The voice of shame distracts. Insecurities, self doubt, and fear hijack my brain, triggering an emotional spin cycle of depression, withdrawing, and infidelity. Yes, in my hijacked state, I become unfaithful to God’s purposes, vision, and call on my life. I fantasize about other ways to live my life, trying to run away from God. Why? Some say it’s because of spiritual oppressiveness. Other responses may be because of our brokenness. I think it’s all of these things AND my sense of desiring to be in control. If I could be in control and call the shots, then I begin to believe that I can control outcomes and other people. I can play being godlike.
When I squander the gifts and calling God has given, I become more shame-filled and withdraw. I become less of who God has designed me to be. I’m aching for deep communion with God and instead of responding with faithfulness and fruitfulness, I hide. I withdraw and nurse my shame and pain.
God longs for us to be faithful and fruitful, to the point where the Lord will get our attention in specific ways to get us to re-think and re-turn to Him. I’m grateful for all the “re” words in the Bible. God won’t give up on us. He’s committed to us and the redemption of this world. Living a life of faithfulness and fruitfulness is a steady, daily call. And it liberates us from bondage to shame and meaninglessness.
[This post is part of a book review series on Deep Work, by Cal NewPort. See post 1 for a summary.]
In Newport’s chapter titled “Rule #1: Work Deeply”, he outlines strategies and principles to help us build rituals and rhythms to do deep work that stretches our personal abilities. This first rule is about reducing and removing distractions that prohibit us from doing deep work. I outlined his first strategy (see post 1) about deciding on a Depth Philosophy. Here’s a list of the strategies (I’ll only highlight a few):
Decide on your Depth Philosophy
Make Grand Gestures
Don’t Work Alone
Execute Like a Business
This strategy is about adopting rituals (actions, gestures, intentions) that help to create and maintain regular patterns of deep work. Here are some of his examples:
Identify where you’ll work and for how long
Identify how you’ll work once you start to work
Identify how you’ll support your work
I found this principle helpful to continue focusing on my work habits and patterns of when and where and how I like to think and create. For me, I like the morning times. It’s when my brain is the sharpest to think critically. I also don’t check emails, social media, or respond to phone calls/text messages. No tech distractions. I also like sitting in my reading chair or my patio. Both are quiet and soothing places.
“Surrounding such efforts with a complicated (and perhaps, to the outside world, quite strange) ritual accepts this reality—providing your mind with the structure and commitment it needs to slip into the state of focus where you can begin to create things that matter.”
Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 121). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Execute Like a Business
For this principle, Newport is now interested in HOW to execute strategy. What and how are two different set of questions. We may know that (what) we need to do, but not know HOW to execute it. For this, Newport refers to the book, “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” and then summarizes each discipline.
Discipline #1: Focus on the Wildly Important
identify a small number of ambitious goals (or outcomes) during deep work hours…with a tangible reward attached to it.
Discipline #2: Act on the Lead Measures
measure your success by focusing on activities that will improve behaviors that will impact your long term goals
Discipline #3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
have a way to publicly record and track your lead measures
Discipline #4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
review your weekly work and scoreboard to celebrate and make adjustments
Here’s one my favorite quotes from the above principle:
David Brooks endorsed this approach of letting ambitious goals drive focused behavior, explaining: “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”
Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 137). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Bringing it Home for Me
So how does this apply to me? I have a few areas that require some deep work:
Using the church planting area, my work is to focus on discovering what the wildy, ambitious goals are for a new church. For me, my goal isn’t to get a lot of people to a church service. It’s not even to tell people what to do. Part of my work is to discover what the wildy important goals are. They seem to be connected to justice, healthy relationships, and caring for leaders who have big ideas on how to transform our city to reflect God’s love.
Deep Work by Cal Newport is a book that has been circulating in my network for the last two years. The book is about creating rituals and rhythms to have focused time on working and focusing deeply on things that matter, while removing distractions. Reducing shallow thinking times, disconnecting from social media and online surfing for long periods of time during the day are just some examples of reducing distractions.
In part 2 of his book, he starts with Rule #1: Work Deeply. Newport addresses the need to build habits and rituals because we get so easily distracted by the superficial. Newport says,
“Unfortunately, when it comes to replacing distraction with focus, matters are not so simple. To understand why this is true let’s take a closer look at one of the main obstacles to going deep: the urge to turn your attention toward something more superficial. Most people recognize that this urge can complicate efforts to concentrate on hard things, but most underestimate its regularity and strength.“
Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 98). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.
CONFESSION: I know that when I begin to read a book or start a project, the moment I hit a tough problem, I go online or check social media sites. I go superficial real quick.
To say that we can just will ourselves past these temptations to be distracted is futile. Willpower is more like a muscle than an inherited trait. As Newport says,
“You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it. Your will, in other words, is not a manifestation of your character that you can deploy without limit; it’s instead like a muscle that tires.”
Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 100). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.
This is good news for me. I no longer shame myself for not having the “will” to muscle through deep thinking work. I need a different way to approach deep work.
This is where Newport offers the key motivating strategy and idea for engaging in deep work:
“The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration...if you deployed smart routines and rituals—perhaps a set time and quiet location used for your deep tasks each afternoon—you’d require much less willpower to start and keep going. In the long run, you’d therefore succeed with these deep efforts far more often.“
Newport, Cal. Deep Work (p. 100). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.
The first strategy to develop healthy habits and rituals is to have a philosophy to integrate deep work into our working lives. There are a few different depth philosophies to integrate deep thinking and focused time. For the sake of encouraging people to buy the book, I’m offering a very quick one summary of each:
The Monastic Philosophy: create deep efforts by eliminating or reducing shallow obligations. Works well for people who have singular goals in mind and have the kinds of jobs that allow for this type of schedule.
The Bimodal Philosophy: dedicate stretches of time without interruptions and distractions (this would ideally be a dedicated whole day of deep work).
The Rhythmic Philosophy: establish a simple routine/ritual schedule that removes the need to decide IF you should do deep work. This could be a set block of start and end time (i.e. waking up at 530 am and doing deep work for 2 hours).
The Journalistic Philosophy: fitting deep work into your schedule whenever you can (this presupposes an ability to switch modes and go into deep work rather quickly…it’s not for a deep work novice).
We can develop our own philosophy so long as we follow some of the general guidelines from these. In all of these frameworks, the importance is that intentionality and active engagement are implemented (do it!). This can be an experimental time at first to see what works.
For example, I like to get up at 5am and meditate. This sets the tone for the rest of the day. It’s followed up by 1.5 hours of focused deep work time. Since I have a full time job, I need the deep work time in the mornings (when I seem to be most fresh). I try not to go online when I’m getting bored or hit something hard in my deep work. That’s when I tend to get frustrated and want to be distracted.
It reminds me of the first step in AA – “We admitted we were powerless”. There are a few times I’ve been at the end of my rope. And in many of these cases, it’s been my doing. I overcommit and try to take on too many things. This causes undue stress and I end up not doing anything well.
Admitting that I’m limited with scope, time, and talent is a relief. I can’t do every single thing I think about or want to do. Life is a season of ebbs and flows. There are times when I have bandwidth to try new things. But mostly, I’m a father and husband who is also a corporate chaplain. I have limits to my time and abilities.
Being at the end of my rope has caused me to say “I’m powerless”. I need help. I don’t know what to do but I’m open to there being less of me and more of God’s rule and reign.
I long to trust Abba (heavenly father) for the sake of trusting. Less of me and my own issues, and more of God’s rule and reign is a good thing in my life.
I’m doing this Ignatian Spirituality Daily Devotional this month. It’s been great! Today’s was especially encouraging. I was listening to it on my run through the neighborhood.
A prayer I needed this morning. What I have (and offer) is enough…because it loves You!
“Lord, I am a precious container of love, genuine and costly. When it is time to pour it out, don’t let me get too lost in calculation, or worry about wasting it. Don’t let my desire to love others get drowned out by the voices that tell me it’s pointless. Give me the courage to break the jar, and let me hear you say that what I offer is enough, because it loves you.”
Jesuit Prayer inspired from the Gospel of Mark ch.14
NOTE: I’m reading through “Making Marriage Simple“, by Harville Hendrix and offering some overviews of the chapters. It’s a great go-to book for advice and practices to help nurture and restore marriage.
In ch 7, Hendrix says that negativity is a wish in disguise. This means behind the negative or hurtful thoughts, there’s an unmet desire. We long for something that is not being met. This is good news! It gives us insights as to what we CAN DO with our anger, hurt, or deep needs.
Hendrix offers simple ways to communicate these wishes in way that is responsible and clear enough for your partner to understand.
Here are a few steps (buy the book for the rest of them… 😉
1. Say it so your partner can hear (Use “I” statements such as “I feel lonely”, not “You are never home!”)
2. Be brief and clear (don’t ramble on and flood your partner with EVERYTHING)
3. Choose one frustration at a time (this will help your partner to respond)
4. Approach your partner when you’re feeling calm (it’s HOW and WHEN you say it that matters)
5. Never criticize, shame, blame, or analyze your partner.
Making Marriage Simple, by Harvile Hendrix (ch. 7)
You’ll have to read the rest for some additional tips on sharing the actual wish and behavioral change you’re looking for. It’s easy to read and understand. Go for it! Get it! 🙂
I’ve been reading this book on marriage by Harville Hendrix on the recommendation of a good friend whose a psycho-analyst and therapist. It’s been helpful to work through my own patterns of thinking and emotions. (link here)
It is a lot harder to find our peaceful center when looking into the face of another—especially when that “other” may not be feeling at peace with us. And when our beloved is bugging us, forget it. Peace flies right out the window! For this reason, we say that one of the greatest spiritual paths is staying put in your relationship and learning how to really love your partner, warts and all. When you can validate your partner’s experience and express empathy—even when their experience makes absolutely no sense to you.
Hendrix, Harville. Making Marriage Simple: Ten Relationship-Saving Truths
Sometimes it’s tough being the person of peace. At other (most) times, it’s tough to be the wart. What Hendrix offers is a way to slow down and show each other empathy of the deepest kind.
He says (bullets and emphasis mine):
Elevating your relationship to this status transforms the Imago Process into a spiritual practice. Like meditation and prayer, Dialogue slows you down, quiets your mind, and invites you to…
*put aside those same old thoughts you obsessively think about over and over again.
*Instead, you simply Mirror back your partner’s words, and imagine how they are feeling, truly bearing witness to their experience.
*Then when you offer them a Caring Behavior and speak to them from the Owl instead of the Crocodile, you are unleashing the neurochemistry of Love.
*This feels great to you, and is great for your partner. The Divine is waiting to show up in the Space Between.
Hendrix, Harville. Making Marriage Simple: Ten Relationship-Saving Truths .
God is present and when we choose to be empathetic, listen, and hold each other’s pain, there is sacred space between both partners. God shows up!
The hardest thing for me to believe is that I am loved and lovable. I can hide behind a veneer of victimization (“what about me” syndrome) as a zone to protect myself. But it leads to more sadness and depression. And then the voice of shame really goes to work on me, robbing me of any feeling of being at home with myself.
I long to…
love and be loved
understand and be understood
see and be seen
value and be valued
hear and be heard
know and be known
like and be liked
Like Mary looking for Jesus at the tomb, I too am looking for something that I’ve lost, something that gets taken from me: the voice of being loved. Failure, shame, guilt…take it from me.
Something has died in me and I’m looking for where it might have gone.
Why am I grieving? And what am I looking for? Two questions for the journey. I’ve lost the voice of being the beloved. I’m hoping to hear it again.
“Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name – you are mine… Because you are precious in my presence, you have been glorified, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:1-4)