CORPORATE MAKEOVER SERMON SERIES
WHEN YOUR PROFESSION BECOMES AN OBSESSION
AUGUST 16, 1998
In my early twenties I led a group of college students on a trip to the Cayman Islands. To show you how long ago it was, the entire cost for the trip, meals, lodging for five nights and six days, and airfare was only $298. That was a long time ago. One of the sponsors on the trip was Lee Maxie. Lee is a take-charge kind of a guy with a unique one-of-a-kind voice. Early one morning I will never forget what Lee did before our group of college students. He stood before them with clipboard in hand and said, “OK, listen up. You have the opportunity today to sign up for a lot of fun events like biking, parasailing, snorkeling or deep sea fishing. So go ahead and sign up now. Here is the clipboard. Pay your deposit and we will get this show on the road.
Everyone made a mad dash for the clipboard and to pay their deposit. Let me say something about Lee before I go on. Lee has the ability to talk with confidence about a subject even though he is clueless. Remember that.
After everyone had signed up, Lee began to review the list. He saw that a number of girls had signed up to go off-shore fishing. Six girls and four guys. So Lee kind of smiled and said, “Wait a minute. Just let me have your attention one more time. I see a lot of girls have signed up for deep sea fishing. Now girls, let me tell you something about deep sea fishing. (Lee had never been deep-sea fishing.) If you get out there in that blue water and you start getting sick, that captain isn’t going to turn that boat around. You will be stuck out there. So if any of you girls want to back out, now is your chance.” Well, of course, the girls didn’t bat an eye. They said that they wanted to charter their own boat, go out in their own craft. Lee says, “OK, good luck.”
Six girls go out in one boat. They had a wonderful time. Four of us guys, including myself and Lee, were in another boat. We had been off-shore for maybe thirty minutes and our little boat was being tossed and turned by six to eight foot waves. The exhaust from the diesel engines combined with the odor of fish bait was all that old Lee could take. I looked over at him and saw that with every swell, he turned a darker and darker shade of green. He was sick. I am talking about really sick.
Motion sickness. It can be defined as the erratic movement of a boat, car or amusement park ride which gets our equilibrium out of sync, resulting in severe nausea. We watched, with smiles on our faces, as Lee began to beg the Caymanian captain to turn around. And then we began to mock him in unison. “Hey, Lee, any of you girls can’t take it, the captain won’t turn that boat around.” We were out for hours and later on, I did something very cruel. I will confess it right here. Lee was leaning over the side of the boat. Having been off shore a good deal in my life, I walked over to him and said, “Hey, Lee, there is one cure for motion sickness.” “What’s that, Ed? I know you have been fishing a lot. “Listen to me very carefully. It is rubbing your back against an oak tree.”
Many of us in this place right now are being tossed and turned by the erratic movement of a different kind, the waves of work. We find our vocational equilibrium out of sync and out of balance. A lot of us feel like we are motion sick. We feel like we are riding wave after wave as the currents of our corporate culture slowly take us out to sea. We are exclaiming, “I’m going to stop this work tomorrow. I can’t keep up with this pace anymore. This schedule is tearing me apart.” And these cries echo throughout our homes and our businesses.
Think about it. With scaled-down structures and decreased numbers of workers and greater demands at a NASCAR-type pace, workaholic is real. A lot of us are dealing with it.
I talked to a lady before this service, an executive, who said, “Ed, what do you say about me. I am now doing the job of three people. And it is about to mess me up.” Motion sickness.
Technology is great. I really love technology. But there is a temptation in it. We have the ability now to take the office wherever we go on this planet. Even to the Cayman Islands. Fax machines. Cell phones. Beepers. Video conferencing. The workday now is not clearly defined. We do not know where it begins and ends. It is sort of blurred. So I have got to ask you this question. Is the subject matter we are talking about today relevant? I mean do people really become obsessed with their profession? Is there such a thing as motion sickness?
Ask the question to a spouse who is constantly put on the back burner due to business ventures. Pose the question to a child who rarely sees his parents during the daylight hours or maybe stands waiting patiently with a soccer ball under one arm or maybe a pom-pom in one hand. Motion sickness is real. It is factual and it can destroy and devastate and tear apart your life and mine.
I am in a series called CORPORATE MAKEOVER, CHANGING THE WAY YOU LOOK AT WORK. And during this series I have made this statement before and I will make it again now. Listen very carefully. God, being God, could have created work as some benign and boring activity void of any productivity. But He didn’t. God gave us work as a gift from His sovereign hand and He wants us to use our unique gifts, aptitudes and abilities to get involved in our various fields of labor as we mimic His image. After all, God is a God of work and He has created us with a capacity, a yearning for work. But God, being God, knew that we would struggle with motion sickness. He knew that we would struggle with wave after wave, as we are tossed and turned by the currents of our corporate culture. That is why He talks to us about some oak tree stuff. That’s right, throughout the pages of scripture, God has given us some oak tree advice.
One day, Jesus made a statement that snapped heads and dropped jaws. Matthew 16:26. “For what will a man be profited if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Christ was asking whether it is good to spend four decades striving and straining to gain the world at the expense of losing your soul. Yet, many highly intelligent and competent men and women, exchange world gaining for soul losing. And finally, a lot of us are waking up. Finally, our corporate culture is waking up. They are seeing a linkage between our private and personal and professional lives. For example, Peter Singe of MIT writes, “You can’t build an effective company on a foundation of broken homes and strained personal relationships.” So, today, I want to spend the lion’s share of our time talking about the symptoms, the sickness and the cure of motion sickness.
Now I know a lot of you who need to hear this message are not really here. You are holed up somewhere working. Some of you might be here physically but emotionally and intellectually you are somewhere else. Pay attention. And if you know somebody who needs this message, pick up the tape later. I think it will serve them well. We are going to get God’s read on workaholism.
During my research I have come across a lot of symptoms and causes of workaholism. I want to read a couple to you. See if it fits you or someone you know. The motion sick man or woman is perfectionistic, neat, clean and orderly, very punctual, intensely competitive, disciplined. He or she craves respect and security. They are extraordinarily self-willed, unable to relax. They work long hours. They usually keep their feelings to themselves. They are frugal and persistent. They have an unusual need to be right. They despise indecisiveness in themselves. They usually struggle with marital intimacy. They are chronic worriers and have an exaggerated expectation of themselves and others.
I saw some spouse’s elbows moving. I heard some throat clearing and saw some eyebrows being raised. I saw some slow head turns. You think that I don’t see that stuff from up here, but I do. I think we need this message.
What are some symptoms, specifically, and what are some underlying causes of motion sickness? Recently, I watched a workaholic flame out within walking distance of this church. Now he is living out the rest of his life with a broken career, a broken home and a broken heart. From the outside looking in, one would miss the cause of his problem. You would think that you knew what was driving him, the tangibles, the cars, the clothes and his really cool corner office. Surely that would be it. Or maybe he just loved his work. Maybe genetically he is just wired that way. Surely that would be the reason. But it’s not. The true cause, the significant symptom that drives workaholism is something surprising. Insecurity. Workaholics, motion sick men and women, deal with insecurity and it drives and fuels all of the engines that cause them to overwork and over-strive and over-strain.
So picture a motion sick person riding wave after wave, being tossed and turned by the erratic movement of the corporate culture. Their rationale goes something like this. “Hey, I better do well. I better perform because when I perform, people will tell me that I matter and when other people tell me I matter, then I will really matter. Most motion sick people grew up in homes where love was conditional. Many grew up in homes where a mother or father departed at an early age. Many grew up in homes where one parent was an alcoholic. When many performed or did something well, the parents may have said that was good but they needed to do better. So as adults they are trying to hear the words they never heard as a child, you matter, you are good, you can do something, I love you, you are one of a kind. And sadly, workaholics pass this conception to their family, to their children.
It is kind of cruel because workaholics are usually very successful and they can give their spouse and their children a lot of stuff. How often has a spouse said, “You are never at home, always working. Can’t you spend some time with me?” The classic, typical motion sick response is, “Women would give their left arm to wear what you have on now, to live in this house, to drive in this car, to be a part of this club, to take the vacations we take. Don’t even go there with me.”
And then workaholics tend to give their children all of the gadgets and gismos and toys and stuff. Yet the children want the parent’s time. They want to know that they are more important than the next deal, the next account, the next acquisition. I have worked with junior high and high school students and I have seen them just rebel and really go nuts. More often than not, they are screaming and yelling for attention that the workaholic mom or dad is not giving them. That is exactly what happened in the life of that man within walking distance of this church.
You see motion sickness is not just a 90s problem. Go back to the book of I Samuel. God warned a man who suffered with motion sickness time and time again about his problem. God said, “Eli, you continue in this venture, you continue to act this way, your home is going to self-destruct.” And God’s promptings and God’s words fell on deaf ears. Just read the book of I Samuel and you will see what happened to Eli and his rebellious sons.
In Exodus 18, patriarch Moses suffered with wave after wave of work. His Hebrew culture was slowing carrying him out to sea. I can kind of picture Moses leaning over the side of the boat. Do you know why? Moses, like any typical workaholic, thought that he was indispensable. He thought that there was no way anyone else could do what he was doing and he tried to handle all of the Israelite business by himself. He tried to counsel here. He tried to give economic advice over here. He tried to settle a dispute over here, and a marital problem over there. Finally, you won’t believe what happened. Someone woke Moses up. Jethro, not Beaudine, but his father-in-law, stepped in and said, “Moses, come on, you can’t do it all. You are going to end up in the deep weeds. You are going to end up with severe nausea. Your vocational equilibrium is going to be out of sync and out of whack for the rest of your life. You have got to draw away. Moses, you have got to rub your back against an oak tree.” Can’t you kind of hear him saying that? The sickness and the symptoms of workaholism.
What is the cure? What works? What is the cure for this sickness? I will take the same phrase that I gave my friend, Lee Maxie. It is simply rubbing your back against an oak tree. Because as I said earlier, God has given us some oak tree type verses in His word that will encourage us and challenge us and help us get our vocational equilibrium in sync and in balance and in concert with His will. And by the way, I call this the RUB principle. R U B.
R stands for refocus. As I mentioned before, I have been off shore a lot. I have never gotten seasick but I have been off shore a lot. An old salt is someone who has done a lot of work on boats and been on the ocean for a long period of time. If you talk to an old salt, he will tell you that motion sickness is a problem of focus. It effects the inner ear and gets you all messed up. So they will tell you to focus on something that is stationery, something that is not moving, like the horizon line. Or maybe, if you can see it, land. They will tell you that if you focus on that, then everything will come into balance. That is the same problem workaholics have. They have a focus problem. They can’t focus properly. They are focused on their careers. They are focused on performance. They are focused on hearing that they matter from this group or that group. They are focused on some reward or some award. And God says, “Hey, refocus.”
There is only one thing that will change the course of a workaholic. It is knowing that you are outrageously and irrationally loved. There is only one person who can love you like that. God. God’s love can literally break this sickness. It can break this problem. Workaholics usually grew up in homes where love was conditional and they have a tendency to put these character qualities on the shoulders of God. They see God as someone who gives them love conditionally. They try to perform and perform and perform for God. “Look, God, look what I am doing God. Yet God tells us throughout the pages of scripture that He has loved us irrationally and outrageously. Isaiah 43 says, “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. You are precious in my sight. I love you.” That is what God says about you, motion sick man or woman. You have been redeemed. He knows you by name. He has called you and He loves you. When we come to that point, when we begin to refocus on that stabilizing fact about the God of the universe, suddenly things begin to fall into perspective. Refocus.
When we refocus on the love of God, here is what happens. Psalm 1:3. “He (or she) will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water.” Is that great, or what? You want to be firmly planted by streams of water? You want to grow roots that are deep? Rub your back against an oak tree. Refocus regularly.
U stands for unite. I have a test for you. You have to use the back of the seat in front of you and it will take a little work. There is a cell phone going off now. Don’t worry about that deal! Anyway. Now I want you to sound like a drummer, using the back of the seat in front of you. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap and then say “Huh.” Hey, we have a rhythm problem here. And you are supposed to say the huh, too. Do it again. Excellent. Give yourselves a hand. You finally got in rhythm and the rhythm was simply six beats and a rest, six beats and a rest, six beats and a rest. The fourth commandment says that we are to work for six days and then rest on the seventh day. We are to stop working and start worshipping. And God built this rhythm of work in your life and mine and he wants us to get in sync with the rhythm so that we can gather together with the family of God.
God has given us the church as a place where we are to unite and know and love others. It is for the public study of His word. No Christian can be exempt from the local church. Hebrews 10:25 says, “We should never forsake the gathering together of the believers in the local church.” There is nothing like the local church. It is God’s design to change the course of the entire world. And when workaholics and when motion sick men and women and all of us come together and worship God, we begin to see priorities. We begin to understand that God is first, if we are married, our spouse is second and after our spouse, our children and then our work and other things. God, being God, knew if we didn’t have this time where we stopped working and started worshipping, we would get everything out of focus and we would totally mess up. So we are to gather together for public worship.
We are also to have private worship and then we are to get together and unite with our families. I want to ask you something. How much time during the week do you need to spend to become a great spouse or a great parent? How much time? For me, I have got to be home at least four nights a week, to be an outstanding parent and an outstanding spouse. I struggle with this a lot, but that is what God has shown me. And I challenge you to build your marriage, to unite together as husband and wife. As the marriage goes, so goes the family. If I have said it once, I have said it hundreds of time. Please do whatever it takes to bond and unite regularly as a husband and a wife. Then as you work on your marriage, you begin to spend time and energy and unite with your children. You eat meals together. I don’t care if it is at home or at Sonic. And turn off the television while you are eating meals together and talk, converse. Don’t just eat and go. There is something intimate, I believe even Biblical, about sitting down and dining together. Have those meals together.
Also, parents, I want to challenge you to limit your recreational pursuits and your hobbies during the formidable child-rearing years. I will never forget what Chan Gailey, the coach of the Cowboys, said before he spoke in one of our Mother’s Day services. He said, “Ed, I love to play golf. But when my boys were younger children, I limited playing golf so I could maximize my time with them. I knew it was just for a season. And now I can play some more golf.” That was a great word to all of us, especially to those dealing with motion sickness. Priorities: God, our spouse, our children, our career.
Now it is easy to get these things inverted, isn’t it? I would be lying to you if I said that my work has never encroached on my marriage, my family or my recreation. The bottom line is that sometimes it will. But I challenge you to only allow that to happen no more than 10% of the time. Try to have your priorities right at least 90% of the time. And set your priorities prior to the event.
Let’s go to B now. B stands for break. We have got to regularly break away from work, from the office. We have got to limit the hours we work prior to going to the office. This is an issue that I have struggled with in my own life. Four or five years ago, God really helped me in this realm. I tend to be a workaholic. I tend to really deal with this stuff. For example, one of the things that I have to deal with every week is message preparation. This does not come easy for me. It takes me between 25 and 30 hours to do the research, the writing, the preparation and the presentation of the message. But I know that like a big wave, before every weekend it happens. Before about 6,000 people, I have got to come up with a message that is Biblical, challenging, maybe a little humorous, a message from God. Oftentimes I have got to be preached to first before I can preach to you.
About four or five years ago I would study and study and study. I would tweak and retweak and rethink. I was spending hours and hours, often at the expense of my family and even my health. Well, as God began to deal in my life, I began to learn that it would be important for me to limit the number of hours I study for the message because I have so many other things I have to do as pastor of this church. So now I have put a limit of about 25 to 30 hours on message preparation. I know that when I start my workweek tomorrow morning, I am going to spend about 25 to 30 hours on the message. After that I am going to walk away from it. God has challenged me to do that. I have got to help with staff issues, vision casting and other things. And I am telling you something. God has honored it. So, if I can do it, inspired by the grace and power of God, so can you. So make the break from work. Settle in advance when you are going to break.
Also take vacation breaks when they are offered. I sometimes laugh when people say that they have not had a vacation in seven years. Of course, they look it. Take vacations. Let me tell you what they do. This comes from a book called THE ART OF VACATIONING. Vacations help you refocus, help you unite and break. They bring in creativity, they bring in perspective. Be careful of taking obligation vacations. An obligation vacation is a vacation with your parents or with other relatives. It is great to take breaks with them, but that should not be your vacation. Your vacation should be with you if you are a single, or your spouse and/or children if you are married. When you take a vacation, make sure that you are as schedule free as possible. Some of you are saying, “Oh no, no schedule! Come on now.”
Let me give you some extra words as we are talking here. Also develop the art of saying no. That is so hard for some of us to do. Just say a simple no with no excuse. Someone asks you to do something – no. Someone asks you to speak here – no. Someone asks you to go here – no. You are saying no because of a bigger value behind the no, a bigger yes. Maybe time with your spouse. Maybe time with your children. Maybe time serving in the church.
If anyone had the temptation to become a workaholic, to be motion sick, it would be Christ. Think about it. He wasn’t. He lived in perfect balance. He was always in sync with His work, His values and His purpose. Yet you will see that after Christ did some intensive ministry work, He would always take breaks, wouldn’t He? He would take long walks. He might build a fire and make breakfast. He would go fishing with His friends. After working, after being emotionally, physically and spiritually drained, He would break and walk away. Great words. Wonderful words. Relevant words to your life and mine.
So how about it? Are you being tossed and turned by those erratic movements that cause motion sickness. Rub your back against an oak tree. Rub your back against an oak tree, the tree called the cross.