No, not your Idol – although it may be that, too. But what’s your idle? Each day naturally gives us idle moments. How do you spend them? What activities do you thoughtlessly gravitate toward doing when an idle moment hits? What’s your idle?

Just like driving in stop-n-go traffic, we can easily spend a good portion of the course of our day idling. How we spend those moments not only has a huge impact on the person we become, but they have a sneaky way of impacting how productive the rest of our day is, too.

And instead of carefully embracing my idle moments with purpose, in the past I would too often unwittingly surrender these precious, potentially pivotal moments of my day to the whim of careless habit. Quiet addictions disguised as words like “multi-tasking,” “decompression,” “connectivity” and “efficiency”…slowly sucking away my life.

For instance, when I was at work, my idle was checking email. My day idled around my email inbox. It’s the first thing I’d check when I started work. It’s the last thing I’d check before I shut down. It’s what got a quick (and often longer) glance while slow internet pages were loading or during a slow part of a meeting. I checked it in between every task. I was constantly reacting to it. My pace and schedule was often dictated by it. My email was my idle. I was constantly present in my inbox, just not necessarily with the person or task in front of me.

At home, it was the TV. Anytime I was at home and hit an idle moment my brain felt this urge to grab the remote control and see what’s on. At the end of the work day when I was all sputtered out, TV was my idle. While waiting for dinner to finish cooking, relaxing for a moment, eating a snack or simply deciding what we wanted to do that night – the TV came on (and usually stayed on). And when I hit a commercial break (one where I couldn’t fast forward through it), I’d even flip to the channel guide and find something else to watch to fill that idle moment. TV was my idle.

Everywhere else, my smartphone was my idle. If I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting in the doctor’s office, waiting at a traffic light, walking to a meeting or even waiting for a commercial break to finish – basically, anytime I had an idle moment – I reached for my front right pocket. I don’t know how many times each day I found myself in the middle of opening my phone and not even really knowing why. I’d flip through endless pages of interesting apps, fun games, social networks and email…just because. My cell phone was my idle, too.

Were these idle habits really helping me decompress, accomplish more tasks or be more efficient? Actually, they were doing the opposite. They were also doing a great job of making me feel much busier than I actually was.

Did I need these idle habits for entertainment? A much needed distraction from the grind of the day?

No. Actually, what I really needed was rest – not distraction. I needed silence – not stimulation. I needed a moment to take a deep breathe and contemplate my existence — what I’m doing and where I’m going. But such fragile moments are easy prey for ravenously bad, idle habits.

Do you ever get the feeling that instead of you living your life, it feels more like life is just happening to you? I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s not because you have too much on your plate or not enough vacation days. It’s because of bad, idle habits.

These brief, idle moments – more often than we realize – turn into divergent distractions. They keep our head firmly in a million places at once. They steal our focus from the task at hand – not just from being productive at it, but from truly enjoying it. I was endlessly reacting or getting unexpectedly pulled into something via email, TV or smart phone that wasn’t nearly as important as what I had hoped to accomplish that day.  5 minutes here. 10 minutes there. Instead of using the natural idle moments in life to rest for a moment, find inspiration and reorient myself to the goals of the day, I packed them with unimportant to-dos and spontaneous distractions.

I decided to change my idles — and I changed my life. Two of the things I did that helped me do this was 1) quit Facebook and 2) change how I was consuming information. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a few more key things that made a big difference for me. I hope they help you, too.

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” – C. S. Lewis

If I look for truth, I may find comfort – but I may not. Life is not about being comfortable. It’s about pressing forward out of my comfort zone. It’s about getting up everyday and accepting whatever challenge I am faced with, staying faithful to the truth and searching for the meaning and value in the suffering I endure.

The Christian life is not the secret to success, but the shortcut to sainthood. It is not here to cure your pain so much as to keep you from wasting it.

We are obsessed with getting rid of pain. That’s often a good thing, but it’s not the most important thing. What’s more important is the soul that is forged in the fire of that pain. In this fire, we discover the truth about who we are.

We are reminded that we are small and weak and in need of help. That we have limits and are in need of a Limitless One. This is the truth. Too much comfort puts us in danger of forgetting it.

You weren’t made for this world, so don’t get too comfortable.

No matter how much money we make (after our basic needs are provided for, of course) — whether it’s $50k or $200k — we always think we’ll be happier with just a little bit more money. “If I can just make a little bit more, then I’ll have enough,” we say. But then once we attain that we find ourselves saying the same thing again, “if I can just make a little bit more, *then* I’ll have enough.”

It’s a never ending cycle that epitomizes the fact that we can never get enough of the stuff we don’t really need. Too many of us make the mistake of living right at or just above our means (too much debt), building in a dependence on future increases in income.

What if we thought about it differently. What if the next time your boss offered you a higher salary, you said “No, thank you. But I would like a shorter work week instead.” You accept that your employer now values your time more. But then you say, “I’d like to keep my salary the same, actually, but I’d like to work fewer hours instead.”

If we did that, a 5% raise would mean a 38 hour work week instead of a 40 hour work week. In time, instead of doubling your salary over 15 years, you would cut your work week to 20 hours. I realize this would require a huge shift in the way we think about work, structure our companies, compensate, etc. But maybe it’s worth it.

At the end of your life, are you going to wish you had had twice the salary? Or twice the time spent with your loved ones helping each other become the people we were made to be? That seems like an easy answer to me.

Yet what have we done with the fruits of massive increases in efficiency, technology and knowledge? It’s revealing. We have an opportunity in front of us our ancestors could have never imagined. We have the chance here to be spending more time and energy with loved ones, nurturing our souls, pursuing God and truth and helping others more than ever before.

But what do we do instead? We work more so we can consume more which requires us to work more. We’ve raised our standard of living to the point of turning extravagant luxuries into “basic needs” so we can justify long hours ignoring our spouses, asking others to raise our kids and never having time to pray.

What are we here for anyway? Maybe we should start thinking about the way we work and why. Tell your boss you’re working for something different.

It’s never been more important for us to take control of the info we consume on a daily basis. Every piece of information we encounter throughout our day – whether we like it or not - changes who we are.

If we are to become who we are made to be, we must be deliberate about consuming the information that will shape us into such!

I have a long way to go. It’s a difficult process requiring courageous choices, but it’s worth it. Here are 10 things we are doing in our family to encourage healthy info consumption:

1. Get rid of cable TV.

I’m not quite saying throw the TV out the window. But no cable TV. Everything about cable TV is designed to hook and reel you in. Don’t take the bait. Instead, buy TV shows and movies individually (like on iTunes) when you want to watch them. Or you can always go out and watch them somewhere else (sports bar, friends house, etc.).

That way you’ll end up only watching things that are really worth watching, and nothing else. You’ll probably end up saving money in the end, too (we do).

2. Go ad-free radio.

Another great benefit of buying your TV/movies individually, rather than using cable TV, is that it removes a lot of ads from your life. In addition to that, spend <$10/month for ad-free Spotify or Pandora radio and you can listen to anything you want anywhere you go, with no ads! It’s worth it.

Every time you succumb to using a “free” service (that is supported by ads) you are selling a little piece of the formation of your soul. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

3. Use an RSS reader to follow your blogs/news online.

Many blogs and news sources let you read full articles straight from an online reader (and often with no ads) via RSS. It helps you consume just the content you like while avoiding the sidebars and teasers that litter most websites (which are all designed to suck you in further). Note: Most news sites will make you click over to their website from their RSS feed to read their full story. But you can at least read a little bit before deciding if it’s worth your time to do so and exposing yourself to the rest of their site. If you’re looking for an RSS reader, I recommend Feedly.

4. Sometimes quitting is good.

If you start watching a movie or TV show and it’s not amazing from the beginning, quit. Don’t mindlessly watch the rest of it. There are too many better things to consume. If you start a book/article and it’s not amazing from the beginning, quit. There are too many amazing things to read.

5. Turn off push notifications.

On your computer, on your phone, on your tablet. Check your email/Facebook/etc. when *you* decide it’s time to do so. If something is that urgent, somebody will call or text you. Otherwise, don’t risk it stealing the focus from what you set out to do today. It can wait for the proper time. It’s a great lesson in patience, too.

6. Put down your phone.

It’s practical to carry it with you when you go out, but when you get home or to work, put it across the room. Focus on whatever you are doing and don’t allow bad habits (of checking your phone every 3 minutes) to consume every idle moment of your day.

7. Be not afraid of missing out.

It’s okay if you don’t know the latest gossip, news or reality TV show ending. I promise. Try a month without it and you’ll see that the world is still spinning and that your life is probably better off, too!

Additionally, with so much great information at our fingertips on various topics, it’s easy to become information gluttons. Consume what you can, but let the rest go. If your expectation is to know everything there is to know about something, you will be chronically dissatisfied and stressed. The profound brain things inside your head will constantly hurt. By all means, enthusiastically pursue learning about your passions, but be content to consume an amount that fits well within the limits of the day God gave you.

8. Plan healthy things.

When you diet, it’s not enough to just avoid the junk food. You also need to plan healthy meals to take its place. If you only remove the junk info, you’ll find yourself just falling into new bad habits. When we are tired and idle, it’s easy to end up indiscriminately consuming whatever most easily pops in front of us (i.e. web surfing, channel surfing, DVR digging, gossip, etc.). Plan healthy activities to fill this void.

Play, listen and dance to great music. Sing songs together. Make something. Read a book. Tell stories to each other. Pray. Plan to watch a worthwhile movie together. Go outside. Play a sport. Go for a walk. The list is endless. Make a list of 10 things you’d like to do more of. I guarantee that consuming more mindless information, surfing the internet, watching more TV and listening to advertisements will not be on the list. Plan healthy things into your day.

9. Keep your social media in check.

Social media has found a unique place in our lives. But remember that such tools (especially if they are “free”) are not primarily designed to be what is best for you and your most important relationships. They are designed to keep you on their site for as long as possible by feeding your itchy clicky finger and your fear of missing out. Don’t be afraid to cut some cords or set some hard limits with how you use it. It’s powerful stuff, but don’t let it keep you from greater things.

10. Schedule silence.

You need silence, a complete break from the constant noise. If you don’t schedule silence into your day and then protect it, it won’t happen. Bonus: board up the windows, disconnect the electricity and block all wireless transmission. Guard your silence like a treasure. Flee to it. Cling to it as life. Schedule it in and make it a priority. Start with just a few minutes and try to build it up to an hour each day.

God is whispering to you there. Listen.

Each of us hear or read about 100,000 words in a given day. And each and every one of those words slightly changes us forever, whether we like it or not.

The problem is that we don’t choose very many of these 100,000 words. Most of them are not sought out by us and consumed deliberately. Rather, they are thrust upon us and we consume them thoughtlessly. It’s one of the main ways the world shapes us and changes us without us really knowing it.

From the moment we wake up, we are bombarded with information. Phones ringing. Notifications popping up in our face. Email inboxes overflowing. Social networks buzzing. Radio blaring. TV humming. And advertisements around every corner and crammed into every space of silence along the way.

All of it competing for our attention.

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” – Herbert Simon, Recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics

On top of that, the information we do choose to consume, we often choose poorly. Drawn impulsively in by stimulating entertainment and driven by a fear of missing out.

Every morning we wake up and immediately begin reacting to the urgent promptings of the world. And by the time we catch our breath, another day has somehow passed, never having quite found the time to focus on the things most important to us.

Rather than us consuming information, it has begun to consume us.

We’ve become information gluttons. Lacking the discipline to control our information appetite. Lacking the humility of our limitations. And lacking the faith to know that God has already given us the ability and grace to accomplish everything today in order to live an extraordinary life.

The world is filled with an abundance of information. Only the top 0.1% of it is worth your time. Don’t waste your time with the rest. It’s not only a waste of your life, but it is turning you into something lesser than your best self. Be deliberate about what you consume so that it doesn’t end up consuming you.

NEXT WEEK: 10 tips for healthy info consumption

An argument rages in the living room. Passions and tempers are high.

An elderly man sits calmly in the corner, patiently listening to the tense debate. The issue is one of deepest concern to him. The argument is one he’s repeatedly participated in throughout his long life.

But he knows that what is needed most right now is not, in fact, a stinging fact that sets the room straight. Nor is it the time to call the fight, give up on the issue or to pretend the truth about the matter doesn’t matter.

For the truth is worth finding. Worth fighting for. Worth dying for. But not worth killing each other for.

No. In such a moment, he knows that what is needed most is not the bluntness of brute or the triumph of intellect, but the disarming plainness of a new perspective. What is needed is a chance for everyone involved to see things differently. To see each other differently.

So instead he sits quietly in the corner, listening with the gentle confidence of a mighty oak in a storm.

At one point, his patience and steady interest draws the attention of the entire room. The tension tempts him to join the fray. The room begs him to battle, awaiting the wisdom of his weighty words.

But he does not abide.

A hearty and earthy smile spreads across his face. It’s a winsome smile. A smile fueled by a mysterious joy that transcends the worries of this world.

He stands to speak.

And then…invites everyone to a cup of tea. An invitation everyone can say yes to and a new opportunity for all.

Because a cup of tea is never just a cup of tea. It’s a chance for us to see the world – each other, ourselves – differently. It’s a necessary beginning if we are to ever reach our end goal of communion.

We don’t need more winners, but more wine. Fewer battle lines and more bread-breaking.

For Love conquers all. It truly does. That’s not just some cheesy lyric or namby-pamby pacifism. It’s quite the opposite. But it does require such radical courage and sacrifice that it usually ends up having never really been tried.

When the Christian encounters resistance, our marching orders are not to dig in, but to dig within. To scour the depths of the inner well for yet more mercy, more compassion, more forgiveness, more love. It’s scary and hard. But you’ll always find what you need there…because He is there.

Waiting for all of us.

Coffee anyone?

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” – G. K. Chesterton

Have you ever tried really hard to be humble? Or found yourself trying to figure out how to act humble or appear humble? And I don’t mean in a superficial pretending-to-be-humble kind of way. But in an “I genuinely want to be humble, how can I do it?” kind of way?

It’s a powerful virtue and a worthy goal – to be humble, to have humility.

In fact, humility is the foundation for the whole of spirituality. Inherent to it is a recognition that everything I have has been received from an Other. If you want to know the truth about yourself, pursue personal humility.

The trap I often fall into in this pursuit, though, is that I go about it with the wrong focus. I go about it by focusing on me being humble. But humility in the end is not really about me at all.

“Humility is ‘thy will be done.’ Humility is focused on God, not self. Humility is not an exaggeratedly low opinion of yourself. Humility is self-forgetfulness. A humble man never tells you how bad he is. He’s too busy thinking about you to talk about himself. That’s why humility is such a joy and so close to the beatific vision, where we will be so fascinated with God that we forget ourselves completely.” – Peter Kreeft, How Does the Weakness of the Cross Make Us Strong?

So humility is not really thinking less of yourself as much as it’s thinking of yourself less. We live in a culture that celebrates, encourages and applauds shameless selfishness, self-absorption and individualism. The antidote is genuine humility.

Tip for Radical Living: Each morning, commit to thinking a little less of yourself and a little more of others than you did the day before.

We worry a lot about “education” in this country. On a political level we bicker and argue about why one state’s math scores are higher than another’s. And at home, we put our kids through a heck of a lot (and we sacrifice a lot) to make sure they pass their tests, know how to read and write, and can regurgitate their multiplication tables. We even stress about whether they are able to do so at the right age, or whether they are 6 months ahead or behind the other kids.

And all of that is important – but it’s nowhere near as important as a lot of other things in life that end up getting a lot less attention.

When my kids are grown, it won’t really matter if they got an A or a B in 7th grade history. It won’t really matter how far they can hit a baseball. It won’t really even matter much if they’ve made a lot of money or been “successful” according to the world. What will matter much more is this:

  1. Are they humble – not that they think less of themselves, but that they think of themselves less.
  2. Do they know how to be loved – are they humble and secure enough to be vulnerable.
  3. Are they at peace – which means knowing who they are.
  4. Are they filled with joy – because they live with a hope that transcends this short life.
  5. Do they know they are small – that the world is not about them.
  6. Do they know they are giants – that, to somebody, they mean the whole world.
  7. Are they adventurous – willing to embrace a faith that will take them beyond the prison of their own limits.
  8. Are they imaginative – able to see that the best parts of life cannot be measured or touched.
  9. Do they embrace the moment – knowing that the present moment is the only moment they’ll ever have.
  10. Are they virtuous - aspiring to the best parts of their nature.
  11. Do they know how to give generously – because to give of yourself is the only way to find yourself.
  12. Do they know how to love – because this is what they were made to do (and because I’ve shown them by loving them every day unconditionally and by introducing them to a God who loves them perfectly).

This is what I’d like my kids to learn. This is what “success” looks like. This is what I’d like them to “want to be when they grow up.” Everything else with the classes and the homework and the tests and the career path is all bonus.

You can earn a college degree without learning a single one of these things – and these are far more important life lessons. But, ultimately, if my kids don’t learn them, it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

The person driving the car that just cut you off. The annoying woman taking for-ever in front of you in the checkout lane. The drive-thru worker who just messed up your order…again.

The friend who is totally oblivious to your pain. The parent who just doesn’t get it. The family member who seems deliberately insensitive to others. The co-worker who enjoys being rude to you.

The person who obnoxiously loves the politician you despise. The Facebook friend who stands against absolutely everything you believe in. The group doing everything to stop what you love most.

The unsolicited caller who just wasted 30 seconds of your life. The weird neighbor. The bully. The gal who appears to have everything going for her.

The person you love the least. The person you look up to the most. The person who continually lets you down…big.

They are all fighting a great battle.

It’s probably a quiet, hidden battle that you’ll never fully understand or perhaps ever know about. Their cry for help manifests itself as selfishness or closed-mindedness. As anger, defensiveness, ignorance, pride, aloofness, insecurity, rudeness, disinterest or malice.

Let all of that remind you that they are fighting a great battle. Be kind.

“Be kind to everyone you meet, for every person is fighting a great battle.” – St.Ephraim

Being a father is a radical responsibility. One that’s been neutered of its uniqueness and weight and reduced to a mere luxury of the human economy. Well, we may have produced an economy of hard working men (and women), but we’ve also enabled a generation of slacker dads. Even the “good dads” are slackers. And I’m intent on not being one of them.

If my family is not praying enough or doesn’t know how to pray together, it’s my fault.

If my family lacks direction and inspiration and vision, it’s my fault.

If my children don’t know what generosity and selflessness look like, it’s my fault.

If my children do not know God, it’s my fault.

If my children don’t know what a hard working, faithful, loving, disciplined, kind, holy, gentle, patient, strong man looks like, it’s my fault.

If my children don’t feel secure about who they are, it’s my fault.

If my son doesn’t know how to be a real man, it’s my fault.

If my daughter doesn’t know how she’s supposed to be treated, it’s my fault.

If my children don’t know what it feels like to be loved and what real, sacrificial love looks like, it’s my fault.

If my children don’t know what forgiveness and mercy look like, it’s my fault.

If my children don’t know how to respect authority, it’s my fault.

If my children don’t know that the hard stuff in life is the stuff most worth doing, it’s my fault.

If my children don’t know to pursue truth over comfort and faithfulness over success, it’s my fault.

If my children don’t know what humility and honesty look like, it’s my fault.

If my house does not serve the Lord, it’s my fault.

If I, as their father, don’t do these things, who will? Who will? If it’s not my responsibility, whose is it? My wife has unique responsibilities of her own and many of these others we fulfill together. But ultimately, in my family, if these things don’t happen, it’s my fault.