How To Relax

History has been peppered with monumental, life-shaping moments we’ve seen played out on the world stage. The moon landing. The assassination of JFK. The Berlin Wall coming down. And we all remember exactly where we were when Charlie Sheen said “Winning!”

We as a human race are highly competitive people. The first recorded competition was Cain and Abel, a scant four chapters into recorded history. That one had a pretty severe outcome. It’s been said that the first car race happened 5 minutes after the second Model T rolled off the assembly line. We are, by nature, competitors. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “driven” person, I can likely guarantee that you’re a comparing person. Competition and comparing go hand in hand but are not mutually exclusive. You can be comparative without being competitive but you can’t really be competitive without being comparative.

And that has got me thinking.

I was just listening to a podcast called “All It Takes Is A Goal”, (ATG for all us insider hipsters) hosted by Jon Acuff. He was interviewing a fellow overachiever named Brendan Leonard, some schlump who ONLY ran 52 marathons in 2019. Its a great episode and I recommend it, however there was a moment in that conversation that wasn’t surprising as much as it was jarring.

From minute 25:17 to 6 seconds later at 25:23, these two behemoths of accomplishment commiserate on their shared inability to relax. Here’s how it went:

Jon: “What does it mean for you to lean into relaxing?”

Brendan: “I wish I had an answer for ya.”

Jon: “I know.”

I wouldn’t say that at the moment a lightbulb clicked on in my mind, but I would stay that a lightbulb filament kind of started flickering. Wait. Are there filaments anymore? Are we so LED lust-laden that the filament factory closed down and called it quits?

My first flicker was, “Geez, if THESE guys don’t know how to relax how can they help anyone else learn how?” Cue the ironic 1940’s radio drama pipe organ background music that indicates I’ve just fallen back into comparing and competing.

My almost immediate second flicker (flickering a teensy bit stronger) was, “Wait a second. I know how to relax.”

My third flicker which brought me to this keyboard to tap, delete, and tap some more was, “I could probably pound out a couple hundred words about how to relax, then I could post it on my blog, then people would read it, then maybe Jon and/or Brendan would catch wind of it, then they could relax, too.” Then I thought, “Nah, it shouldn’t matter if Jon Acuff or Brendan Leonard ever even see my blog post about them and their collective inability to relax. That’s not the point of my blog. When I started this blog, I clearly stated the purpose of my blog and it didn’t include the objective of helping workaholics who can’t relax.”

So, for the rest of you I want to share how to relax. You can disagree with these steps but I don’t think you will. And no that’s not a Jedi mind trick telling you that you won’t disagree with what I’m about to say. And no, these are the droids you’re looking for.

Step 1: Stop.

I don’t think you have some Messiah Complex where you think that the world will fall apart if you stop doing what you’re doing for a second. But I bet there’s a twinge of messiah complex (I went with the lower case “m” on that one) wherein you probably think YOUR world will collapse if you hop off the hamster wheel that’s connected to the string that’s powering the pulley that makes the gears turn that keeps you and your loved ones fed and clothed and sheltered. We’re like that. There’s a percentage of your brain that’s still imaging yourself as the critical piece of the puzzle. If you stop, it all falls apart. I’m telling you its not true. Are you important, unique, gifted, and a giver? Of course you are. Will that stop being true if you stop? Nope. Not a chance.

Stopping involves a consciousness that demands you to downshift on your own self perception. That’s not the easiest thing to do, is it, little m messiah? What I’m suggesting is that you simply do it. Stop. Stop what you’re doing. Unless you’re an EMT straddling an unconscious individual on a gurney and your job is to squeeze that rubber bag attached to that air mask strapped to that person’s face to keep them alive then you can likely simply stop right now and you’ll be fine. So will the rest of us. It’s okay. Go ahead.

Step 2: Stop more.

Because let’s be honest. You’re not really stopping after Step 1. You’ve maybe slowed down, but haven’t stopped. So stop more until you’ve stopped. Seriously, you’re too important to view yourself as so important that you can’t stop. See how that works?

Step 3: Walk.

I don’t give two rips where you walk. Just change the scenery. I’m not necessarily saying “go for a walk”. I’m just saying go as far as you need to to change what you see. That could be 10 steps, that could be 10 blocks, and that could be 10 cities. A change in scenery will do you good. (That’s a song, isn’t?) When my wife and I daydream about our next vacation or day trip, it invariably includes a statement like, “I don’t care, just get me out of Chesterfield County.” Relaxing is more difficult when you stay staring at the thing that’s work for you. So walk until you can’t see that thing anymore. And stay there until you start to forget what that thing even was, or is. Again, this whole step could take you 5 minutes, 5 hours, or 5 days.

Step 4: Risk.

Your veins are craving adrenaline. When was the last time you dumped some so it could course through your body, reminding you that you’re actually a living thing? Find whatever it is that gives you adrenaline–even a light dose–and do it. I’m not saying you have to go heli-skiing Alaska’s Chugach Range with your hair on fire. Someone recently gave me a slackline they were done with (which is the natural condition of most slacklines) so I strung it up between two trees in my backyard. When I need a boost, I step outside and try to walk the 10 foot span of slackline between those trees. Have I done it yet? Nope. Will I? Bet. *That’s how the kids say “Yes”. And after I can do that, I’m planning on stringing it over the small stream that runs through our property. It’s not the Flying Wallendas, but its still adrenaline.

Step 5: Never return.

This one’s tricky, but what if you came back without returning? What if you physically came back to “work” but mentally and emotionally chose not to return to where you were before you relaxed? What would happen? Is that even possible? Heck if I know. But every so often I imagine that its my first day on the job, the last guy was let go, but I have access to everything he knew. What would I do differently than I did before? I sure wouldn’t ask “What did the last guy do because I just want to do things like that.”. Have you ever wanted to see any kind of change in your life? Well, not to state the obvious but change doesn’t start without you. So start with an adjustment to what’s normal for you and embrace the new thing that happens as you do.

All this seems to be intrinsically important to a life that has some forward motion to it. Relaxing isn’t a backwards step, its a purposeful stop that ultimately propels you even further. When was the last time you actually relaxed and reaped the benefits of it?

Why I’m Not On The Train

I remember exactly where I was when I was awakened to the fact that I’m capable. Sounds weird, and maybe even a little crazy. I suspect that if you have had a similar experience you’d remember it too. I was in Costa Rica on a street corner. Two groups of people I was in charge of were at different locations in the town I was in and all needed to end up at the same location, but we only had access to one van to transport them. They wouldn’t all fit at one time, so like one of those brain teaser puzzles with the different sized colored disks you have to shuffle around on the 3 wooden pegs to get them sorted by color and size, I give crisp, clear instructions to the person asking me how we were going to actually pull this off. His look of shock, relief, and confidence told me everything I need to know about his new found calm in the midst of this storm. I had done it. He came to me with a dilemma and no answer and I handed him the answer that completely addressed the dilemma. I think I remember that exchange so well because if I’m being completely honest, I was even a little shocked myself in that moment. But I recall thinking “I can do more than I thought I could do.”

Run, don’t walk to your nearest reputable tattoo shop and hand them a piece of paper with that line on it: “I can do more than I thought I could do.” Whatever style tattoo and placement is up to you. Except the “tramp stamp”. I forbid that to be on anyone’s lower back. Me? I’d go old school script on the forearm. But if you’re new school then go for it. Just make sure you see the tattoo artist’s work before hopping on their table. Because…well…you know… you don’t want any “regerts”.

I’m sitting in a bakery/coffee shop on a Thursday morning as I type this. It’s one I’ve been to many times and I always love the vibe. It’s kind of a gem of a place that is somehow thriving though I hardly ever see many people here. One of the things I love is the full open kitchen behind the counter; In the absence of any walls, I can see bakers kneading the dough of whatever sweet treat they’re baking next. I see racks and racks of fresh baked bread. And the smell in here…well…its heaven.

I can’t help but wonder if those bakers are living that baking life because they love to bake. Are they invested in the process that takes a bag of flour and turns it into edible music because this is the dream they’ve had all along? Do bakers think that way? Are they knuckle keep in dough back there just thanking God for the chance to live their dream? I’d like to think so, but hey. I don’t honestly know.

I had a thought this morning that caught me by surprise. I shouldn’t say that in that way because I should be in more control of my thoughts. If you read my post yesterday, you know I can make some pretty stern demands of my thoughts. But this one honestly crept up on me as I was getting ready for the day.

I’ll first ask you a question. Are you doing what you want to do? While I absolutely hope so, I fully understand that the answer might be “No.” or maybe even “Not even close.”. You might even be one of many who would use the word “hate” when they think about what they do for a living. I want to be eyes wide open here because I don’t want you to think I’m some hair-gelled, teeth-whitened, sham-wowwed, multi-level-marketing sleezeball. Nope. I’m not pulling anybody in with some well-baited hook while hoping and betting you’ll nibble. Not at all. I’m just a guy who’s living his life and thinking about stuff while he does. Thus the name of this website, btw. *That’s how the kids say “by the way”, btw.

So when I think about my life and where it is now, I have to confess to you that at the age of 48, I’m well into the “back 9”. Shout out to my ever-golfing Dad. And when you get to be 48 or at least when you get to be 48 and are someone who thinks like me, you have long since reckoned yourself on an empty train platform watching what was disappear into the distance, aboard the train that has already left the station.

Let me get super real and specific. Some of the things I’ve wanted to do for a long time but haven’t–the things I imagine are onboard that departed train–are things like: getting my Masters degree, writing at least one book that a stranger would pay for and read, learning to play the drums, learning guitar, starting a demolition business, serving as a university chaplain, starting and sustaining a speaking career, and going on a cruise with my wife to wherever she wants to go.

And with a somewhat forlorn look in my eye, I’ve pictured myself on that train platform, watching the chug-chug-chug of that locomotive of “wanted to’s” become more and more faint in the distance. Quietly I stand on that platform with my thoughts of what I haven’t done. And won’t. Because I can’t.

But then….

Just this morning as I was again imagining that sad scene, a hand slapped me. Not physically, but it might as well have been. The open palm of “Stop wallowing, you baby!” delivered quite a wallop across the face of my “what could’ve been” psyche. Does anyone say “wallop” anymore? I’ve tried to bring back “Oh, snap!” for years and I think its just dead and gone. Rest in peace, “Oh, snap!” You’ll be missed.

Okay, so back to the slap. It occurred to me like a lightning bolt occurs to a tree that I had the imagery all wrong. ALL wrong. I’m not standing on some train platform somewhere in the land of my unrisked opportunities. I’m not some sad sack who has nothing left to do but mark time and lament over what might have been. No, I’m not at that empty train station on that quiet platform.


What a difference that truth makes for me. I have so wrongly thought that I was the one who missed the train, never even realizing that there are no victims in my story. I’m the fully-stocked, strongly-steamed locomotive that’s bound for wherever the next destination is! And that destination is determined by the tracks that I choose to lay.

There are so many outplays of this mindset shift. I’m actually overwhelmed to think about what possibly could be next for me, the train, as I begin to pull away from the station. Full steam ahead.

Doing Time

I’m in ministry. I’ve been in full-time ministry to students for over 26 years. The last thing I want to feel like while I’m doing ministry is that I’m doing time. I just walked in, not 5 minutes ago, from my car where I parked in the parking lot of the church building I drive to each day. As I walk toward the building which holds my office as well as the spaces I routinely gather with students I love and serve, I have a recurring thought:

“I’m not doing time.”

What I want to address before my day even really begins (more on that in a sec) is the danger of looking at my day as something other than another opportunity to exploit any chance I get to invest in the lives of others for the good of the gospel. That flows easily out of my fingers dancing across the keyboard, but its truly where my passion lies. It takes a thousand different complexions every single day, but when it comes right down to it, that’s my passion: I want to exploit any chance I get to invest in the lives of others for the good of the gospel.

Time is a weird thing isn’t it? No. Not really. It’s the result of creation in motion. If we weren’t in motion, there would be no time. If you’ve had high school science you already know that. Time is relative to motion. (Shout out to Einstein for unearthing that gem.) Because we are a created universe in perfectly calculated motion, we have this thing we call “time”. We measure it in nanoseconds all the way to eons. The more common scoops are what we refer to as minutes, hours, days, and months.

Time is both unbiased and also limited. Unbiased in that everybody gets the same amount of hours in a day to do with what they choose. But limited in the sense that you don’t know when its up. Not one person knows exactly when time has run out for them. So this makes the commodity of time all that more precious, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it?

So, back to me walking toward this building. I consciously think–no–demand that my attitude be that of someone who is intent on leveraging the time I’ve been gifted. And let me be super transparent. At times I suck at that. I mean seriously. Suuuuuck. Just yesterday if you had peered into my open office door at around 4 pm, you would have literally seen me standing at my desk (not one of those trendy stand up desks, by the way) just rotating. I was caught in this loop of not knowing what I was doing or supposed to be doing or focused enough on anything to be doing it. So for a very few seconds, if you had caught me in that moment you would have seen Jerry slowly spinning in a circle while my brain tried in futility to grasp onto a coherent, directional, purposeful thought.

I’ve been reading a lot lately. And that’s not really normal for me. I’ve finished three books this month which is superhuman compared to my normal self. I’m not ashamed (okay, a little ashamed) to confess to you that it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I read a piece of literature from cover to cover. That book? Hamlet by Shakespeare. I absolutely LOVED it. Still do. To this day, anytime I wish a conversation would end, or someone would simply be done talking, or even when I get a little irritated my private thoughts scream, “Get thee to a nunnery!” It oddly fits so many situations and it quietly puts a smile on the part of my brain no one sees.

But lately I’ve been studying a lot about goals, passions, time strategies, and stepping into new ways of thinking. (Two other books I’d like to suggest to you are “Soundtracks” by Jon Acuff and “The Dip” by Seth Godin.) Just this morning I plotted out my “Green Zone” which I learned about from Carey Nieuwhof’s book “At Your Best“. As I write this, I’m in my own Green Zone; that time of day when I am sharpest, most creative, most clear-minded, productive, and alert. Most people have 3-5 hours a day like that–a handful of hours when they’re at their best. And as a person who is creative by nature, I want to do my writing (one of my favorite creative mediums) when I’m at my best. Thus this very blog post I’m writing right now. I’ll be tweaking this over the coming weeks, but my initial assessment of my high, mid, and low energy levels in a typical day look like this:

I might be late to the ball, but I’m waking up to the importance of identifying the times when I’m most awake. And that will help save me from “Doing Time”.

Now, you have your own rhythm to your day. And whether you plot those rhythms out like I did or not, I do think it’s wise to do what you can to identify when you’re sharpest and do the most important work then. My next step is going to be the very easy task of listing common responsibilities that fall into the categories of “high”, “mid”, and “low” level. I plot my day out, assigning tasks that demand sharpness to the hours when I’m sharpest. And no offense to you if you’ve ever written me an email, but I don’t need a ton of creative juices flowing to respond to emails, so I’ll relegate email to around 2-3 in the afternoon. You see how this works?

Okay, so let’s wrap this up. My point here is that I don’t want to live a life where I’m mentally “doing time” and calling it living or ministering or husbanding or dadding. I know there’s a lot more to say about this, but I’ve got plenty more to do in my high energy hours and I’d better get to it.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions!

I’m an adult.

I still recall the smell of heavily aged textbooks, chalk, and Drakkar Noir hanging in the air the moment I became an adult. It was my senior year of high school and I was sitting in Mr. Mathis’ English class. It was maybe a third of the way through the class period when someone made a comment about adults and how we weren’t adults as high school seniors. Maybe they were trying to make the point that we shouldn’t have heavy, adult-type expectations placed upon us. Maybe it was a kind of “we’re just kids” type of stance this student was making, seemingly on behalf of the entire class.

Mr. Mathis (who was also the drama director for all the school theater productions*)–prone to lots of dramatic movement around the room–stopped dead in his worn-out, faded brown leather Sperry boat shoes and said: “Wait a minute. Are you telling me no one has made you adults yet?!?”

*Throwing in a free pic of me as “Pop Carnes” in our production of “Oklahoma!”

We gave him a collective blank stare, wondering what in the world he was even getting at.

He rushed over to the front of the room, reached toward the chalkboard chalk tray and took a yardstick he kept there in the chalk dust. He spun around toward the class in a grand gesture and instructed us all to stand. The unison of 30 metal legged, plastic seat school chairs scraping whatever that tile material is that’s found in every school in the early 90s was just breathtaking. CREEEEECH.

With his class of seniors on their feet, having no clue what was about to happen next, but exhibiting full trust in this one-in-a-million inspirational, funny, true, authentic figure that stood before us, Mr. Mathis waved his chalk-dust laden yardstick and like a wizard summoning the power stored in his wand, he declared. “There. You’re all adults………….Now sit down.”

And that was it. That was the moment I became an adult. Adulthood was thrust on me, and all the weight of adulting landed in one fell swoop.

I have to confess that I walked out of that classroom with a different pep. I had taken what Mr. Mathis had done and as seriously as a 17-year-old adult could, I tucked it deep in my heart and resolved to live it.

What’s YOUR advent of adulthood story? When in your life did you start to feel the weight of adulting?

Paul Mathis passed away in 2013 after a battle with cancer.

He’ll always be a hero of mine.