Tag: practicalities

Letter 43: Video Games: Get in the Game

My Son,

 

Don’t waste your life. Perhaps playing a video game every once in awhile is acceptable, but I see too many guys spending way too much time playing video games. It can be a source of recreation and relaxation, but it can also be an addiction that dominates your life. So I’m not telling you to never play video games, but rather I’m encouraging you to get in the game of life. For example, there are some games out there that allow you to play a character that fights against demons. Instead of playing the game, why don’t you get in the actual “game” of spiritual warfare and start praying? Dedicating the hours you would have spent on the video game to something that has more eternal significance will probably be more meaningful to you in the end. I’m not trying to create a false dichotomy between recreation and spirituality. Rather, the recreation we do must be intertwined with the spiritual so that both needs are met simultaneously.

You may think me hypocritical for condemning video games while previously praising movies as a means by which to see the Gospel. Both video games and movies can be bad if either the content is bad or if they become addicting. They can also both be good if it leads you to know and serve Christ more effectively. Video games, movies, and many other forms of entertainment can become huge time wasters if you let them. This is the crux of my letter; don’t waste your life with too much entertainment when you could use that same amount of time to better build up the Kingdom of God. Entertainment and impacting the Kingdom are not always mutually exclusive, but if you are to choose what dominates your life, let it be the Kingdom of God.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 42: Creativity & Multiplying Talents

My Son,

 

“For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property, to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ his master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ his master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ he also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! you knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has more will be given and he will have an abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’” (Matthew 25:14-30).

 

God has gifted us each with various levels of resources, skills, graces, and faith that we are called to multiply for his glory. The first thing I want you to ask yourself, my son, is this: What has God given me? Think about your environment, the people you know, the natural talents you have, the skills you are developing, and, as a literal correspondence to the parable of the talents, how much money you have. Then think about how you can further invest in those gifts and utilize those gifts so that they are multiplied. Finally, focus on how multiplying those “talents” can cultivate a deeper love for God and for neighbor.

The second question you need to ask yourself is this: Is the multiplication of my gifts actually making the world a better place? There are many who are given “talents” and know how to multiply them, but then use those additional resources to corrupt themselves and the world. For example, a person may have been given a significant amount of talent to make great movies. They spend their lives honing those skills and are getting better and better at their own abilities, yet they use their increased level of expertise to make inappropriate movies. This would be a very bad use of their gifts. Alternatively, if you have someone good at making movies, but they never develop the skills to make really great movies, or decide to bury their creativity by playing it safe taking a job they know they were not made for, then they also have not adequately multiplied their talents for the good of mankind. The person that truly glorifies God in this is the person who knows they have the gift to make really good movies, works hard to increase their own skill-base, and then makes high quality films that lead people into an encounter with God. It may not be an explicit Gospel message, but perhaps the overall message of the movie is good and is making the world a better place.

All people have a certain measure of creativity, for they were made in the very image of the Creator. God multiplied his talents by creating the Earth and all that dwells in it. He calls us to share in this vocation of creativity. It is so important to him, that he tells us Christ will judge us in the Last Days on how well we were able to multiply our talents. Know what God has gifted you with, examine how you can multiply those gifts, and seek to do all of it for the glory of God.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 41: Spending Time with God

My Son,

 

In God we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). Thus, God is always near and ready for us to draw near to him by deliberately spending focused time with him. Christ is our life and though we are to abide in him every second of every day there are special moments of individual quietness before the Lord that can help fan the flames of our faith and aid us in our abiding. Quite often, the Gospels recount Jesus withdrawing from the crowds and disciples to spend time alone with the Father. He expects his disciples to do the same when teaching them to pray in the Sermon on the Mount: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). From the secret place we draw strength and nourishment in our intimacy with God to then share his love with the world.

Now, my son, I’d like to give you some practical guidelines and tools that I have found to be helpful in my own time with God. Different seasons of my life have caused my time with God to change. When I was in college I would simply read Scripture during breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nighttime: Old Testament (2 chapters) for breakfast, a New Testament epistle for lunch (1 chapter), a Gospel for dinner (1 chapter), and a Psalm and Proverb before bed. While reading Scripture has always been a core part of my own time with God, I needed to become more deliberate in prayer, so after college and while I was transitioning to becoming Catholic, I picked up a fabulous resource called the Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office). There are prayer times for morning, mid-morning, noontime, mid-afternoon, evening, and nighttime, plus readings for the Daily Office. These prayer books really helped launch me into a more disciplined prayer routine.

Another part of my time with God that was missing in college was a more focused time with him, so after college I began to spend an hour with him before eating breakfast. During that time I would listen to worship music, pray, and read Scripture. At other times, I would memorize passages of Scripture. The reason why I enjoy designating the first hour of my day to spend time with God is that it sets the tone for abiding with him the rest of the day. Just recently, I began to notice that my time with God is filled with a lot of talking both in prayer and speaking out Scripture, but not as much quietness. Something the Lord has been putting on my heart lately is the need to simply be quiet before him in contemplation, meditation, and sheer silence.

My suggestion to you, my son, is to have a specific consistent time with God at the very first part of your day. You can then fill that time with a variation of what I’ve talked about and perhaps other things I have not. You can read, memorize and meditate on Scripture, pray, listen to worship music, listen for his voice in the stillness, etc. The goal is to connect with God. May this time with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, serve to catapult you into the very life of the Triune God.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 40: Finding Rest

My Son,

 

A counselor once gave me some great advice about rest. At that time, my thoughts were chaotic and all over the map. I was stressed out and struggling to get good sleep. Many of my thoughts had to do with trying to hear God’s voice perfectly. My counselor simply asked me, “Where is the rest in that?” He said God always wants to lead me to a place of rest. If “God’s voice” was causing stress and not leading me to experience his rest, then perhaps it wasn’t him talking.

Not only did my counselor recommend that I constantly ask myself where I was finding rest amidst my crazy thoughts, he gave another great piece of practical wisdom: the four breath rule. The four breath rule is simple; breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and repeat this four times. In some of my most stressful moments, I’ve done this exercise and immediately felt a lightness and a peace come over me.

 

Breathe, my child… It’s all going to be okay… You are in your Father’s tender hand… Just breathe.

 

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul” (Psalm 23:1-3)

 

Selah (pause)

 

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

Selah

 

“Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).

 

Selah

 

“Be still and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10)!

 

Selah

 

Pause. Meditate. Breathe. Rest.

 

God is your Shepherd and Father. He is the God of peace. In the midst of our busy society it is increasingly important for us to seek out those times of stillness. God is in the stillness. So be still, my child, and let him lead you into his rest.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 39: Pause in Nature

My Son,

 

Being still before God is a daily exercise, yet there are many times throughout the year where an extended pause on your life may be necessary for your spiritual nourishment. Growing up, I would go to camp every summer and spend a significant amount of time in nature. The main camp I went to was in the beautiful state of Colorado with its abundant mountains, trees, rivers, and lakes. At one of those camps I had a counselor who had just gotten back from a 3-month wilderness kayaking adventure. He told me something profound; he said, “You may not need to go three months, but for the sake of your soul and connecting to God, you need to make sure that every year of your life you spend at least a week out in nature.” I have since taken that to heart, and I have found my counselor to be right. The time of greatest refreshment for me comes from simply being in God’s beautiful creation.

Whether it’s hiking, biking, running, climbing, camping, backpacking, or any other fun outdoor activity, being outside where there is fresh air during the day and an abundance of stars at night, will refresh your soul. It is a way to escape the busyness and cares of this world and set your gaze on God. We can perceive what God is like in nature, for “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).

Therefore, I encourage you, my son, to pause, take a retreat, and be with God in the beauty of his creation. For in so doing, you will find refreshment for your soul and clarity for your mind.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 38: Being Busy

My Son,

 

Busyness is the buzzword of our society. Busy, busy, busy! If someone asks how you have been, the common response seems to be “busy.” Busyness is seen as evidence that one’s life has purpose. This is simply not true.

Busyness is overrated, my son. Jesus taught us to rest and take time to be with the Father. He taught us to come to him for rest and to lay our burdens at his feet. He also warned us not to become tied up with the cares of this world, and thus be like seed planted among thorns. The thorns choked the seed as it was trying to grow.

I’ve noticed this tendency toward busyness in my own life. Everyone around me rushes around every day and every night. Even on the “restful” weekends, we seem to schedule so many events, or make so many commitments, that we are ensnared to a busy lifestyle 24/7.

Many also become workaholics, as discussed previously, being so addicted to work that they can never quite shut it out. I know people who check work emails even while on vacation. When will they ever take a break? I intentionally try to disconnect from nearly every form of technology and communication on vacation so that I cannot be reached while I’m gone. Gaining rest is necessary to sustain quality work over time.

Coinciding with being addicted to work is an addiction to the cell phone. People, myself included, are so addicted to looking at their phone that they unknowingly check their phones nearly every 30 seconds. They will constantly check if someone’s texted them or if they have any Facebook notifications. They will even check these things while driving!

So, how do we break free from the busyness? I think what we need to do, my son, is to use our cell phones in moderation, limit our work to the workday hours as best as we can, find times where we can sit in silence and be still before God throughout the day, disconnect from technology on vacation, take a Sabbath day of rest once per week, and go on retreats every so often.

I’m writing this to you as a warning. Be aware that the devil wants to get you ensnared into a rat race that will eventually strip away true enjoyment and meaning from your life. The devil wants to distract you from living a life of rest in God. Please take time to breathe, to enjoy, to be nourished, to love, and to laugh. Jesus came to give you life to the full, and that full life is infused with peace and rest. May you enter into God’s rest amidst our busy culture.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 37: Avoid Checking Work Emails after Work

My Son,

 

Workaholism is a dangerous sickness that must be avoided. Rhythm, rest, and balance are vital components in a well-lived life. I don’t want you to get suckered into the rat race of life and fall into the unending obsession with work. One simple rule to follow in order to avoid this snare is committing to not check work emails after work. Nearly every time I’ve glanced at an email from work on the weekends or after hours during the week I end up regretting that decision. When you see that you have a work email and decide just to take a quick look at it, you will find yourself engrossed in work for another hour or two. Your mind will start veering back into your work life and you won’t be able to rest until you have all the issues resolved. This lack of rest can easily be fixed by simply waiting until the next day to check those emails.

Do you think you are so important that unless you respond immediately to your emails all will fall apart? If so, then you need to wake up from that prideful stupor and realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you. I say this to your benefit. If you get caught in the trap of checking emails at all times, then you may quickly get burnt out. When you are able to create boundaries for yourself and rest from work, truly rest, then you are sustaining your ability to work for the long haul. Do not compromise your longevity for the short term. When you are at work, then work 110% for the glory of God. When you are not at work, enjoy resting in God and spending time with friends and family. Work hard and rest well, my son.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 36: Beware of the News

 

My Son,

 

I’m not saying that you should never watch the news on TV, but that you should beware of watching the news. There may be times when it is appropriate to watch or listen to the news in order to stay informed, but for the most part you can stay informed of the necessary information through word of mouth (and then check into the facts later).

Why am I telling you to beware of the news? Because I have seen how people act when they are absorbed in the news. They seem angry, bitter, scared, prejudiced, hateful, and altogether fleshly. I have yet to see the positive fruit of the Spirit being produced as a result of watching the news. Why is this? The news is rarely positive (though if it is positive it is usually something completely irrelevant and a waste of time anyway). The news is filled with grotesque facts of the latest murders or obscenities. News turns into arguments between two opposing parties rather than a respectful dialogue. News is biased, sensational, and rarely communicates the information you actually need to know in order to be aware of the sufferings of the world.

I’m sure there are some people out there who are trying to change the status quo with the news networks, so this is not meant to undermine what they are doing. I merely want you to be cognizant of the type of inputs you are receiving on a daily basis. If watching the news will help you abide in Christ and live a life of love, then go for it. Just be careful not to get entangled into the negative aspects of the news. Be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil (Romans 16:19).

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 35: Focus on the Positive

My Son,

 

I once knew a homeless man named Bill. Bill and I would go out to lunch frequently and I would ask him about his life on the streets. He seemed to have a certain contentment and happiness despite his circumstances. Each time we met, Bill would tell me the key to contentment is to focus on the positive. He said, “If you focus on the negative, then you’ll be negative, but if you focus on the positive, you’ll be positive.” Bill’s teaching has stuck with me all these years, and now I hope to pass it on to you, my child.

This paradigm of positivity is infectious and can inspire deep joy amidst mundane and even “negative” moments in life. As Christians, we are called to set our minds “on things that are above” (Colossians 3:2) and to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) and “for everything [to give] thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:20). Focusing on the positive is rooted and flows from a focus on Christ himself. He is Light and Love, which are both very positive descriptors. Thanksgiving, rejoicing in the Lord, and abiding in Christ are essential elements to producing positivity in your perspective.

Focusing on the positive doesn’t mean we ignore the negative effects of suffering and sin in our world. It means that we always come to the conclusion that God is bigger than all of that. Perhaps the negative is right in front of you. Cast your gaze on Christ and let the negative fall into your peripheral vision. Focusing on the positive isn’t a call to live in a “dream world” or a call to pretend everything is okay, rather it is a call to root yourself in the ultimate truth and reality: the kingdom of God. This kingdom consists of love, joy, and peace. As we carry the crosses in our lives, we can well up with joy when we look beyond to the reality of the resurrection. As we focus on the positive, “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Focus on the joy that is set before you my child, namely being with Christ for eternity.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 34: Discipline Leads to Joy

My Son,

 

I remember when I first started seriously reading the Bible when I was in 9th grade. I had gone to a camp that summer and they taught me the value of reading Scripture daily. After camp, I committed to follow a plan to read the entire Bible in a year. I began my journey with Scripture only to run into boredom. Toward the end of Exodus and into Leviticus, reading the Bible became a chore. However, since I had committed to my plan, I stuck it out. That whole year, the Bible remained stagnant to me. I then decided to read the Bible again a second year, and it was just as boring and just as burdensome to me that year. Stubborn as I was, I decided to enter into the discipline of reading the Bible a third year. Around halfway into my plan the third year, something changed for me. Reading the Scriptures switched from a chore to a treasure. I fell in love with Sacred Scripture. It came alive and my heart was set ablaze by the Word of God. Ever since then, reading the Bible has been a true joy. I tell you this, my child, because it took 2 ½ years of discipline to finally experience the fruit of that discipline. For you, reading Scripture may be instantaneous joy or it may take longer than 2 ½ years to experience that joy. Remain disciplined and form these godly habits and I believe you will reap a great reward whether in this life or in the life to come.

Being disciplined in the various practices of faith, such as praying, fasting, almsgiving, and reading, meditating on, and memorizing Scripture, is a test for genuine faith. Anyone can start a race, but how many can finish the race well? I’ve known many people who will make New Year’s resolutions to read the Bible in a year and when they hit Leviticus in the second or third month, they will give up. I know that when I had hit those books the first and even second year, I wanted to give up. If I had not remained disciplined, I would never have experienced the joy of Scripture reading. Honing your ability to maintain the disciplines of our faith is like starting a fire the old fashioned way. When starting a fire you take a couple of sticks and methodically move your hands to cause friction between the sticks and, eventually, the wood will start smoking and then a fire will form. It takes a while sometimes to start a fire this way and the only sure method involves time and discipline to move your hands in the right way. In the same way, it may take you years to see the fire of your faith set ablaze by the disciplines you’ve formed. The Holy Spirit will one day ignite the kindling you’ve invested in the fire and it will be all the more glorious.

We are in the “Church Militant” my son. Being a soldier of Christ requires discipline. There is wilderness before the Promised Land, there is crucifixion before resurrection, and there is discipline before joy. Stick with it! Do what others fail to do, and run the race in such a way as to win the prize.

 

Love,

Dad