Getting Things Done

I am not, by inclination, a diligent person. I have a terrible work ethic, I’m not reliable, and I procrastinate constantly. I have struggled with these and sundry related faults all my life. Over time, I have consumed countless self-help books and articles and tapes and systems to achieve some workable level of GTD — getting things done.

As I’ve grown in faith and theological understanding, I’ve come to wrestle with how to esteem things like life hacks. Do they promote an insidious works-based mentality? A way to achieve betterment on my own, apart from God? Surely they can — so should I not bother with things like developing better habits? Should I not advise or educate my kids on how to overcome their own negative proclivities?

This is not a settled matter for me, but last year I did reach some useful insights. The pursuit of self-betterment can generally fall under the category of good works. That is, it can be the fruit of a heartfelt desire, not to earn merit, but to honor and gratify and worship the good God I’ve been restored to, and the newfound identity and purpose that’s been recovered. Sanctification is still the Lord’s — but it is His grace to give me a role in it. Work is a medium to express my enthusiasm, even my joy.

That gives me reason to tweak my productivity — not for efficiency, but for effectiveness. And when I seek to replace bad habits with good ones, it is not as a measure of my worth, but as a regular act of faithfulness. I miss a deadline? I am still saved, I am still loved, all will be well. I remember to floss? Praise God for even the tiny triumphs of His grace, that by His power I am more considerate to others and myself and a better reflection of His goodness.

I’m reminded of this because of an interview with David Mathis regarding his book, Habits of Grace. He helpfully recalls two terrific Bible verses, 2 Thessalonians 1:11 and Philippians 2:12-13. The whole interview is worth listening to (or reading) to consider the proper place of spiritual disciplines in our new life in Christ.

Tangentially, I’ve been impressed with the Gospel Coalition’s campaign to encourage people to read the whole Bible this year. They’ve integrated and created a bunch of helpful resources if you want to make this a goal, including a reading plan, a podcast of Don Carson’s daily commentary on this reading plan, and a growing repository of supplementary articles to help with understanding and study.

Family Worship During the Holidays

Some wise, encouraging, and practical advice in this interview with Donald Whitney around family worship during the holiday season. I thought about selecting some quotes to post below, but the whole interview is chock full of great stuff, and the link includes a transcript.

It’s never too late to start an Advent devotional with your family. You can buy Advent calendars from Trader Joe’s or Aldi’s — or make a homemade one with the whole family one night. I’ve added Advent reflections to my notes on Proverbs for this month, and the Family Style Theology podcast has also begun to post a special Advent series.

If you feel flat-footed, keep the expectations low and the format very simple. Perhaps open the chocolate-of-the-day from the Advent calendar, sing a religious Christmas carol, read a few verses from Matthew or Luke, and say a 10-second prayer. Skip the carol if you know it’s going to be an obstacle.

Endless Thread on Hillsong

Every now and then I’ll hear something on a podcast on my own that I’ll want to share with the kids — usually my oldest son in particular. That was the case with “God is a Capitalist” an episode of Endless Thread, a podcast that highlights posts, threads, communities, and happenings in Reddit. This episode centered around the topic of an eponymous post in the pop heads subreddit: Hillsong Church.

As you’ll hear, it’s a largely critical assessment of Hillsong. Why did I want my son to listen to it with me? I wanted him to hear how churches and Christians are often perceived by a secular audience. We discussed how some aspects of Hillsong were genuinely problematic — its commercialism, its cover-up of child sex abuse, and its promulgation of a version of the prosperity gospel — how some critiques belie misconceptions about our faith and the gospel, and how other criticisms reflect genuine schisms between an orthodox Christian worldview and a progressive secular one.

I think it’s important to provide an honest warts-and-all depiction of the church — but within the context of proper theology. Many of the non-church people will have a perception of the church through their understanding of phenomena like Hillsong; we need to make sure we understand what they see and how it jives or doesn’t with what is true (and what is the truth).

Advice to a New Stay-at-Home Dad

I was recently asked for advice about being a new parent and, specifically, about being a stay-at-home dad. I hope I was helpful and encouraging, but I continued to give it some thought after the conversation.

Here’s my penny, now polished over a little:

Trust in God’s Sovereignty

Keep in mind that while our children are entrusted into our stewardship, salvation ultimately and only comes from the Lord. We are given an opportunity to participate in God’s wisdom and will, but our kids’ lives are beyond our control — but firmly in divine providence. We should keep reminding ourselves that our confidence is not in, thank God, ourselves or our children, but in the goodness, power, and righteousness of God.

Show Spiritual Leadership

When you take on an arrangement that challenges traditional gender conventions, you will inevitably contend with both external and internal pushback. I’ve found it helpful to reflect intentionally on my role as a husband and father — and to remember that my leadership is, at its core, spiritual. I may not be the breadwinner; I may find myself having to take on a more collaborative posture; I may find that I have to pick up domestic duties — but I still have to be head of the household. Take the initiative to enact and enforce family worship or discuss your devotional reflections with your spouse.

Reset Your Expectations

It’s really easy to be overwhelmed by your responsibilities, especially if you’ve compiled a high set of aspirations around family. You may want to start a list of the ideals you want to aspire to, what you think you might want to work up to in a year’s time, what would qualify as progress from where you are now, and what are the absolute minimum things you need to get done.

That last list is key for me. If I get through the absolute minimum, the highest priorities of the day, I choose not to beat myself up. I’m pretty temperamental, and I can easily descend into a funk. But I remind myself that God’s forgiveness and grace are new every morning, and I aim to, at the very least, survive and then — hopefully — make a little progress.

Set Up Systems

Take stock of what your routines are and set up systems and environments that eases the friction of those activities. The diaper changing area, for example, should be set up just the way you need it to be — properly stocked and everything within convenient reach. Put together a “go bag” for trips or walks with the stroller.

Every now and then I’ll watch _Mr. Mom_ for inspiration.

Welcome Help

There’s no shame in getting help from family, church, friends, or hired help. Reach out to other parents for company or advice. Order in pizza if meal planning is too much right now. Get someone to babysit or clean, if that’ll help.

Ask around to see if there are useful social media groups. Bookmark your favorite websites or blogs for inspiration. Get a prayer partner or best friend to text you with the occasional pep talk. If you can afford the time or money, get counseling or therapy.

Stay in Touch with Your Feelings

If you can’t get therapy, keep a journal or check in with a buddy to periodically stick a dipstick into your emotions. You’re in uncharted territory, and so you’re bound to feel some curveballs. You might feel resentment. You might be surprised how judgmental you can be. You could feel a sense of loss or anger. You might feel inexplicable elation!

Don’t repress these emotions or let them go unexamined. Give some thought and prayer about where they might be coming from, and how they might be affecting yourself and others.

Maintain Your Marriage

Keep constant communication with your spouse. Let her know what you’re going through, while listening with compassion and empathy as to what she’s going through as well. Your partner is probably encountering a lot of new territory as well.

Have some honest conversations about what expectations you’re setting or developing for each other, and negotiate — again — some baseline goals, progress goals, and reach goals.

My wife and I haven’t been very good about sustaining regular date nights — but I bet we would have benefited from having them. One thing we did do was let our extended families know that we were prioritizing self-care for our little unit over things like holidays and vacations.

Enjoy Your Situation

Every stage in the life of your child has its own set of hardships — but it also has its own window of opportunities. Newborns, for example, have a pretty defined and limited set of needs and are otherwise passive to what is done with them. That can mean a lot of free time to take naps, listen to podcasts, practice writing or photography.

Put the kid in a stroller and explore the area — see museums, take hikes, go to open houses — whatever floats your boat. You might not get to once your child has a little more agency — or other obligations. Try to shift the emphasis from being an uber-parent to enjoying life with your family as it is, right now.

Wisdom for Dessert

I’ve tried — and failed — at starting dinner time rituals in the past. It’s tough to get everyone at the dinner table at the same time (Dana grew up with her family constantly in and out of the kitchen), and my energy and willpower drastically flags at night.

We’re trying recently, however, to read and discuss a proverb every weeknight. This practice grew out of an adult Sunday school class that I just completed (there’s a blog with my notes and summaries for the class). I’ve committed to continuing the class on the blog, posting some thoughts on a single proverb from Proverbs three or four times a week.

In order to lift the chances of this new routine’s success, we’re going to start with a very small goal — just reading a single proverb to start — tied in to an existing cue, dessert at dinner. And I’m going to reward a month-long unbroken streak of readings with a special night out or take-out (with dessert of course!)

One of the benefits of having a ritual discussion of Proverbs is that it provides touchstones to share viewpoints, earned experience, and food for thought on a wide range of topics. Of course, these discussions need not be singularly triggered by the proverbs in Proverbs — you can have meaningful discussions from any meaning-laden cultural artifact: poems, movies, speeches, comic books, even infographics.

One great source of thought-provoking nuggets are short moralistic mystery stories. I’m thinking of something like the Father Brown short stories by G.K. Chesterton or the chapters from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels by Alexander McCall Smith (he’s even written a kids’ version of the series). 15-20 minutes’ reading can lead to some great discussions.

Christian History Almanac

New on our podcast rotation for “carschooling” is the Christian History Almanac. I already subscribe to 5 Minutes in Church History (which, I must admit, is only tolerated by the kiddos because of its advertised brevity). CHA, while longer, still feels succinct and well-scripted. What I love most about it, though, is that it ends with a reading of a Christian hymn or poem. I try to start every long car ride with it.