the nation of Israel is confronting the King. The wicked ruler Ahab has ravaged the lady with wife, the cruel and anti-God Jezebel. Elijah, the one urging the people to remain faithful to God, can only do so by confronting the King. The angel tells Elijah to go take a nap

In 1 Kings 18, he does just that. After years of prophecy, it is time for action. Elijah emerges from a foreign town called Zarephath (which means ‘melting pot’, probably a sign that it had economic ties to military arms production).1 Elijah, a prophet of Israel, emerges from his hiding place, located inside of Israel’s enemy, from a town producing tools to destroy Israel, to tell the king it’s time to face the music. The nerve of Elijah. 

Yet as we shall see, this will also set the stage for his coming burnout.

Elijah confronts the king, his evil wife Jezebel, and her wayward prophets of Baal in a showdown to determine the true ruler of Israel. A comedic set of circumstances follow.

Elijah seemingly gives the prophets of Baal every advantage. They get to build their altar first, perhaps ending the confrontation early if Baal shows up. They get to pick the best bull for the sacrifice, and they can have as long as they want to win the showdown.

After hours of worship and devotion to Baal, the prophets begin to tire. Elijah starts taunting them. Here, many translations limit the effectiveness of this passage by saying that perhaps Baal is busy traveling, deep in thought.

A better and more literal translation has Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal that perhaps they caught him while he was going to the bathroom. Baal would surely come to their rescue just as soon as he could finish relieving himself. How embarrassing!

Elijah’s Response

After taunting the prophets, Elijah changes his tone. Now, he gathers the watching Israelites and begins to instruct them in the proper way to live. The drought the nation is experiencing is because of their inability and lack of desire to follow God. The drought will end when they realize this.

He rebuilds their broken altar, has the bull sacrificed, orders water poured on it, and prays to God to accept the sacrifice. Immediately, fire from heaven consumes the offering, the altar, and the water. The people are astonished.

Elijah orders the false prophets killed and murders over 400 people. Because of their faithfulness, the people will be rewarded with rain.

Elijah warns the king to prepare. After three years of no rain, it is about to become a torrential downpour!

The Burnout

At the conclusion of this story, Elijah is exhausted.

The teaching.

The sacrifice.

The murder.

Additionally, the text tells us that Elijah then flees the scene and runs to another town that was twenty miles away.

It is here that Elijah falls victim to burnout. He has started to believe his own hype and self-importance. One author comments

“Elijah, in fact, is a vivid biblical example of Freudenberger’s observation that burnout “is the letdown that comes between crises or directly after ‘mission accomplished.’”… He expended a great deal of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy in his conflict with the prophets of Baal…His success caused the Israelites and their king to come back to the worship of the only true God. Shortly after that incident, he expended more energy by climbing to the top of Mount Carmel, spending an intense period of time in prayer… and, when that prayer was answered…outran King Ahab’s chariot.”2

The story then tells us that Elijah is overwhelmed and wishes he were dead. He complains to God. To him, death is better than continuing down this path.

(On a side note, we see this in burnout all the time. It’s one leading reason why the highest spike in suicide happens on Sunday night as people start preparing to go back to a job they hate).

God’s Response

In words that I have come to use often on myself and others when they are feeling overwhelmed, I love God’s response.

After listening to Elijah he gives his two commands: eat something and take a nap.

Elijah, you just did something important. You accomplished a big goal. Then you ran twenty miles. You’re tired. Exhausted. Spent. Have some meat. Eat some bread. Drink some water. Then go take a nap. We’ll talk after that.

Elijah follows these commands, and wouldn’t you know it, he wakes up refreshed and ready for the next challenge.

We too need to hear these words. After significant challenges, we can fall victim to overwhelm.

Don’t listen to those voices!

In future posts, we’re going to look at specific ways to prevent and fight against burnout. For now, it is enough to know this: if you’re exhausted, eat something and then go take a nap. We can talk after that.


The Wrap Up

If you or someone you know is facing burnout, please get help. Email me to set up your first appointment.

Looking for more ways to fight against burnout? Here are 50 self-care tips.

 Want the entire series as a Kindle book? Go here.


Sources:

1.) Brueggemann, Walter. 1 Kings. Knox Preaching Guides. John H. Hayes. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982.

2.) Minirth, Frank B. “Unfulfilled Expectations: The Burnout Burden.” In Beating Burnout: Balanced Living for Busy People, 41-42. New York: Inspirational Press, 1997.

Blog Post Title: Leadership Health and Integrity Part 2

I learned the necessity of emotional intelligence like a child learning to walk. There was lots of hand-holding, many more tremendous crashes (often public),  and more than a few bumps and bruises. 

The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is like playing the piano. The greater the range, the greater the player.

As a pianist, my musical accomplishment is limited to chopsticks. On a good day, I might be able to find middle C.

For my wife, after some tinkering, she can learn to play fairly complex songs. She can tune her guitar, sing along as she plays, and is good enough to teach our children.

A world-class pianist can play amazing complex songs. The piano seems to come alive in their hands. Every technique is mastered. Each hammering of the kBlog Post Title: Leadership Health and Integrity Part 2eys is intentional. Everything ringing with a divine sound. 

Emotional Intelligence works the same way. Emotionally immature people have a very limited range of keys to play from. Usually, they are the basic emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. A situation arises, and their keystrokes are limited. Everything triggers them to respond in simplistic ways. 

I knew a man like this once. Though physically mature, the emotional range was limited. Within a split-second, he could go from happiness to anger. Worse than that (as someone who claimed to be a leader), there was little desire to change.

“I’m just this way. I’ve always been this way, I’ll always be this way. “

This limiting belief and limited emotional capacity will limit his leadership capacity.

Expanding The Emotional Range

Expanding emotional range happens with practice. Like each new key on the keyboard that a pianist can play, emotional range equips the leader for more situations.

Think of a strong emotion like anger. Those with limited emotional capacity experience lots of anger. The lack of self-awareness leads to them repeatedly pounding the same key over and over again.

They get cut off in traffic and are angry.

The restaurant takes too long to cook their food and they are angry.

Their child leaves their shoes in the middle of the floor and they are angry.

They are passed over for a promotion and are angry.

Their favorite team loses in the championship game and they are angry.

Bothered by the amount of trash in the local park, they are angry.

Like a new piano player, they keep hitting the same note. Always angry, always looking for a reason to explode, always at the ready to let everyone know how they feel.

In contrast to this, there are ranges of anger: annoyance, frustration, furious, exasperated, and bitter are a few examples. Each is a different key to more adequately express the current emotion.

Do your child’s shoes in the middle of the floor really make you angry or are you annoyed because you tripped over them?

Does the missed promotion make you exasperated because you worked hard and thought you earned it?

The more keys that are available to us as leaders, the better we can navigate the situations around us.

Continual Growth

The thing about leadership is that it is never a finished journey. New experiences and new insights lead to new emotional experiences.

This means new words.

New emotional keys we get to play.

And our viewpoint determines our destination.

Are these obstacles, or opportunities?

Join us next week as we continue our look at the seven areas of leadership health.

 

Looking to grow your Emotional Intelligence? Take the Test.

Eye-Opening

The jarring blare of the alarm pries your eye-lids open and rips you into the land of the living.

What’s your first instinct?

The snooze button or the bounding first leap of a new baby gazelle?

Is your first thought, “Why me?” or “Why wait any longer?”

The way we set our mind first thing determines the much of the rest of the day.

Richard Whatley once said, “Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.”

Our mindset at the outset of the day determines our outcome. Whether we choose to attack the day or begrudgingly back into it determines how much we will get done.

And this has nothing to do with being a morning person or a night owl (but shout out to all my fellow morning people!).

Instead, it has everything to do with what we purpose in our hearts as valuable and worth investing in.

Our morning rituals have the chance to shape our souls, our character, our potential, and our enjoyment in life.

Habits on Purpose

Anyone who has worked with me knows we spend a lot of time talking about “habits on purpose.” Our morning rituals are no exception. Many of us waste large sections of our mornings instead of intentionally crafting them to serve us and help us reach our goals.

Two scenarios, which sounds more like you (be honest!):

“Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.” – Richard Whatley

Option 1:

The alarm goes off. After snoozing the alarm a time or two, you begrudgingly get out of bed. Saunter down to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee. After waiting for it to brew, you put on the television, drink the cup of coffee, and pray for “a few moments of quiet.” The (real) problem is not that these moments aren’t quiet. Instead, it’s that they aren’t productive or stimulating. After an hour of television and another cup of coffee (or two), you manage to scrounge up a quick (and mostly unhealthy) breakfast, rush out the door, only to wait in traffic on the way to work. You spend the rest of the morning wondering how you’re going to fit in everything you have to do.

After work, you might rush off to the gym, if you’re feeling up to it, stagger in the door, and eat a quick bite of dinner with your family. Some more television, and on the good days a few pages of light reading before a late-night Netflix series as you pass out into bed.

The weekends, only somewhat different. Instead of filling your days with work, it’s full of a week’s worth of overlooked errands and obligations. By the time Sunday ends, you dread the thought of going back to work, still tired, still behind, and still wondering where all your time went.

Option 2:

The alarm goes off, but you were already stirring. Gently awakening from a good nights sleep, you quietly make your way to the kitchen. After drinking twenty ounces of water to rehydrate your body, you then make a small cup of coffee and tip-toe into the den. Here, you engage in thirty minutes of intentionally designed habits that give you life and direction. Scripture reading and prayer, meditation, yoga, and a good personal development book are frequent habits. After that, you sneak off to the gym for a good thirty-minute sweat session. You return home just as the rest of the family is waking up. You’re fully awake, charged up, and ready to attack the day. You enjoy a good, nutritious breakfast with your family before heading off to work with purpose and conviction.

After work, you are still awake enough to get a few critical errands done, work on your side hustle, and enjoy another meal with your family. After dinner, you enjoy a myriad of activities together: movies, books, chess, or sports. Whatever it is, you’re excited by the purpose and direction you’ve given your life.

The weekends are similar. They are intentionally designed, purpose-driven, and leave you excited for another week to grow, learn, and serve new people.

Morning Rituals

I’m guessing you identify with one of these stories.

I identify with both.

For years, I would have firmly placed myself in option one. My life was chaotic, disorganized, and I was “average” (at best).

After intentionally taking steps to counter this drift, seeking out some great coaches, and getting a grip on my life and my purpose, I now find myself firmly in option two.

The difference along the way for me has been a lot of intentional habits and disciplines, specifically and most importantly, my morning rituals.

Now, they’re far from perfect. Right now, my morning habits are really broken up into to separate blocks. That’s the status of my work life right now. Eventually, it will happen in one chunk as I sense that will work the best for me.

So while I may not have my “ideal” calendar of morning rituals in place, I do have a target. I know what I’m aiming for. Otherwise, I’m like the boy learning archery who shot an arrow and then ran over to pain the bullseye around it. Instead, I want to know what the target is and then put all of my effort and talent into hitting it every time.

Below are the habits of my morning ritual and roughly how much time I spend on each one.

  • 20oz of water within ten minutes of waking up
  • 1 cup of coffee
  • Bible Reading and Prayer (10-15 Minutes)
  • Personal Development Book (15-20 Minutes)
  • Exercise (45 minutes)

Within the first 90 minutes of my day, I have exercised my body, brain, and spiritual muscles. I have found that this gives me focus, intensity, and purpose to my days. I’m still tweaking exactly how to flow from one activity to the next more smoothly but would love to hear from you.

What are your morning rituals?
What are your daily habits and routines?
How are you using your time to intentionally invest in bettering yourself at the start of the day?

Comment below!