Choose your rut carefully

I love reading road signs. Like the one welcoming you to Kettle Falls, Washington, the home of “1255 friendly people and one grouch.” In Hilt, California, a sign advises: “Brakeless trucks, use freeway.” Along Oregon’s winding coast, another warns: “Emergency stopping only. Whale watching is not an emergency. Keep driving.” I pulled into a service station once. A bold sign proclaimed, “We have Mexican food. We have gas.” But my favorite of them all is posted on an Alaska highway: “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next two hundred miles.”

As a young father, I found myself in the rut of spending sixty hours at work each week, speaking across the country on weekends, and wallpapering the house at night. I had three small children and one wife, and I was in danger of getting their names mixed up. Of becoming the grouch of Kettle Falls. Like the wallpaper, things were about to come crashing down. Before I knew what hit me, I was flat on my back. Burned out.

I was reading all the wrong signs. Signs like, “Give your kids the stuff you never had.” I was stuck in the rut of believing that an ultra-busy schedule equals a productive life. Three liberating truths have freed me from that rut and turned our home into a place our family loves to be. I think we should plant them as road signs along life’s highway.

1. The fruit of the Spirit is not lemons.

In the midst of my burnout, my 4-year-old pounced on me and tickled me. I didn’t move. “Dad,” he said, “you don’t laugh so good anymore.” That night I made a conscious decision to change. I began renting funny, wholesome movies. I bought a few cartoon books and explained the jokes to the kids. Within days, the difference in our home was noticeable. God is a God of joy. He has given us a built in escape hatch for the pressures of life. It is our funnybone. Laughter has no MSG, no fat grams or carbs. Laughter is low in cholesterol and the government still doesn’t tax it. So let’s fill our homes and our workplaces with laughter whenever we can.

2. Even ants have time to attend picnics.

Recently we bought a puppy. Mojo cost us $300, or $100 per brain cell. Sometimes she curls up on my lap, her tiny heart beating faster than you’d believe. But when she drifts off to sleep, it slows remarkably. They say the jumping mouse’s heart beats 500 times a minute. During hibernation it slows to 30 beats per minute. I’m not recommending hibernation, but rest. The Bible tells us that Jesus often took a break. No one in history accomplished more, yet He did so without acquiring an ulcer. Rest allows us to recharge our batteries and reorganize our priorities. The Creator of the universe rested. So must we.

3. Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.

Read enough road signs and we can’t miss the huge advertisements telling us we do not have enough: “You don’t drive a blue Mercedes like this one. You poor thing. You don’t eat bronzed chicken in a perfect kitchen with perfect lighting and perfect children who laugh at all your jokes while the Labrador retriever lies at your feet flea-less and grinning.”

One night my wife and I left our credit cards at home and strolled through a mall laughing at all the things we do not need. We found a cell phone that works underwater, alarm clocks that project the time on your ceiling in the middle of the night, and gas-powered blenders for the backyard. We even found pants that talk. They say, “Zip me!” How times have changed since Daniel Boone said, “All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.” “Honey,” I said, “we don’t have the big screen TV or the blue Mercedes, but we have what they can’t sell. We are rich in relationships. Rich in memories. Rich enough to give some money away. And if we notice that the neighbor’s grass is greener, let’s remind ourselves that their water bill is probably higher, and they have to cut it more often.”

Two weeks ago, my eldest son left for Bible college. I said goodbye with a few tears, much thanksgiving and few regrets. I wonder if I’d be able to say that had I not heeded these three roads signs. I still don’t live in perfect balance. But I’m learning to laugh, learning to prioritize, and learning to rest. If I keep this up I may even have time to wallpaper.

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