Spinning Plates

Spinning Plates shutterstock_207651904

Jugglers are just one of the many entertainers we pay to generate anxiety. As if we don’t have enough anxiety already, we watch death-defying circus acts and terrifying movies that keep us on the edge of our seats. Perhaps it’s a type of catharsis for us: seeing others under more pressure or in worse situations than we are facing may make us feel better. But I’ll leave that to the trained psychologists.

Back to jugglers. They begin juggling a few harmless, ordinary balls, but then toss in a knife, then an ax, then a bowling ball—and we are just hoping they don’t cut off a finger or drop that ball on their toes. I can’t imagine doing what they do— until it comes to spinning plates. When I see a juggler spinning plates I feel like they are talking directly to me.

Spinning plates is what I do! I have lots of energy and very high expectations (we can talk about my Enneagram sometime, if you like…) and get too many plates spinning. It’s no surprise that I can get stressed running back and forth to all the wobbling projects just about to fall.

The good news is that I don’t waste much time on cheap plates. I am spinning many fine pieces of porcelain projects. Right now I’m spinning intentional preaching plans and vision plans, as well as leadership development and coaching plans for several different situations. I spin the usual you-gotta-do-this-to-keep-your-job plates. Oh, and I have a goal for publishing this blog and some other new materials. And did I mention that I’m a husband, father, grandfather and friend? Lot of plates. But you likely have as many.

So here’s the question: What do you do when you’re over-extended, especially with projects you are really interested in doing?

First, look at what’s “driving” each plate. Why did you choose to spin this plate? There are a number of commendable motives. The key is that you affirm that validity of that particular plate. It may not be a plate you would choose (like caring for a loved one with chronic illness), but you know it’s what you are called to do at this time. On the other hand, it may feel a plate imposed on you that you could choose to put down. I think of the pressure Jesus felt to meet expectations for performing miracles. When pressured, he refused to spin such plates (Matthew 12:39).

Second, give yourself permission to put one or two aside for the time being—as in my pause from blog writing. The world didn’t end when I didn’t publish weekly (though I’m sure many were just heart-broken not to have a nugget of wisdom from me… right?) I disappointed myself, but realized that there are seasons not only in the climate, but in life. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 speaks of these varied seasons:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them… 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 … a time to be silent and a time to speak…”

Third, manage your expectations for each plate. This is where your journal and a great listening partner come in handy. As you might have guessed, I feel compelled to give everything my best effort. I’ll never forget my annual personnel review when one of the elders, Wally, said to me, “Doug, we’re very pleased with your work—but also concerned.” “Concerned?” I responded with genuine alarm. “Yes, concerned. You need to learn that not everything deserves ‘A’ effort. We’re not grading you, but you need to figure out a way to get a few ‘C’s,’ or you’re going to burn out.”

Fourth, savor the present moment.  Plate spinners are most alive in the spinning. There will always be more plates and poles and opportunities to spin. Welcome Jesus’ invitation to focus on now.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34 The Message).

Gotta’ run– there’s a wobbler that needs some attention!

Clutter and The Distraction of the Rear View Mirror

Clutter Stack of books shutterstock_1056850982

I feel like I’m a “selective hoarder.” I don’t think you’d look at either our home or my study at church and think I’ve got way too much stuff—except for the rows and rows and rows of books and the stacks and files and stacks and files of articles from newspapers, magazine, profession journals, newsletters and my own notebooks of ideas. It’s pretty overwhelming. Because my ministry of communication relies on ideas, I have accumulated many resources I call “You-never-know-when’s:” you just never know when that book, article, note, or file will come in handy!

But I recently experienced the burden of clutter I hadn’t felt before. I didn’t see it coming.

Our church campus has recently gone through a building program. We’ve also been upgrading many buildings, including the one where my study is (I don’t call it an office). Everything had to be removed. Everything. So that started the process of evaluating what to keep, what to give away, and what to throw away.

In the process, I began going through my past “day-books.” These notebooks contain daily notes on appointments, to do lists, meeting notes, phones messages and so on.

Reading through the days’ notes from several years ago was like re-living the day in detail. While that was fascinating, it was also overwhelming. The responsibilities and burdens and feelings of each day rose up within me, as if they were happening right now.

After this experience I came across this passage in the writings of Fenelon (the French spiritual director from the court of King Louis XIV):

“The wise and diligent traveler watches his every step, and always has his eyes upon the part of the road directly in front of him. But he does not turn constantly backward to count every step, and to examine every track. He would lose time in going forward.”

It’s dangerous to drive with your focus on the rear view mirror. I now see more clearly what Jesus meant when he said, “Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:34). My energy drained away as I went back over the notes in my day-books. I realized at that moment that I had to – in the words of Elsa—“Let it go!” (with apologies to Disney!).

I need all my energy for today. For right now. I made a bold (for me!) decision: I shredded all those day-books. And it feels good—mostly. (Gotta’ be honest—change is not comfortable!)

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Getting rid of yesterday’s clutter makes room for today.

Oh, I still collect stuff—and I’ll go through the-sort-and-throw-out-stuff process for years to come. But I’m more aware of the need to set a wiser standard for what I keep. Live now. Focus on what is needed now. Trust God for tomorrow’s ideas.