The Daily Grind – Emotional Margin
Sycamore Creek Church
October 7 & 8, 2012
1 Corinthians 13:11-13
Note: This series is informed by the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson.
I’ve been thinking about tires lately. Maybe it was the trip I had recently to the Spartan Speedway to help raise funds for John Brinkerhuff and his brain cancer. Recently I sat down with a race car driver who is sponsored by Grumpy’s Diner, Trina Wurmnest. Trina explained to me a lot of things about how tires work in racing. Tires are essential. They’re what hold you to the track. To prepare the tires, her team shaves down some of the tread. She explained that if you keep all the tread on then when it heats up, it will bend over on itself and your tire will slide on the track. That’s why NASCAR cars have completely flat tires. More traction when the tires heat up. While there are some spectacular blow outs on the racetrack, tires on a race cars tend to wear out rather than blow out. Trina gets about 150 miles on one set of tires. The harder you run your tires, the faster they wear out.
Maybe I’ve been thinking about tires lately because I see so many of us getting ground down by our daily lives. We all have a certain amount of wear and tear on our lives, but some of us run especially hard and wear the tread on our “tires” down pretty quick. Some of us are running on tries that are pretty bare.
This series that we begin today is about the daily grind. Not the big spectacular blow outs in life, but the daily stuff that simply wears us down over time. The stuff that grinds on us and grinds on us and grinds on us. And before we know it, we don’t have any tread left on our tires. Our lives are bare.
This series isn’t just about the daily grind. It’s also about margin. Because margin is the antidote the daily grind. If you’ve got margin, then the grind doesn’t cause us many problems.
Grind = fatigue, Margin = energy;
Grind = red ink, Margin = black ink;
Grind = hurry, Marin = calm;
Grind = anxiety, Margin = peace;
Grind = culture, Margin = counter culture;
Grind = stressed, depressed, and exhausted, Marin = calm, content, and charged-up;
Grind = progress of accumulation, Margin = progress of virtue;
Grind = burnout, Margin = mission;
Grind = disease of our millennium, Margin = its cure.
Today we’re looking at emotional grind. How the grind of our emotions can wear us down. I’ve been going through a bit of emotional grind lately as we’ve been giving birth to a new satellite venue at Grumpy’s Diner, but this experience is nothing like the emotional grind I went through when my son was born almost two years ago. I was on an emotional roller coaster of frustration and anger. After being married without children for thirteen years, we now had a child, and I found myself coming home every day to an environment that made me feel like I was going to go out of my mind. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that I had a male form of post-partum depression. So I went to see a therapist about it. He asked me to list all the things that had changed in my life lately. When I got done, the list filled an entire page. Sarah and I had moved seven times in four years. I had made and moved from very significant friendships in seminary. I had gone from being the number two guy to being the number one guy in a church and along with that had come significantly more responsibility. I had gone from thirteen years of marriage without children to an infant who demanded our constant attention. I had been in a car accident and was suffering from the back pain. All these changes were wreaking havoc on my emotions and my emotions were grinding me down.
I don’t think I’m alone. While it might not be the same specifics, many of us have something wreaking havoc on our emotions while our emotions grind us down.
We have more stuff than any society has ever had, and yet we have less peace and more stress. Depression is diagnosed at higher rates and at younger ages. Americans have more of everything except happiness.
It’s important to understand that there are different kinds of stress:
Eustress = positive stress;
Distress = negative stress;
Hyperstress = destructive stress.
It’s the distress and hyperstress that we need to pay special attention to. Christians sometimes take the Bible verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) as an invitation to overload into distress and hyperstress. But that’s not what this verse is intended to mean. It’s not an invitation to take on so many commitments and so many relationships that we overload our limits.
Load = commitments;
Limit = What we can do before we break down.
For example, I used to have a Subaru station wagon. It could hold 1000 pounds. That’s it’s limit. But one time when Sarah and I were working on our yard, I loaded it with about 1200 pounds of landscaping rocks. As I drove from the landscaping shop to home, I felt my car doing something it had never done. The shocks and struts were bottoming out and the car was shifting from side to side. I had exceeded the limits of my car by the load I was committing it to carry. Thankfully I only had about two miles to drive to get home! But had I tried to do carry those rocks in my car for a hundred miles, I might have done irreparable damage.
Here’s the basic problem that we all run into: The daily grind leaves us without emotional margin. Thankfully, God hasn’t left us alone when it comes to building emotional margin.
1 Corinthians 13:11 – 13 NLT
11 It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
All of us struggle with growing up emotionally. Children don’t know where their limits are, and they constantly overload them. My two-year old son gets pretty cranky when he gets tired. But if you ask him if he is tired and needs to go to bed, he says no. He doesn’t know his limits and so he overloads them. But we adults have a better idea of our limits (or do we?!), and yet we constantly overload them. We make commitments that we know there’s no way we can keep them without doing damage to ourselves or those around us, our co-workers, friends, and especially our families.
12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.
When we rely on our own “seeing”, our values and decisions are imperfect. We have an idea of our limits, but sometimes its not totally clear.
All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.
But if we rely on God’s “seeing” we can get out of the grind. God knows each one of us better than we know ourselves. God knows us and knows what’s best for us, even when we don’t know it ourselves.
13 There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
So God knows what we do that will last and what we do that won’t last. These three things last: faith, hope, and love. We tend to focus on faith and love and ignore hope. The three are related and in many ways interdependent, but we do a lot of talking about faith and love and how to nurture them, but we don’t talk and study so much about how to nurture hope. And yet hope is the key to the problem of emotional margin. One of the Bible’s proverbs says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (13:12). That sounds like emotional grind to me!
So here’s the main point of this message: Emotional grind comes from neglecting hope. Emotional margin comes from fostering hope.
Of course this begs the question: what is hope? One of the Bible dictionaries I have defines hope this way:
While modern connotations include shades of uncertainty associated with a desired outcome (akin to “wishful thinking”), the biblical understanding of hope is a much deeper…Included are an expectation of the future, trust in attaining that future, patience while awaiting it, the desirability of the associated benefits, and confidence in the divine promises.
Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary
The kind of hope that God wants us to have isn’t wishful thinking. It’s a confidence that God will meet us where we are with what we need to do what God wants us to do. When you have that kind of hope, you have emotional margin. When you lack that kind of hope, your heart is sick.
In his book on margin, Richard Swenson, a doctor, provides a prescription for nurturing hope in your life that includes three things: friendship, fun, and faith. Let’s look at each one.
When do you make room for friendships? Are you cultivating deep, authentic, transparent, vulnerable friendships? I learned the value of this as a teenager. I went on a spiritual retreat called the “Emmaus Walk.” We were encouraged to be open and transparent with friends, to give a true account of ourselves, so that they could in turn help hold us accountable to becoming all that God wants us to become. Those kind of friendships are invaluable. But they require a deep and steady commitment. It’s hard to be that vulnerable with someone if you think they’re going to ditch you as a friend.
Ever since that weekend retreat I went on as a teenager, I’ve been involved in some kind of small group with other friends. Sometimes it was a formal small group that my church organized, but other times it was simply a weekly coffee “date” with a friend. In fact, one of the best small groups I was ever a part of was a simple commitment to meet every Thursday with a friend for coffee. We did that for four years while I was in seminary. We didn’t hit every week, but we hit most of them. That time with Bill every week was life giving. It rebuilt emotional margin because my friendship with Bill helped nurture hope in my life.
What do you do for fun? And when was the last time you did it? How often do you laugh? Four-month old babies laugh once an hour. Four-year olds laugh once every four minutes. Adults laugh only fifteen times a day. We adults get pretty serious by the time we “grow up.” But we could learn something from the kids around us.
Speaking of laughter, here’s a joke to help you laugh and build some hope today:
A priest told three nuns that he wanted to teach them about forgiveness, so he told them to sin sometime the next week. When they met again the next week the first nun said, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I stole money from the collection plate.” The priest said, “You are forgiven, my daughter. Now drink some holy water.” The second nun said, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I broke a stained glass window.” The priest said, “You are forgiven my child. Now drink some holy water.” The last nun said to the priest, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned.” “What did you do?” The priest asked. She said, “I peed in the holy water.”
Friends, we need to laugh more. I need to laugh more. You need to laugh more. Laughter is good for soul because it is fun and fun helps build hope and hope helps rebuild emotional margin.
Another way to have fun is to simply play. What hobbies do you have? Movies, Reading, Music, Trains, Art, Running, Biking? How often do you give yourself time to play? Or maybe you’re like me and you’ve gotten so deep into work that you don’t have any hobbies any more. Reclaim and old one. On our fifteen anniversary, Sarah and I went swing dancing. We hadn’t gone dancing in too long. It was life giving to spend time with my best friend having fun playing on the dance floor. It rebuilt the emotional margin in our lives by nurturing hope.
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
Earlier I said that faith and hope were intertwined. They are. When you nurture faith you nurture hope. But here’s the catch: The object of your faith is more important than the amount of your faith. We tend to think that the thing that really matters is the quality of our faith. It’s not. It’s who you have faith in. If you’re falling and someone catches you, what really matters, what you think about the strength of the person catching you or their actual strength? It’s not so much your faith that matters, but the faithfulness of God. Hope then is not built so much on our faith, but on the faithfulness of the one in whom we have faith.
This past summer I often took Micah swimming in the pool at the Holt Jr. High School. At first he wasn’t so sure about this whole swimming thing. He would cry and cling to me. He recognized something primal about water. It could kill him! But over time as he found that I held him safely and didn’t let him sink, he began to trust me and have faith in his Dad’s good judgment.
Here is my definition of faith: the graced decision to believe in spite of uncertainty, a proper confidence that God will be faithful. Faith is a gift that God gives. It doesn’t wipe out uncertainty, but over time it builds confidence that God was faithful in the past and will be faithful again in the present and the future.
If you’re a guest here today you might be asking yourself: How do I get this kind of faith? Here’s the answer: Faith is a spiritual muscle that requires spiritual exercise. It comes over time. I grew up in a Christian home going to church, but when I got to college I had a faith crisis and left the faith for a time. When I left the faith, my life became very dark. It felt like I no longer had any purpose or meaning. Over time I found that I was just as uncertain not believing as I had been believing. The only difference was that when I believed in the face of uncertainty, I also had hope. So I chose faith and hope over unbelief and darkness. I can’t say that everything became great all at once, but over time, I found that God was faithful and my own faith in God grew as I continued to seek God out. When I look back on that time I realize that two things were at work: first, I chose faith. I simply made a mental choice to trust in God. Second, with hind-sight, I think God also was reaching out to me holding me and inviting me to chose that trust and faith. And when I did, my life had hope again. And with hope came emotional margin.
For some of you, the tire of your life is so worn down today that it’s fraying. You’re going to have a blow-out not because you hit some major obstacle in the road of life, but because you simply wore through all the tread. What if the church, what if those of us who were committed to friendship on the journey of following Jesus acted like a retread factory?
Did you know that there are factories that put tread back on tire? Imagine with me if Sycamore Creek Church was a “factory” that put the emotional tread back on people’s lives after the daily grind had worn it down. I think that happens all the time here at SCC. We are a community filled with hope!
Now hope is important because it is the foundation that we build all the other margin on in our life. If we don’t have hope it will be hard to have the emotional motivation to work on building physical, time, and financial margin. Hope gives the emotions a positive outlook. In face of the daily grind, hope gives us the emotional motivation to work toward physical, time, and financial margin.
In a distressed world, may SCC be a retread factory of emotional margin, a retread factory that invited people to join in.
For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
God, let me today over come the toil and struggle and daily grind of my life because my hope in you is hope in a living faithful God who saves all people. Rebuild the emotional tread in my life and give me margin so that I can serve you and those around me without blowing out from the daily grind. Amen.