THE GIFT OF FRINGE HOURS (OR WHY MEN’S RETREATS ARE SEXIST)

Men’s retreats—whether church getaways or hunting trips—have always baffled me. This, I think, is one of the most honest statements I have ever written in this online space.

Allow me to explain.

We live in a world that keeps a frenetic pace, one in which children are expected to be exceptional and excel at everything. From basketball practice, to running club, to piano, to Little Theater, to yada-yada-yada, our children are inundated with cultural notions of American exceptionalism from the cradle. “You can do anything you put your mind to,” we say, and so, they are forced to do everything we put their minds to.

Our family is no exception. Our children are in karate, extracurricular clubs, school productions, and para-church ministries. Isaac wants to join the basketball team and take piano. Jude wants to take art and guitar lessons. Add to this the growing interests of Ian and Titus, and my family’s schedule is growing very full. (And this is without mentioning doctor’s appointments, church functions, and community involvement.)

By society’s standards, my children have a relatively relaxed schedule, but still, we find it difficult to keep the pace without becoming frazzled.

Move to strike.

Amber finds it difficult to keep the pace.

If I’m honest, I’m not quite sure how she does it. She wakes early to spend her time in scripture and prayer, and before she can whisper her last Amen, Titus is begging for a new sippy cup and Jude needs his school lunch made. From there, she is in constant motion, out of breath as she tends to the needs of four children. And though I live the extremely-busy-with-complicated-adult-business-meetings-and-teleconferences sort of life, I am not the constant chauffeur/butler/housekeeper to children who’ve not yet mastered the art of holding adult conversations with a frazzled mommy.

In all that going and blowing, in the flurry of activity, what happens to rest for my wife? How does she carve out quiet places to decompress and dream? Often, she doesn’t.

And this, I think, is where my befuddlement with men’s retreats, hunting trips, and the like comes in. As men, we are intentional about carving out time for ourselves. But these sorts of retreats leave the women at home alone–again–to tend to the children. The father’s retreat becomes the extended work week for the mother.

This is not to say men don’t need time to decompress. After all, we all have stress that needs blowing off (or blowing up, depending on the sort of retreat). But if we’re not seeing the corollary need for our wives carve out the same kind of retreat for themselves? I suppose you could call that sexist.

(Was that too strong?)

This morning, Amber is away, writing in a coffee shop. It’s no weekend retreat of massages and shopping, but it’s a mini-break from the routine of the day. There, she’ll prepare for a lesson she’s giving to a local women’s group, drink a few cups of coffee, and maybe have an adult conversation or two. It’ll be one morning where we trade roles, where I tend to the constant needs of our children’s morning routine while her mind is free to wander and dream a little.

Soon, Amber will attend a women’s conference. There, she’ll spend time with good friends, cry about whatever it is women cry about at those conferences, and catch a catnap or two. She’ll be filled with life by human connection. She’ll be recharged by rest.

I carve out these spaces for Amber because I think women need retreat just as much as men. I carve out these spaces because here, in these Fringe Hoursthese times of making space for herself–she is refreshed. I carve out these spaces because when she returns, when she hugs me and thanks me for tending to the harried life of chauffeur/butler/housekeeper, I’ll look into her eyes and see a woman alive.

And what man doesn’t want to be married to woman who is fully alive?

*****

Fring Hours

 

I wrote this post in celebration of the release of The Fringe Hours: Making Time For You, the new book by my friend, Jessica Turner. Maybe you’re a mother who needs to learn the art of carving out time for yourself. Maybe you’re a fella who knows your wife needs to carve out time for herself. Either way, grab a copy of The Fringe Hours. You’ll be glad you did. (Really… go on… BUY IT HERE!)

 

 

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’ll be discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. Look for the newest edition later this week (the week of February 15). And if you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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 *Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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Parade of Questions

It was a daddy-date, just the two of us. Ian and I sat at U.S. Pizza Company, the home of the non-artisanal, non-organic, thin and crispy crust pizza. This is not your upper-crust fare; instead, it is the stuff reminiscent of the late-night college cramming sessions (of both chemistry formulas and junk food).

Pizza is among Ian’s favorite foods, which should come as no surprise. I don’t suppose I know a single seven year old who does not hang the hope of the world on cheese pizza and chocolate donuts. Couple either with chocolate milk from a square carton and you have a meal worthy of grade-school Valhalla.

A trim waitress with bright eyes and blond hair brought the pizza to the table. She bent down to Ian’s eye-level, and with a smile said, “will this work, buddy?” He stared only at the steaming cheese, oblivious to her striking beauty, and with eyes big as pizza pans gave an elongated, dramatic “yeeeeeesssss….”

We sat in the joint and talked about school. I asked him whether he was enjoying it, and he said mostly. “Some of the kids are starting to cuss,” he said. “They’re trying to make me do it, too.” I asked him whether he had joined their attempts at grown up language. He stopped eating, gave me the furrowed brow of surprise and said, “are you crazy?!? Those words are bad!”

That was that. I am raising a rule-boy.

Half a cheese pizza and three cups of Sprite later, we sat talking, when I overheard one of the waitresses saying, “the parade is starting!” She was standing by the large windows in the front of the restaurant, and looking out toward Dickson Street, where I could see candy and beads flying through the air. Ian was letting his food digest, so I asked him if he’d like to take a peek at the parade. “There’ll be candy and beads,” I said. Innocent as a lamb, he said, “candy? Sure. Let’s go.”

Outside, the folks of Fayetteville lined the street, stretched their arms upward and said “beads here! Beads here!” The parade processional was just making its way down the street, and a Little Guys Mover’s truck was at the head. It was adorned with shiny, plastic beads on the passenger side mirror, and a woman from inside was tossing candy and stringed necklaces to the crowd. She threw me two tangled strands and I offered them to Ian. He recoiled. “Necklaces are for girls,” he said. I put them over my head.

As the parade rolled on, a float came with a sign denoting it was the “Love Shack.” A structure had been constructed on the back of a trailer, and women danced under it while throwing goodies to the crowd. A public address system blared, “the love shack is a little old place where we can get together.”

Ian looked at me, confused by the bawdy dancing women and asked, “what is that daddy?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re older, son.”

Float after float came down the street, and we watched them pass. This was the family-friendly Mardi Gras parade our town holds every year. It’s a small parade, boasting no more than fifteen floats, and the candy and beads flow like milk and honey. A gang of roller-derby girls skated behind a float of purple-headed fairies in matching tutus. A vintage Ford truck cruised, blaring Willy Nelson. A trailer hauled a local band that played an old Doobie Brother’s tune.

Beads, beads, and more beads, the floats were generous with the crowd. Finally, Ian asked, “what’s all this about?”
“Tuesday,” I said, “is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. It’s the last day before Lent, the day that we feast on whatever it is we will fast from so that we can draw closer to God.”

“What’s Lent,” he yelled over the band.

“It’s the season where we remember our need for repentance; it’s the season just before Easter!”

Ian stopped and looked at me. “So this parade–they’re having a big party because they’ll have to give up parties soon?”

“Something like that.”

“Daddy?” He paused. “Are they throwing a party for sin?”

I stood on the side of Dickson and held the tenderness of his question. Sometimes, I think having childlike faith means asking the most uncomfortable questions.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’ll be discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. Look for the newest edition later this week (the week of February 15). And if you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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 *Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Recovery Room:Hiding Fear of Failure (by Ed Cyzewski)

Throughout 2015, I’ll be hosting various writers, pastors, and counselors as they step into the Recovery Room. It’s not all about alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, or workaholism. It’s more about the thing–whatever it is–that supplants inner sobriety, and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something?

Today, welcome Ed Cyzewski, friend and author. Ed’s upcoming book, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. It’s available for pre-order for only $.99 on Kindle (regular price as of March 11 is $3.99)! Read his piece here, then jump straight to the Kindle store and nab a copy!

Without further adieu, welcome Ed to the Recovery Room.

*****

The coffee from the local diner didn’t have to be good when I gathered there each week with my high school friends. It just needed to be unlimited and paired with a mountain of waffles or hash browns. These were simpler times before everything was local, organic, and humanely raised.

One friend, who had been missing quite a few of these meet ups, said he had something to confess.

We waited, hushed and nervous. This had to be about pornography, right? Or maybe just run of the mill lust. I mean, high school… right?

“Work has been like a drug for me,” he said.

“Huh!” was about all I could muster back then. I didn’t see that coming.

Nearly 20 years later, some things have changed. Our coffee is organically grown by farmers who are paid a fair wage. Our meat is raised humanely without growth hormones. The local, slow food, direct-from-farmer network is growing as fast as designers can slap together new badges. There’s been one other notable change: I finally get what my friend meant about work becoming a drug of sorts.

Mind you, this is a loose connection to the struggles one may face with a chemical addiction to drugs or alcohol. I’ve seen the latter up close with someone I know, and I don’t make such connections without some huge caveats. The thing itself is quite different, but the motivations and the habits are strikingly similar.

Working hard or even working long hours isn’t a bad thing. Aspiring for success or a promotion isn’t necessarily a risky matter. The problem is that I used work to hide from my greatest fear—or one of them at least. Working longer hours was the only way to escape my fear of being a FAILURE.

I can’t say that my fear was limited to not making enough money. While every freelance writer has to face that fear regularly, I threw myself into my work for a season of my life in order to avoid facing my fear of being a person who has failed—which means a lot more than what’s in your bank account. I didn’t want to appear as a failure in front of colleagues, friends, and family.

My reliance on work finally came to the surface two years ago.

On a whim I started practicing the Examen each evening through an iPhone app called The Examen [sic]. The app asks a series of questions about your day. The first round is Consonance: What energized you? What relationships are you grateful for? The second round is Dissonance: What is keeping you awake at night? What discouraged you?

After two or three months of dutifully answering my Examen questions every evening, I started to notice a few troubling patterns. First of all, I was most certainly struggling to trust God with providing for our family through my work. Secondly, almost every good aspect of my day was connected to my work.

Praise for my work, progress on a project, or an exciting new opportunity all qualified as positive aspects of my day. While there’s no doubt that my work, when it goes well, can be energizing or can lead to encouraging interactions, you would have thought that I didn’t have a family based on my Examine answers.

While pushing to build a successful career that could help support our family, I completely lost sight of my family. Along the way my fear of failure prompted me to keep working longer hours and measuring my progress in the tiniest of increments.

As my life swung out of balance, anxiety in the evenings about work became normal. I won’t even get into the dissonance questions in my Examen answers. Needless to say, it was all related to my work, too!

The steady discipline of the Examen drove home the ways my work habits shielded me from truly facing my fears about failure. Once I owned up to the fact that I may fail—at least in one sense, I started to let up on my work obsession.

If failing was possible and life could still go on despite failing, then I could stop working at 5 pm every night and focus on spending time with my family. Dinner is complete chaos with two children: a two-year-old and a 6-month-old, but it’s also a really important pivot-point in my day when I physically leave my projects and aspirations behind. My wife and I chat while I do the dishes, and bath time is complete pandemonium with two sopping wet kids. These moments are also among the first things I list during my Consonance answers in my evening Examen.

While a hefty project may intrude into our evenings during a busy season, I generally try to disengage from my work for the evening. At the very least, I tell my internal sense of urgency that working all evening won’t make much of a difference. If I fail, I fail.

Since that revelation about my work habits, I’ve had to let go of some long-held goals. It hurt to let go of them, to raise the white flag, and to admit that I at least won’t meet them at any point in the near future. I’ve watched many other colleagues reach these goals and maintain a level of success that I’ve worked hard to attain. I had to let go to at least part of my future plans and admit failure.

I failed. There I said it.

However, it’s more painful to hide from the fear of failure. Constant anxiety robbed me of the joy present each day with my wife and kids. Working constantly sent my spirit completely off-balance. I forgot how to rest in God’s presence, let alone how to be present for other people.

I’m not the most perfectly balanced person, but my wife and I chose our respective careers in the first place because we wanted a bit of autonomy with our work/life decisions. We don’t mind working hard or occasionally working long hours, but we wanted to have the freedom to choose how to structure our work days around our kids and each other.

The fear of failure removed that freedom from my life. Work became the only cure I used to treat it. I never thought that simply surrendering to my greatest fears could lead me to the greatest freedom.

 

Postscript: I write at length about the Examen and how it impacts my prayer life and work as a writer in my new eBook: Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. It’s available for pre-order at $.99 on Kindle (regular price as of March 11 is $3.99).

*****

EdC-400Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide and Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life. He’s a part time freelance writer and work from home/local café dad. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com and is on Twitter as @edcyzewski.

 

 

*****

In last month’s Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I’m discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I write candidly about some recent changes in the Haines’ household, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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The Hymn of Invitation

1.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about returns. When we were children, we were who we were–trusty and true. Do you remember how easy belief was in the days of felt-board Jesus, Goldfish crackers, and cherry Kool-Aid? John 3:16 leveled the playing field, taught us that we loved God because he first loved us. That was that, and many of us believed.

Somewhere along the way, though, the lusts set in and we began the metamorphosis. We learned cynicism, violence, and greed. We learned to cheat (whether on tests and girlfriends), steal (whether candy bars or lusty glances at our neighbor’s wife), and kill (whether the farmland or our children’s spirits). This was the intoxicating brokenness of adulthood, and we created clothes from the poison and shards of glass, tried them on and called them the fashion of the day.

Stop. Examine. You know this to be true.

2.

There’s a lot of talk about systemic sin and oppression, these days. The conservative crowd (whatever that means) laments the sin (mostly sexual) that seems to be permeating the culture at an alarming rate. They preach, and the hellfire fills their cheeks as they call an entire nation to repent.

The progressive crowd (whatever that means) points to other cultural indicators, shows how the market beats back the least of these. The classes aren’t on a level playing field, and widows,* orphans, and poor have their rights trampled. This is the sin of ancient Israel, they say, and their cheeks fill with a different sort of hellfire as they call an entire nation to repent.

If I’m honest, on most days my right cheek is filled with the conservative fire and my left with the progressive one.

3.

It’s important to talk about systemic sin and oppression; let’s make no bones about it. But is there a point at which all this calling for societal change leads us away from personal examination, from personal repentance?

4.

This is not a piece to point out anyone’s particular fault. It’s not a piece to point out systemic sin, either. This is a simple piece to remind myself of the days of childlike faith, the days before all that lusty, greedy, violent fear filled my noggin.

Do you remember your own similar days? What happened to them?

Put away your thoughts of society for a moment. Turn inward and remember. Is there a turning that needs to happen in your own spirit? Do you need to come back toward that child-like faith? So often, I do.

“If all that you are is not all you desire,” says Damien Rice, “then come.”

And former-Baptist that I am, here is your hymn of invitation.

 

*In the original post, “widows” was “windows.” My friend Erika Morrison believed this to be a typo, but I indicated that no, actually, everyone is always trying to save the windows. She thought it made more sense with the substitution, though. She’s a good and right life-artist, so I changed it.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I’m discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I’m speaking candidly about some recent changes in the Haines’ household, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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 *Photo by Williams, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Tender as Cool

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” ~Eph 4:32

“Because your heart was tender, and you have humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard what I spoke against this place . . . I also have heard you, says the Lord” ~2 Kings 22:19

“Tenderhearted: easily moved to love, pity, or sorrow….” Miriam Webster Online Dictionary

1.

These are the things we’ve been taught: survival of the fittest; eat what you kill; climb or be climbed over; be tough. It is a world of do or die, and so society teaches us to do from the outset.

We are taught that brains and brawn are the key to success. “Develop physical strength and mental toughness and the world will be your oyster,” we promise. We point to star athletes who throw game-winning touchdown passes in the closing seconds, to performers who “leave it all on the stage,” and businessmen who achieve the pinnacle of success. We marvel at their mental and physical toughness, extol those virtues above most others, even if only by implication.

What about the others, though?

There is a boy with a lazy eye. His vision leads him to believe that, at times, the sky is the ground and the ground is the sky. He is perpetually off balance and out of sorts. Picked last for ever dodge-ball game, he is ever the first target. He has bruises on his body from every ball he never dodged.

Know this: even at seven the spirit of American exceptionalism can be stolen from a child.

The high school girls model sorority life, make snap-judgments about who’s in and who’s out. Does the newcomer dress like the pack; does she think like the pack; does she have the right apps? They single out the weaker fawn, the one with no thigh-gap, too much tooth-gap, or chronic depression. Then, they bully. Snap judgments, SnapChat—these are the ways to steal the teenage spirit.

Know this: teenagers understand the us versus them dichotomy.

We grow into adulthood, graduate into a survival system. We scratch and claw–often with a smile and a handshake–and fight for the next promotion, reach for the next wrung of promise. We march on, and some of us advance without any thought of those over whom we are advancing. And this is not to say that this sort of progression is malicious. But it’s not to say that it’s tender, either. After all, only the toughest thrive in this system.

Know this: the systems of the world are Darwinian in nature.

2.

The tough-minded persevere and become successful, it is said, and at some very base level this is true. What’s more, this sort of tough-minded perseverance is encouraged by nature.

On the sixth day of creation, when God breathed life into the dust, he wired us with a neurological system that rewards achievement. In fact, according to a Psychology Today article entitled “The Neuroscience of Perseverance,” Christopher Bergland writes,

“[e]verything necessary for the survival of our species – eating, mating, sleeping, and physical perseverance – is rewarded by a flood of neurochemicals that make us feel good. This is a very generous biological design and at the same time necessary for our survival. All animals seek pleasure and avoid pain.”

Yes, we are neurologically hard-wired toward tough-minded perseverance, success, and survival. But what happens when this survival instinct goes askew? Are our brains rewarding us for achievement and perseverance at the expense of others?

3.

Yesterday, I was researching tenderheartedness, and I ran across a few notes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In “Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” King extols the virtues of developing mental toughness. After all, he says, a tough mind does not settle for easy answers; a tough mind does not settle for status quo oppression; a tough mind is not persuaded by candy-coated television marketing campaigns.

But, he goes on to say, “tough-mindedness without tender heartedness [sic] is cold, and detached[.] It leaves one [sic] life hardened… without the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer. There is nothing more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the displaced heights of a tough minded [sic] and has sunk to the passionless depth of hard heartedness.”

King continues, turning to scripture for examples of this dichotomy. He notes:

“The good Samaritan was good because he was tough minded enough to gain economic security and tender hearted enough to have compassion for wounded brother on life’s highway. … [Lazarus]… went to hell because he was so hard hearted that he guarded compassion and made no move to bridge the gulf between himself and his brother[.]”

King concludes, “[t]he greatness of our God lies in the fact that he is both tough minded and tender heartedness.”

4.

We have been wired toward success, toward perseverance and survival, yes. But when we allow our biological penchants to override our compassion for those around us, we fall into Lazarus’ folly. What’s more, when we fail to rein in our children’s penchant toward this sort of survival-of-the-fittest mentality, we lead them into the same folly.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t teach our children that success and perseverance aren’t important, nor is it to say that we discount the achievements of Beyonce, Tom Brady, or the Fortune 500 CEO. This is to say, though, that it’s time celebrate a different kind of cool. It’s time to embody a different kind of cool.

Dr. King had it right: our God is tough-minded, but his tender heart never fails. Jesus was tough-minded, endured the cross; but he was tender-hearted, too, laying down his own life for the life of the world. So if, as scripture says, we’re to be imitators of God, perhaps it’s time for a shift.

Perhaps it’s time to see tender as cool. Perhaps it’s time to live tender as cool.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I’m discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I’m speaking candidly about some recent changes in the Haines’ household, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

© Copyright - Seth Haines