The Best Presence

Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 69

I had circled the date on my calendar for over a year. It was a huge landmark for my career. It took every ounce of my influence and effort and hustle to make it a reality. 

It was something I could hang my hat on. Failure was not an option. I simply needed to surrender my life to achieve the goal.

So I did. And I won. 

I finished the project, and did it even better than expected.

Then… emotional exhaustion and burnout.

Have you been in that moment? Have you ever accomplished something big in ministry, but in the end you were left with an adrenaline hangover that threw you dangerously close to depression? Did you feel the guilt of success?

Why does this happen?

When you choose to win at ministry but lose at home, you’re on a dangerous road.

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Let me be clear: you can win at both. It is possible to be a successful leader and have a healthy family life. But to win at both, you have to be intentional about winning at home.

So if you’re feeling like you’re losing at home this Christmas after a long and hard year, I want to give you some incredibly simple-yet-powerful tips that can help you win at home. These are boots-on-the-ground, practical things you can do today that will generate more wins for you in life, and give your family the best present possible this Christmas: your presence.

Hug your family longer

This may seem ridiculous, but this is a critical tip. I’m not saying just to give them hugs–hug them longer. Scientific studies have revealed that hugs of 20 seconds or longer lead to the release of oxytocin, a hormone which lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. It also increases bonds and reduces the likelihood of lying for selfish gain in men. Testosterone inhibits oxytocin, which is why men often can be more emotionally disconnected. All the more reason men should hug more and longer.

Hugs aren’t just for those with the physical touch love language. Hugs are a universal language that is physiologically engrained in every human being. We are built for connection, and the physical closeness we feel during an embrace triggers a deeper knowing of our bond. Deeper bonds with your spouse and your kids is necessary for winning at life, and it can start with long hugs.

Make fun a priority

The adage states, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I don’t think “dull boy” is the right term. Jerk is more like it.

What we spend the most time doing is what we think about. What we think the most about is what fuels our hearts. What fuels our hearts jumps back into our actions, and so continues the cycle. My own experience is a testament to the reality that when we don’t intentionally prioritize fun, we will skip it for work.

When we choose fun, we choose to let go of work and allow others to step up. If you’re like me and you work from home, choosing fun over work means something might not get done at all or it might be done late. Who cares?

Your family needs you to not be a stressed out, jerk, work junkie. This doesn’t just apply to ministry work but any work. Whatever task that defines your identity must be demoted so that fun–in the appropriate intervals–can rule the day and give you a winning perspective on life and family.

Dethrone busyness

You aren’t a more important person if you’re busy all the time. I know no one says that out loud, but we think it. I worked with an intern once who said that she felt best about her life when her day was filled with productivity. This isn’t bad, but the line between genuine productivity and mere busyness is often a blurred one.

When I first went into the ministry, I remember being most impressed by the people who were the hardest to schedule for a meeting. For some reason I assumed that because their calendars were jammed that they were successful. Decades later, I realize that most people who are scheduled from dawn to dusk are unhealthy and unpleasant; they lack boundaries and find their identity in their busyness. If you just got defensive reading that sentence, it might be time for a gut check. You’re hearing this from a recovering busyness addict.

A mentor of mine sagely said, “If I’m too busy to give someone who is hurting twenty minutes of my day, or if I couldn’t attend to the needs of my family at the drop of a hat, I’m too busy and I’m unhealthy.” Hearing those words was a turning point in my own ministry. It was so simple that it’s stupid. Busyness is not success. It is a barometer for dysfunction.

Eat good food

I know the proper thing to say here is to eat healthy food. That’s important, too. Unless that healthy food tastes like cardboard. Then it’s terrible advice. You need to eat good food, and you need to eat it well.

I spent a summer in France when I was in college, studying the language and exploring the culture. One of my biggest takeaways from that experience was mealtime. Dinner was a daily event. Soup before dinner. An entree. Then salad. Then cheese. Then dessert. Every single day. Not every entree was extravagant. Most weren’t. Yet the multiple courses forced us to slow down, eat more intentionally. Taste our food. The meal wasn’t a means to an end. It was the end itself, and the goal is conversation as much as it is eating. I have distinct memories of entering meals tired and frustrated by a difficult day but leaving the table refreshed and in a new frame of mind.

Eat good food, well. I’m nearly convinced that how we eat our food is just as important as what we eat. Meals matter because people matter. Those who win at life, I would wager, spend more time at the dinner table than those who are losing. I can’t back this up with any proof, except the proof of my own life. The more time I spend with my family around the table, the more connected I feel to them and what matters most.

The moment you turn these tips into a to do list they lose their effectiveness (notice I didn’t number them). It’s like the Elf on the Shelf losing his magic if you touch him. They’re guideposts back to health, not a checklist for winning.

I would be a hypocrite if I said I do all of these things well. In fact, these are all things I actively work on right now. Jon Acuff once said in an interview I watched that one of the biggest myths about being self-employed is that you work for yourself. The reality, he says, is that you just added a thousand different bosses. 

The same is true for ministry. It can feel like every person in the congregation is your boss. But whether you’re a senior pastor, a volunteer youth leader, or a stay at home mom, your success at your job is amplified or diminished by how much you’re winning at home.

The reality is that winning at life boils down to choosing the right things consistently over time. Choose the Lord over family. Choose family over work. Choose work over laziness. Put things in their proper place. These tips, however, can help you get back on the road towards winning at life by winning at home, and giving your family the best present: your presence.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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