I’m walking home from church with my wife and I begin venting about another member in our Bible study group.
“She never stops talking!”
“Why does she annoy me so much?”
“She always needs to be the center of attention.”
“I can’t stand her. Why does she even come to our class?”
I’m in a particular bad season of judgement and find myself commenting on how overweight people are, how loud they talk, how poorly they are raising their children, how lazy they seem to be, and much much more.
But something’s about to change. It’s time for me to open my eyes.
Maybe it’s because I had just left church and His Holy Spirit was coaxing me towards a better path. Or maybe this is something that had been coming for a while, but I stopped in my tracks on the sidewalk, looked at my wife, and said, “What am I doing?”
“What right do I have to judge others? Just because it’s just us talking doesn’t make it okay.”
See I justified my judgment because I’d never say it out loud to anyone else. If I keep the toxic thoughts to myself and only her, it’s okay, right?
I’m only hurting myself and no one else.
What a joke.
This was a genuine Einstein eureka moment. Standing on the sidewalk in front of our town’s small neighborhood inn I decided enough was enough. No longer will it be okay for me to talk poorly about someone else. Not even to my wife. And I decided to do my best to not think poor thoughts of others either.
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”James 3:9-12
Slowly falling out of love
Remember this catchy song performed by Lou Bega?
“A little bit of Monica in my life
A little bit of Erica by my side
A little bit of Rita is all I need
A little bit of Tina is what I see
A little bit of Sandra in the sun
A little bit of Mary all night long
A little bit of Jessica here I am
A little bit of you makes me your man”
I wrote in my article about the 3 deadly sins that I don’t think anyone cheats on their spouse on purpose. Nobody wakes up one day and out of the blue and says, “Fellas, today is the day I’m going to cheat on my wife!” If I’m wrong on this tell me in the comments below, but I have enough faith in mankind to give us the benefit of the doubt.
If unfaithfulness doesn’t happen out of the blue, how does it happen?
I believe it happens slowly and over a long period of time. Slow enough that you won’t notice what is happening. That you are spending more and more time with someone you shouldn’t. That you are opening up to them and sharing stories, thoughts, and energy that should be for your spouse only. You are being lulled into submission and rocked towards unfaithfulness a little bit more each day.
Before long things just aren’t working between you and your spouse, and this new friend completely understands, they are there for you, and they are such a breath of fresh air compared to the person you are sharing a bed with at home.
They bring you up and make you feel good. Your spouse pulls you down and makes you unhappy.
It’s in this exact moment that the tempter strikes. When you are staying late at work one day, or getting drinks with your co-workers. Or maybe it is after a workout session at your gym or when your spouse is out of town.
Whenever it happens it is the result of months and months of slow and steady disconnection between you and your partner.
I’m the master of procrastination. It’s one of my gifts. I realized this in school and have since perfected it. While writing this article I’ve already listened to Mambo no. 5 twice and each time I left my chair and danced around the house. I’ve checked my Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, text messages, and email at least twice. I’ve lost two games of chess and won one and I accepted an 18 minute phone call from my friend and client James.
Just now I sent my wife this text message, “I should have started this article sooner.”
And now I am listening to Mambo no. 5 again… Be right back.
How is this song so catchy? And what happened to Mambo no. 1-4? Or what about Mambo no. 6?
A little bit of procrastination leads to more. I know that if I buckle down, put my phone on do not disturb, disconnect from the internet, and put blinders on I can sit down and write and entire article in one sitting. So why don’t I do this every time?
Why do I put things off until the last minute?
I tell myself that I do a better job when I am under the gun and have to finish a project in a short amount of time. When I have all the time in the world to complete a project I end up flittering the time away on useless components that don’t impact the end goal very much and this time would be better spent playing chess.
But the stress of putting something off can be unsurmountable. I should have published this article three hours ago, but instead here I am bragging about how great of a procrastinator I am. I could be using this time to work on a project that is due in two weeks, or maybe Monday’s article, but what kind of challenge would that be?
“The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act.”The ScrewTape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
Politics and the news
I’m so informed and up to date that I refresh three different news sites a couple of times per hour. I’m following all my local politicians on Twitter, and I’m watching important actions of government on C-SPAN. I’m proud of myself. I’m an engaged member of the electorate. I know what is happening in Columbia, SC and Washington D.C. before anyone else and I’m even being followed on Twitter by Ted Cruz.
Two hours into a random confirmation hearing on CSPAN at 2PM I have another Einstein moment and I realize I have a problem.
I have to do something dramatic. I’m losing myself and gaining what exactly?
It was July of 2019 and I realized it was time to get ahold on this. I banned myself from all news sites, not even a little was okay. But then I realized that wasn’t enough. My social media accounts were feeding me the same toxic news. It was then I began deleting my social media accounts. Sorry Ted, I’ve got to let you go.
It took some time, but eventually I went months without paying attention to the news at all. I got a new identify and became proud that I had no idea what was going on in Washington D.C. and it became clear that nobody cared if I did.
I survived 16 months before falling back into my old ways. I became completely engaged in the election starting in November of 2020 and it may have been even worse than before. After a couple of months I realized what was happening and took myself back out of the weeds and committed to spending the extra time writing two articles on my blog per week instead of only one.
Loving others instead of judging others
When I stopped trying to find out what is wrong with everyone around me and sharing my judgmental thoughts with my wife something miraculous happened. I stopped seeing that there was anything wrong!
I also noticed which people in my life brought me back into a judgmental mindset. I never noticed it before because I loved to join in on the fun and be a gossip. But when I began trying to thinking about what I loved about the people around me instead of what they did wrong it began to stand out when others were judgmental.
This made me feel uncomfortable. And unfortunately I began to judge these people too. Is this how I used to be? I’m so glad I am not like that anymore. They are so judgmental!
It can be complicated to try and replace an engrained habit. Especially one you’ve been building over decades.
I’d much rather spend time with positive people that don’t like to gossip and don’t spend time judging others out loud.
Over time the voice in my head has quieted and I don’t always notice imperfections and flaws the way I used to. But I have to be very careful. My judgmental side is always there just below the surface. If I am tired, haven’t eaten, or I’m late for something it can come back out.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever completely get rid of my judging self. But I’m sure going to try.
Quality time with your spouse instead of falling out of love
I believe that with a lot of effort you can stay on your honeymoon and make it last forever. Why does our honeymoon need to end after only a few short weeks?
Look at your calendar and see if you are prioritizing quality time with your spouse.
I’m sure your calendar is full of appointments for the dentist and doctor, work trips and meetings, conference calls, and other important tasks. But how much time do you have scheduled on your calendar for time with your spouse?
My wife and I share a common number one love language of quality time. When we aren’t getting enough screen free quality time together I start to get cranky, very quickly. To solve for this we’ve become diligent with scheduling quality time together:
- Date night at our favorite restaurant once per month
- At least one three day retreat away from our home per quarter (Somewhere with no cell service preferred.)
- Date day at the zoo, a museum, library, plantation, etc once per month
- Family Bible study once per week on Saturday afternoon
- Tennis, the pool, or the beach once per week
- And much, much more
By scheduling time together we ensure that what I call our “love meter” will always be full. When we feel like we are in a funk, are starting to get cranky with each other, and that our life is starting to feel a bit routine we check our calendar.
How have you been doing with scheduling quality time with your partner?
Discipline leads to more discipline instead of procrastination
I know the secret to getting more done and it’s ruthlessly eliminating distractions. If I want to get an article done without procrastinating all I need to do is this:
- Tell myself I can’t eat breakfast until the article is done.
- Turn my phone and laptop on do not disturb and disconnect from the internet… I can complete any research or find any quotes I need for the article when I’m finished writing.
- Close all the tabs, windows, and widgets on my computer.
- Write every day. No exceptions.
Having a plan, schedule, and being disciplined leads to more days full of a plan, schedule, and discipline. They stack. Just as procrastination will lead to more procrastination.
I can get more done before noon on a single day than I normally get done in two full days when I remove distractions and stick to a to-do list or a plan
Reading the Bible and other uplifting books, poems, and stories instead of politics and news
When I stopped paying attention to politics and the news it left a void. If I wasn’t careful it was possible something worse than the news and politics would fill it. If there is anything worse that is…
So I was careful to replace this habit with another. I started each day with a positive reading of one proverb, five psalms, and a few chapters from a gospel.
Strategically, my phone and laptop are now kept n the furthest place in the house from where I wakeup, and to get to them I’d need to walk right past my stack of books and Bible.
Over time I continued to build upon this habit and found blocks of extra time each day. The morning devotional time wasn’t enough. I needed to fill more hours of the day and all this reading lead to more reading.
I began reading one book per week and started to have a lot I wanted to share. I was learning something new each day and growing personally at an extraordinary rate. This is when I started this blog which has became a fantastic replacement for all the time that I used to spend absorbing the news.
A friend told me yesterday one of his new daily affirmations is, ‘I reduce negative media and increase positive learning.”
What does this mean for you?
What content are you spending a disproportionate amount of time consuming?
Are you spending a few hours on social media each day? Or like my friend spending two hours every day reading three major newspapers?
What can you replace your negative media time with?
- An exercise habit such as walking for 30 minutes each morning and afternoon
- Writing or journaling: Try the Spiritual Disciplines Journal
- Reading short stories: I’m currently reading In Our Time, by Hemingway and a collection of short stories written by a friend of my wife
- Reading poetry or other uplifting stories: I suggest Robert Frost’s collection and Haemin Sunim’s The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down
How is it that something innocent can slowly turn into something you are ashamed of?
It may be conversations you’re having with a co-worker of the opposite sex, the news you are getting irate over that you have little control of and that barely impacts your neighborhood, or procrastinating on a project for so long that you don’t finish it on time.
None of this starts off poorly, but overtime can become negative and really hurt you and the people around you that you care about most.
With time in solitude and self-examination you can become aware of the places in your life that you need invest new energy.
Take a moment right now and close your eyes… Be honest. Ask yourself what you need to work on in your life. Which negative habit has gotten a little bit out of hand and is beginning to take over your life?
It’s time to draw a line in the sand. Take back control of your life and start to head in a more positive direction.
It may help for you to inform a close friend, neighbor, or loved one of your goal to replace this habit and ask them to hold you accountable. If you need someone to help you with this I’ll volunteer. Send me a message through my site’s private contact form, I’ll be the only one to see it.
Or if you are comfortable with this leave a comment below with what you are committing to working on. I will pray over all comments left.
Feature image courtesy of Jonathan Cooper.