This morning perfectly epitomized the struggle I’ve faced to establish better balance in my life. Jacob summoned me at 5 a.m. to attend to a bloody nose. It was a pretty bad one, so all-in-all it took about 30 minutes to get it under control and get him back to bed.
I had intended to sleep in a bit, until around 7 a.m., and then do a workout before enjoying Father’s Day breakfast with the family. But I’m not great at going back to sleep when awoken early morning, so I scrapped that plan and slowly started working through my morning routine.
I did my supplements. I did some reading. I did what must have been several other rather unmemorable things and was gearing up to work out around 6:30, when yet another call came for assistance with yet another bloody nose. Sigh.
Consistent interruption, disruption and demand for scarce time: This is the life of a parent of young children. Over the past seven or so years, I’ve been trying to navigate these waters with mixed success. How do I attend to my family and its constantly evolving and growing needs and still take care of myself?
Mike Mason (via Morgan Snyder @ Become Good Soil) says, “A thirty-year-old man is like a densely populated city. Nothing new can be built, in its heart, without something else being torn down.” Morgan extrapolates this concept across the entire fourth decade of man’s life and I have to agree. Up until the last six months or so, I’d say the entirety of my 30s has felt like a grand dismantling of myself. Nearly all of what I used to consider important and enjoy has been torn down and other things have been built and established in place.
It might sound like it, but I’m not labeling these other things “bad.” I would never trade marriage and children for the status quo of my twenties. But the slow, methodical dismantling of the former “Joel” has been jarring and painful nonetheless.
Becoming Good Soil
About 2.5 years ago, God introduced me to the Become Good Soil message that Morgan carries and it’s been a life-saver for me. I was blessed to be selected to attend one of the Intensive weekend retreats he hosts each year. Through that weekend, his podcast and his blog, I’ve gained context for this season of my life and have been better equipped to deliberately engage it and partner with God in becoming the man he has for me to become.
One of the biggest takeaways for me from Morgan’s teaching is the concept of “self care.” During the Intensive, he lays out what he calls a “relational model for the decade” (for a man’s 30s). It’s portrayed visually in this pyramid:
Conceptually, it’s not earth-shattering. But in practice, at least in my life, it is a pretty big paradigm shift and a challenge to implement.
The biggie for me was seeing myself as the #2 priority in my life. Maybe this isn’t the challenge for others it’s been for me. But coming from a family that primarily expresses love through acts of service and a Mennonite heritage that is much the same, I’m accustomed to serving others before myself and tend to carry guilt when I don’t.
But if I am to be the person, husband and father I truly desire to be, then I have to come to terms with the importance of taking care of myself—body, soul and spirit. A Joel deprived of his heart’s desires and generally unhealthy and unfulfilled is not going to be a gift of God to his family, friends, workplace and community. I suspect that the perpetuation of this others-always-first paradigm in a man’s life is the very foundation for the rash behaviors we sometimes see expressed through a midlife crisis. After spending two or three decades putting others first—even with good, virtuous intentions—they eventually snap and make life all about them.
Following Morgan’s model is a challenge, for sure. #TheStruggleIsReal, so they say. But as I’ve made progress in this area and have become more okay with disappointing my kids and others on occasion so that I can take care of myself, I’m reaping the benefits.
And to be honest, this isn’t really Morgan’s model. It’s God’s. Jesus taught:
And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30–31 NLT
The church has excelled in teaching people to love God and love others. But loving ourselves is often de-emphasized, if not characterized as being selfish. But it’s rather impossible to love others in a healthy, sustainable way without loving and taking care of ourselves.
So fathers, on a day in celebration of you, I urge you to consider just one way you could begin prioritizing yourself in areas that have been neglected over the years. Maybe it’s a hobby; maybe it’s your health; maybe it’s with money; maybe it’s with vacation time. Ask God. He’ll have a good idea or two.
You have permission. Even a mandate.
Occasionally, if not regularly, step back from serving others and start loving yourself, treating yourself, rewarding yourself and ultimately taking care of yourself.
This morning, after being awoken two hours before my alarm to twice attend to bloody nose emergencies, I still stuck to my plan of getting in a workout before the day got away from me. That filled my soul for the day and set me up to feel like the captain of the ship that is my life and to be the father I want to be on Father’s Day.