Too Many Worlds
Consider the average day of a typical middle-class
family in America. The family rises at
6:00 A.M. Everyone fends for himself or herself
for breakfast. Dad heads out at 6:45 to beat the
7:00 traffic. His normal commute without excessive
traffic is forty-five minutes. Mom and the
two children are out the door by 7:15 (usually
someone is a little cranky). Mom drops her
elementary-age sons off at school by 7:40. Twenty
minutes later she arrives at her workplace.
At 3:30 P.M. the children are done with
school and enter an after-school program. Mom
skips lunch so she can rush out of the office to
pick the kids up by 5:00. She arrives home at
5:30. Fifteen minutes later one son has baseball
practice. She gets both kids in the car and rushes
to make it to the practice field on time. The other
son has a game at 8:00. She calls her husband on
the cell phone while taking her son to baseball
practice to make sure he can grab the second child at the field and
get him to his game by 7:30.
Dad leaves the office at 6:00 P.M., unsuccessful in his efforts to
make it through his to-do list. Traffic is now an issue. The forty-five-minute
commute stretches now into an hour and fifteen minutes.
He arrives at the practice field at 7:15 with all the signs of road
stress. He kisses his wife, waves to his son in center field, whooshes
the second son into his SUV (a mere $700 a month), and heads to
the game field about fifteen minutes away. Son #1 finishes practice
at 7:30, and he and Mom head for home. On the way they stop at
Taco Bell for dinner. They arrive home at 8:00. The boy turns to the
video games while Mom checks the e-mail.
Meantime, the baseball game gets started a little late and
doesn't end until 9:45 P.M. Dad is still in his business casual clothes,
but he does appreciate the forced break to watch his son play ball.
On their way home they make a quick stop at the McDonald's drive-in
window. They arrive home at 10:30. Once in the house, son #2
reveals that he hasn't finished studying for the history test he's supposed
to take tomorrow.
After forty-five minutes of shoving facts into her son's short-term
memory while he inhales a McDonald's "Happy" Meal, Mom
sends him to bed. It is now 11:15 P.M. Time for bed. Mom and Dad
flop into bed dead tired. They watch a little television; exchange a
few words-mostly action items for the next day-and then lights
go out. Mom falls asleep as soon as the lights are out. Dad, on the
other hand, doesn't. He lies there thinking about all the things that
must be done. He knows he needs to sleep, so he gets up and swallows
a sleeping pill. It seems to be the only way he can get a good
night's sleep lately. It bothers him a little, but he doesn't see any
alternative. Tomorrow promises more of the same. Things seem a
little harried and out of hand, but the following assumptions keep
the family from making any changes:
Everyone lives this way.
This is a privileged life that can only be maintained with
hard work and discretionary money.
Things will even out soon. This is just a temporary season
Maybe this mirrors your life. The activities may be different,
but the movement and noise are the same. The initial thought is
that the more financial resources you have, the more likely you are
to have a stress-free, relaxing life. In reality, though, studies show
that with increased resources comes increased complexity, not simplicity.
If they aren't especially careful, the ones who have more
actually have more with which to destroy themselves.
Maybe you can relate to the cartoon caption below. Can you
think of how many times you've made a resolution to do something
about busyness and stress in your life only to find nothing really
changing? Noise and movement make up so much of our lives that
we don't know how to effectively stop when a little "R and R" is
attempted. There is among Americans a common illness called
"leisure sickness." This malady manifests itself in several forms,
such as flulike symptoms, headache, sore throat, and muscle aches.
Essentially, our bodies and emotions are so stressed out during the
week that in the evenings and particularly the weekends we fall
apart. The only prescription for this social fever is a change in
I am the pastor of a large church in a busy suburb, a husband,
and the father of four children. The opportunities to send myself
into the "rubber room" of insanity abound. Preparing sermons,
managing staff, meeting parishioners' expectations, tending to constant
changes that need to be implemented, spending time with
family, paying individual attention to each of my children, having
individual time with my wife, exercising, staying in touch with my
extended family, helping with science projects, going to children's
sports events-the list goes on and on. I don't know how many
times people have approached me with the words "I'm concerned
about you; you have too much to handle." I think I lived so long
under extreme stress that I lost sense of what was happening. It had
become routine and normal. This is a scary place to be.
So the impetus for my initial search for connectedness or community
was not a need to prepare a sermon or write a book but a
need for personal sanity. I knew I couldn't obtain connectedness by
increasing my speed or extending my hours of work. King Solomon
tried it about three thousand years ago and found out that it doesn't
work. I'm nowhere close to being the smartest guy in the world, but
I'm smart enough to listen to the world's wisest person.
I needed something fresh, something deeper. I also had a sense
of urgency. Several years ago as my daughter approached her sixteenth
birthday, I realized that I wouldn't have much more time
with my children, and I didn't think my health would hold out under
the daily pressure I was voluntarily inflicting on it. At the same time
I didn't want my life to be meaningless. I didn't want to retire from
life and sit on the back-porch rocker watching little birds suck juice
out of a jar. I've always lived with a strong sense that God has a calling
on my life, that he has something for me to accomplish. But I
needed to find some balance and establish some boundaries.
Certainly, a big part of what God has for my life is what I can become
as a person in Christ-not just what I do for Christ.
The solutions to my dilemma were rooted in God's Word,
coupled with the common sense of sages who have gone before us.
It has rescued me from a life of running on a hamster's wheel, a life
of motion without meaning.
Managing Your Relationships
Let's begin our journey together with some self-discovery. Grab
a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Now look at the following
The individual in the center represents a person who is trying
to make more room for life. Each of the smaller circles represents
a relationship that they manage. They may invest time daily in a particular
relationship, or only a few times a year. Think about your life
and the various relationships you manage, and draw a circle for
When you've completed this, go back to each circle you have
drawn and ask yourself the question, "Is that really one relationship
group, or are there more worlds within each circle that are managed
separately?" For example, if you have more than one child, do
they go to the same school? If not, then you need to draw a separate
circle for each school. If you are married, does your spouse work?
If you don't both work at the same place, then you need to draw an
additional circle representing this separate relationship. If you have
children, are they involved in sports? If so, are they involved in multiple
sports like soccer, baseball, and volleyball? What about music
lessons? How about extended family? You should already have a circle
representing your family and another circle representing your
spouse's family. Do they all live in the same town, or are they spread
throughout different states? If they are in different cities or states,
then you need to draw a circle for each one. Are you in a blended
family situation? If there is joint custody, then you need to draw a
circle for each relationship. How about your hobbies? Maybe you
have a group you golf with and a group you play cards with. Draw a
different circle if these are not the same people. What about past
friends you try to maintain contact with-college friends, friends
you had in other places you lived, and so forth?
If you live in suburban America, you're probably getting a little
stressed by now, but please continue on for a few more minutes.
Now consider church. If you are involved in a church, is it really one
circle, or are there many circles of different activities and relationships
(missions committee, women's groups, choir, youth groups,
small group, support group, elder board, and the like)? The average
suburban American who is really involved in church life can
have four to six different circles. If an entire family is fully involved,
there can be as many as fifteen different circles. Draw a circle for
each activity or ministry you are involved with. Before you've finished
drawing your circles, get some feedback from others about
ones you may have overlooked. Be sure you have a circle representing
the persons you will ask before you seek their counsel.
Next, you need to consider the line drawn to each circle. These
lines represent your commute to these relationships. You may consider
drawing an object next to each line that represents the means
by which you engage in this relationship. These may be automobiles,
airplanes, letters, e-mail, telephones, and so forth. Place a time value
on each line representing a round-trip commute to and from that
circle. For example, if it takes you an average of forty-five minutes to
get to work, write down ninety minutes. I'd invite you to multiply
this for the entire month, but it just might put you over the edge.
Now let's consider the issue of commuting in an automobile.
Harvard University's Robert Putnam, in his best-selling book,
Bowling Alone, gives some startling statistics on American commuting.
His studies show that the average American family engages
in thirteen automobile commutes a day! When I first heard this statistic,
I immediately dismissed it as not a reality for my family.
However, after taking a moment to calculate the average business
and school day, I found myself easily within these parameters. To
add to the misery, recent studies suggest that 80 percent of cars on
the road systems in cities and suburbs in America only have one person
in them-the driver. The only source for two-way interaction
is either the unwholesome hand gestures exchanged when one is
cut off or the cell phone.
Robert Putnam suggests this formula: For every ten minutes
you spend in an automobile, you reduce your available social capital
[time for relationships] by 10 percent. If his calculations are
accurate, as you look at the drawing of your social world you may
conclude that you not only don't have any social capital available at
the end of the day, but also that you are going into social debt. If
you believe that we are created as social beings who require a quantity
(and a quality) of people interaction each day to survive, then
this means we are dying-not from physical illnesses only but from
social illness as well. I'm quite confident that, as historians look back
on this era in which we live, one of the marks we will bear is the
death of community.
Many people turn to the church to solve their problem of loneliness
and disconnectedness. Because the church has been commissioned
by Christ to reach out and to develop a functioning
community, it is an appropriate place to turn. The church's principal
solution for community over the last thirty to forty years has
been the small group. Without question, the small group movement
has made its mark on society. Studies show that 40 percent of
Americans are involved in some kind of small group. Many people
get involved in such a group to find a point of connection and a
greater sense of intimacy and belonging, to have a place where they
can share their fears and dreams. Testimony reveals that small
groups are good and helpful. But studies also show that they often
Thinking of the old Chinese proverb that says "the beginning
of wisdom is to call something by its right name," go back to your
personal galaxy and add a circle for your small group (if you haven't
already). Now rename the small group according to what you see
and feel. How about the name "Another World to Manage"? The
fault does not lie with the concept of smallness or with the people.
The problem lies with orbit management. Most people confess to
rushing from one world to a totally separate world of small group.
In other words, the people in their small group are not involved in
any other world they are managing. Very few small group members
get together outside of the formal meeting date, not because there
isn't a desire, but because there just isn't any time. While attempts
are made, there is little chance the members of the small group can
get their arms around your world or your arms around theirs. Their
lives simply do not intersect anywhere except the small group meeting-and
perhaps a quick "hello" at church on Sunday morning. We
are simply not principal characters in each other's worlds.
If you haven't done so already, finish drawing your worlds, or
add new ones that came to mind as you read. What are your
thoughts about what you have drawn? If you're the average person,
you'll be seeing a picture of stress. Take some time to give the right
name to your life. How about "Lost in Space," or "Everybody Knows
My Name, but Nobody Knows Me," or "Planet Hopper," or "Space
Shuttle Dweller." How about a new name for your car such as
"Cocoon on Wheels" or "Mobile Penitentiary Cell." If we are going
to make room for life, these are the kinds of honest confrontations
on our existing lifestyles we must have.
As you read the following pages, determine now that you're
going to establish your own specific thoughts at the end of each
chapter as well as a list of action steps that will move you further
from mere existence and closer to authentic living. My goal and passion
are not just to see you exist in a life of crowded loneliness but
to give you a vision for a new way of life-along with the practical
steps to get there. The ideas will be easy to understand, but the
implementation will take courage. But if you're like me and so many
others I know, you're ready for a change.