Do you ever feel like you are just going through the motions?

II Chronicles 25:2  “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart.”

Amaziah, King of Judah, son of Joash.  Amaziah began his reign in II Chronicles 25. Verse 1 tells us who he is and who his mother was, then verse 2,  “He did what was right…, but not with his whole heart.”

Do you ever feel like you are just going through the motions?  Does ministry ever just feel like hard work?  Are you saying the right words while asking God to make them real?

I may be a Professional Pastor or a Vocational Minister of Christ.  I may be a Church leader or a passionate follower of Christ in leadership.  These titles are not mutually exclusive of each other.  I can hold the “position” and have the passion, but too often I may wear down and just do a job.  I get lost in the “work” of ministry and move forward in my giftedness, my intellect, and my skill.  I begin to do ministry for God.

Paul addressed this in II Corinthians 1:12.  The middle of the verse reads “we behave in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom, but by the grace of God…” (ESV)

Not by earthly wisdom…
Is this a vote for ignorance and spurning training?  No, I do not think so.  Paul was eminently trained.  He had scriptural and historical training.  He was a trained speaker and debater.  Paul, prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus, was one of the bright and shining stars of the Pharisees.  He was seen as a new generation of leaders.  I believe this is about being my best in preparation and training, then understanding that the Spirit is strongest in my weakness.

Salvation by grace is because man can never be “good enough” to deserve God’s love and acceptance.  Saved by grace means I stop trying to be good enough and accept forgiveness, accept grace.  Then with the indwelling power of the Spirit of God I begin to move into Christlikeness being sanctified and transformed because the Spirit is in me.

Ministry usually begins here.  We begin reaching out in leadership out of our weakness and failure, feeling totally incompetent and unworthy to speak.  But, over time, we are complemented by those around us, praised by those who are impacted by God through us and we begin to work for God.  We get exhausted and we fall back on our giftedness and lean less on the work of the Spirit in our lives and more on our earthly wisdom.  We turn to our earthly skill, intellect, and giftedness and away from the grace of God and the work of His Spirit in our lives.

We can see this picture historically in the kings of Israel and Judah.  Kings who followed after God, experienced victory in battle, then became impressed with their leadership and started looking to other gods, failing to follow the precepts and laws of God.  Then God caused them to fail.  In the modern New Testament Church we know of pastors who experience the movement of the Holy Spirit in their ministry, God blessed the ministry, then they become impressed with their earthly wisdom and ministry for God.  Their skill, intellect, and giftedness become the focus of the ministry, then they fall, usually in public sin.

“He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart.”
II Chronicles 25:2

Where is your whole heart?  Who is doing the work?  Are you in His service or serving for Him?  (Who is doing the acting?  You or God?)

The Cycles of Mood

Moods spiral up and down as our world loads on additional impacting factors.  Yet, we have the power to control each aspect.  My moods are mine.  I can impact and to a large degree control them.  They are not the master that I so often serve.  They are the servant that needs to be directed and controlled.


As I work with adolescents and adults, I have become more and more aware of the cycles or spirals of our attitudes and moods.  There are several identifiable load-on points of this cycle.  Each carries uplifting and downward pulling pressures.  How we allow them to load and how we adjust to them once loaded makes all the difference in our moods and attitudes.

Do not misunderstand, I do not believe that all moods are totally controllable, I do believe that life hits us with pressures that require external assistance to overcome.  Whether these are in the form of formal counseling, medication or intentional life activities, we may need additional support in some circumstances.  But, I do believe that too often we allow ourselves to become the “whipping boy” of our moods.  We feel like we have no control and must live through these life experiences.

So, what are our loading points? I have identified 4, this is anecdotal  not research based, they are:

1.  Physical
2.  Spiritual/Attitude
3.  Environment
4.  Social/Relational

1.  Physical – We are familiar with this.  This is not just our hormones or neurotransmitters,  it is also our weight, exercise patterns, sleep, diet and general wellness.  Researchers have proven that when we go for a walk, active and of substance in distance, that the dopamine and serotonin levels in our brains are raised.  I feel better after aerobic exercise.  My mood/attitude are impacted by the physical activity.  Regular exercise will change my outlook on life.  I am not talking about bodybuilding or even strenuous exercise.  I am suggesting that a good, brisk walk, several times a week, will change how you think.  (This is proven, not just my idea.)  As we follow regular predictable patterns our brains adjust and restructures their chemical set point to a higher mood.

2.  Spiritual / Attitude – One of my pet peeves is the statement, “that is just who I am.”  I usually hear this from individuals in therapy who are using their moods to control those around them.  The loss of negative mood is too risky relationally, they do not want to risk being more positive and uplifting.  Our happiness quotient is somewhat set, some research suggests that as much as 60% of our happiness is determined by biology and early brain development.  That leaves us with a 40% area of change. (The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky, 2007) I can resign myself to the power of the cycle or I can choose to define the 40% of the cycle and control its movement.

This area of attitude impacts us spiritually as well.  King David, in many of his Psalms, begins with a rant of frustration and personal pain, but…  He consistently finished his Psalms with praise and adoration of God.  Acknowledging where we are and what we feel is good, but wallowing in that place is bad.  The decision to move forward begins with acknowledging where I am and then deciding to move forward.  This begins with movement, frequently, that means get up and move physically.  Walk and talk, work it out with physical movement.  We think differently when our body is busy with activity, we can be more creative and retrospective with physical movement.  It may mean a change in environment or a change in social settings.

3.  Environment – If you are in a dark place, literally, no sunlight, then a change in mood is difficult.  Depression increases during the durry days of winter.  It is not necessarily the cold or snow.  It is the lack of sun.  Our bodies need sun.  Vitamin D comes through our skin and impacts our brain chemistry.  But, it is more than just sun.  We need to see and hear our environment.  And there is not one “perfect” environment.  It depends on our personality and temperament.  I happen to be an introvert.  I need time alone.  For an extrovert, that time alone is torture.  I like quiet, others like noise.  I like warmth, others prefer to be cool.  Each of these are not right or wrong, they are just different.  But, acknowledging their power in my attitude and mood allows me control over them.  I can adapt my environment to improve my mood and attitude.  This may require a change in my office space, it may require sound canceling earphones or earphones connected to my digital music player.  Being aware of the environmental preferences of my closest friends and family members is critical as well.  There may need to be some discussion on how to spend time together when there is a difference in prefered environment.

4.  Social – Know how your friends affect you.  Their effect on you should be something you can identify and discuss.  Different friends and different environments fit together.  In his book Vital Friends (2006) Tom Rath defines 8 types of friendships “you can’t afford to live without”.  In his work, he points out that we each need different relationships at different times and in different settings in our lives.  Knowing who we need around us and what we need from them is a major piece of this puzzle.  There are people I may need to avoid, they may be too critical or too controlling to benefit me in times of change or adjustment.  In fairness, this needs to be a discussion with that person.  They may not realize how they are coming across.

The point is that we can impact how we feel by controlling the 4 loading points in the cycle. As we learn to create gates in each of these areas  we can load in a controlled fashion.  We can impact our attitudes and moods by choosing who we are around, what activities we engage in and how we eat and exercise.  My mood is my choice to a large degree.  Even in difficult circumstances, I can choose how to react.  I can choose how to respond and how to allow others to impact me.

Knowledge of that power alone should be a boost to our mood!

Task 3: Who controls my direction and speed?

Task 3: Who controls my direction and speed?

Direction and speed, two critical factors for success.  They are related but not the same.  Let me explain.

I had a friend who would say, “It is easier to turn around a moving aircraft carrier than to start one moving in the right direction from a standstill.”  That may not seem reasonable, but getting a ship that size moving is not that easy, but if it is moving and has momentum, then turning around only takes space.

Here is my point, too often we sit still and wait for direction, rather than moving forward.  Sometimes, we pray, “God tell me where to go and what to do.”  When God is waiting for us to get up and start moving.  Scripture gives pretty clear guideline about how to live our lives.  Start there.  I highly encourage you to begin moving.  Where?  Well, I would argue it really does not matter, within reason.  As you move, you will get clarity on where you are going, you will be able to make changes and to make major or minor adjustments.  I have learned that in my life that I come to decisions that changed my life only after I moved to a new vantage point.  I could not see the decision or options when I first started.

Gordon MacKenzie wrote a book called Orbiting the Giant Hairball (Viking, 1998).  In the book he tells a story of seeking excitement and thrill.  He talks about taking up skydiving.  As he takes a number of jumps, he realizes that he is getting board.  So on one jump he decides to release the constraints of the parachute and fall freely.  (No, he did not really do that.) Obviously, that is not a good plan.  There is a balance between sitting in a closet safely and protected, MacKenzie calls this vegetating, and jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, MacKenzie calls that suicide.  Two extremes.  The task is to find our comfort and growth zones and maintain our lives within those zones.

Dr. William Glasser uses the analogy of three concentric circles.

The inner most circle is our comfort zone, this is where we are at ease, no growth or challenge, just maintaining status quo.

The middle concentric circle is our growth zone, this is where we are pushing ourselves and trying new things.  We fail with limits and protection in our growth zone. We can easily move back to our comfort zone for safety and healing.  We can make mistakes in the growth zone, but they do not kill us, we don’t lose our job or family.  It may hurt, but it is recoverable.

The last circle, outer most, is our crisis zone.  This is where we have no control, our life is full speed ahead with minimal steering, without breaks, no buffer, and no safety or parachute. We may survive short times in our crisis zone, but it is dangerous and uncontrolled.

The real conversation here is learning to live on the edge of comfort and move in and out of our growth zone.  Dr. Glasser’s theory says that as I encroach on the edge of my growth zone, my comfort zone grows.  As my comfort zone grows, then my growth zone grows and reaches further out, and as you might imagine, the crisis zone moves further as well.  People who do great things have enlarged their comfort zone and their growth zone.  You look at them and say, I could never do that, but in reality, you could, you just need to enlarge your comfort zone.

This is done in small increments, with multiple small steps into the growth zone.  I used an analogy with a client the other day.  I learned to drive a car with an automatic transmission.  I was spending a summer in Michigan, doing summer missionary work, and my host threw me the keys to his Datsun 280 Z (It was a sports car) and told me to go get some milk.  I went out to the car, realized it was a manual transmission, a sensitive manual transmission.   I returned to the house and told my host that I did not know how to drive a manual transmission.  His response, in a manner of fact tone, “Well, it is high time you learn.  Go get the milk.  We are waiting on you.”  I returned to the car, drove the mile to the store and bought the milk.  The round trip of about two mile took almost 45 minutes.  I was on the edge of my growth zone, near my crisis zone.  I was safe, protected and pushed.  I now drive a manual transmission without thinking.  Over time, I got to where it was second nature, it takes no thought. That Datsun 280 Z is now in my comfort zone.

Let’s go back to the title of this section.  Who controls my direction and speed?  The obvious answer is of course, you.  But, it is not about direction or speed.  The real growth comes with trying things new and learning as I go.  Each piece of new information and experience grows my comfort zone, as this happens I will begin to notice a general direction that I am moving.  I will make mistakes, I will make wrong turns.

My Bachelor’s degree is in Speech Pathology and Hearing.  I have never held a job doing either of those things.  But, in the process of learning about Speech Pathology and Hearing Disorders, I learned about special education, then behavior management, then counseling.  Do I regret Speech and Hearing?  No, it was a part of my path.  It grew me so I could see the next step and then the next, etc.

When does this process end?  I would argue at death!  As I approach retirement I have become aware of those individuals who are retreating to their closets.  Not me!  I am already looking for the next area of growth!  So, where are you going to grow your comfort zone next?




TASK 2: Who am I becoming? What is pulling me forward?

TASK 2: Who am I becoming?  What is pulling me forward?

Now we move forward. Look to the future. In your wildest dreams, what do you want? What will your labels be? Are you dreaming of being a world famous athlete? Do you have a dream job? What about a desired location to settle down? What is your income expectation?

When talking about the future we are caught in a tension with the past. We are wanting to move forward to the picture of our future, our dreams and our wants at the same point in time we are being pulled backed by our history and experience. Imagine or act out the following scenario.

Picture two posts on a board about a foot apart. One that represents your labels, your past experiences, your successes and failures. This is what holds you in place. Place a rubber band around the post and your finger.  You can move around the post, but it will only allow so much advanced movement before pulling you back.  Even if you pull and hold, you will eventually tire and it will pull you back. As you try to pull away, to change but you are trapped by your past, you are being pulled back.

The second post is your future. The stability of the second post is based on the clarity of your vision of your future.  A vague future has little or no pull. It cannot over power the past. To move forward there must be a pull that is greater than the past. This is why change is easier in the younger part of life. But, change is always possible; it just requires a strong enough pull.  To truly make this analogy work, the second post must constantly be moving out in front of you.  You are always striving for the next goal.  (Overdone, this becomes as dangerous as the first scenario of being pulled and held by your past.)  There is a concept of good enough, but that will come later.

So, how do you create a future that is strong enough to pull you away from the gravity of your past? What is required? Let’s go…

First, we are visual thinkers, even when we are dealing with non-visual issues. As you plan for the future, you should have a clear goal. The clearer the better so how do you create a clear goal for your future?

First, information is critical; planning on poor information is a disaster in the making. Think about where you are going. What do you want? What is your dream? Begin in your early memories; what were your early enduring dreams, what dreams did you let go of due to neigh sayers who told you that it was unrealistic or that you could not accomplish it.

Let me give you a little auto biography, I was a child with severe allergies and asthma. I did poorly in school. My parents kept my report cards as proof.  I actually had a teacher write on the comments, “I have never seen a lazier child.”  In my defense, looking back, I was high on prescribed medications.  The prescribed medications were trying to keep me breathing.  (Did I say that I had severe allergies and asthma?)  I struggled to just stay awake.

As I progressed in school, my allergies improved and I became more alert.  But, I was socially and educationally behind.  Knowing what I know now as an educator, I needed more support than was available in my small private overseas school.  I was promoted due to expectations and social pressure.  Fast forward to college.  My first semester I received a 1.1 GPA.  I passed PE with a C.  I attended all of my classes, did not have a girlfriend, did not do drugs or drink alcohol.  I just did not have a clue on how to study.  My past said that I was educationally low functioning.  Fast forward again, I am the proud possessor of 2 master degrees and a Ph. D.  (Yes, I earned all three.)  When the future became clear and my desire was “visible” I found ways to release my past and move forward.

What is your future pulling you toward?  Too often we say we have dreams when in reality we have future preferences.  If it worked out, then that would be great…  That is not a dream, it will not pull you forward.  If you do not have a dream, then any destination will do.  That thought should scare you.  That is how you get into situations that are unfulfilling.

What is your dream?  Make it clear!  What does it look like?  What is the path?  Have others accomplished it?  How?  If no one has accomplished this dream, then who has tried and what kept them from success?  How can you avoid that?

The key idea here is to create a dream that is visible to you.  Something you can see, if only in your mind, if only in your thoughts.  Research it, find out details about it, and make it more than an idea.  Be careful who you tell, the neigh sayers will steal your steam and quash your fire.  Put it on paper, write down what you learn, as you do you will begin to create a map.  Opportunities will appear, you would have missed them before you began the process.  Start taking calculated small risks.  Do not quit your job and join the circus, unless you have a contract and can meet all of your current commitments…  Part of this process is evaluating what is currently holding you in place.  Can you delegate or release these responsibilities?  If you are married and or have a family, then they have to be part of the conversation.  Making others comfortable with your choices requires that you “flesh out” your dream.  Your research must meet the scrutiny of those close to you.  If they find a hole in your dream, then work to fill it with options and solutions.

This task is about the creation of maps and paths for future movement.  Get excited, but do not jump without a parachute and a safe landing zone.  That will come later.

So, with the answers from above, write out a plan!  What are potential issues that will derail you?  How will you deal with these?  Draw it out.  Put it on paper.


New Blog page for Dr. Rolla

Welcome to my new Musing and Thoughts page.  This transition coincides with an opportunity.  I currently have availability for 2 or 3 new coaching clients.  This is for evening hours only.  If you are interested or know someone who might be, please contact me.

I focus in coaching individuals through transitions in life, individual, personal and career.  Contact me if you have any questions.

Task 1 – Who am I?

Who am I?  This is the question of the ages.  It is not limited to they young.  This is actually a question that reappears repeatedly through life.  Who am I today?  How do my friends and family see me?  When I look in the mirror what do I see?  What am I looking for?  Who is looking back at me?

This is a hard question and it really has several answers.  We all have multiple labels that we wear and some that we protect and some that bring us shame.  Some are positive and lift us up and move us forward; others are negative and pull us down or hold us back. One of the “Who am I?” answers is an eternal one.  Who I am in Christ? Is a more significant question, but not the one I am discussing today.

Let me begin by introducing myself and demonstrating my point.

I am a son, the only son of my parents.  I am the third born of four.  So I have three sisters, which means that I am a brother.  Whether I am a good brother or a poor brother, I am sure, depends on the day and which sister you are talking to.   To my parents and my sisters, I carry different labels.  Each label has responsibilities in the eyes of the person giving the label.  For my parents, I carry on the family name.  I hold a position of honor, not because of who I am, but because of my gender and the fact that I am the only boy of a father who was an only child.

I am married and have three children.  That makes me a husband and father.   My wife and children hold expectations of me.  They expect me to be there for them when they are in need, when they celebrate, when they need consolation.  Whether I do these things or not does not change the expectation of the labeler.

So far, these are statements without judgments.  They are just true.  I will always be all of these.  Even if there are deaths of siblings or my wife or children, these are still true statements.  I chose some of theses, my wife and the decision to have children with my wife.  Others were not my choice.  My parents chose to have four children; God chose the gender of each and the birth order.  I cannot change that even if I complain repeatedly.

There are other labels, I am somewhat of a bookworm and I am not an athlete.  My oldest son wishes that I would not discuss sports, my knowledge is limited and he rarely agrees with me.  I have studied and received several degrees; these are labels that I have sought after.  I am not mechanically inclined.  My mechanic charges me extra if I open the hood to my car.  (Just kidding, but he does ask if I tried to fix it before bringing it to him.) So, I have a negative label of being bad with mechanical things.

I get loud and share my opinion with the referee at sporting events that my sons are in.  That gives me another label, one I am not always proud of.  I am an introvert by nature, meaning that being around people in groups emotionally drains me.  I teach at a University.  I love teaching, but after being in front of a class of 30 students for a couple of hours, I want to be alone for a little while.  Sometimes people see me as arrogant and standoffish when I am just not good at being a group member.

You get the picture.  Each of us by what our life has given us and by our choices collects labels.  Some of them we cannot change.  Others are totally under our control.  We have to learn which are which and how to make our choices about our labels that define us.  When we ask, “Who am I?” we are asking about our labels, who has defined us, how do we define ourselves and what does that really mean.

In our first zone, we will be defining and setting parameters on who we are.  We each have boundaries on our being.  This is where I stop and another person begins.  This is true physically; my skin sets these limits.  But it is also true emotionally and in our choices.

So, lets get started.  When you go grocery shopping, the prepared food you buy has two labels.  First is what you see on the front of the can.  It is a picture of the contents; the way the grocer wants you to see it.  There may be a picture of green beans, the color is just right, the cut of the bean makes it look moist and if you like them, your brain remembers the taste.  But, there is another label.  It is on the back and in small print.  It indicates all of the ingredients that are in the can of green beans.  For example, I just got a can of green beans from our pantry.   On the back label it tells me that this can has 3.5 ½ cup servings.  Each serving has 20 calories.  I know how much saturated fat, trans fat, polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat is in the can.  I know the cholesterol content, sodium content, potassium content and the sugar and fiber.  I know the vitamin content as well.

If you were my can of beans, what would your label read?  What is on the front, what labels do you want people to see, what labels are seen only by those who take the time to get to know you?  What labels do you hide away hoping that no one takes the time to find them?

Take a minute and on the can example that is provided; draw your label.  Put the information that you want people to know.  What relationships are obvious that you are willing to share?  What have you done to create a label, athletics, scholarship, social achievements, and religious achievements?  What skill do you have, are you an artist or musician?  What groups do you associate with; does your group have a label and thus label you?  In my association with high school students, I know that some dress to associate with a particular group.  Does your attire label you?

Take this seriously; it is the beginning of a process that we will build on throughout this blog.  If you like, draw the exercise or print it, but do the exercise.  I am one of those readers who want to read the book first and then come back to the exercises.  After years of this process, I can “proudly” proclaim that I cannot remember a book where I actually went back and did the exercises.  Let me encourage you.  STOP!  Do the exercise now.

What are the labels that are just true?

What labels are placed on you?

What labels have you chosen for yourself?

What labels do you hide?

What labels do you seek?

Use different colors or types of marker to separate these different labels.


25 Tasks of life…

As I begin this task, I begin with two thoughts.  First, I am not a researcher.  I write from my reading and experience, as much as possible, I will refer to the original source (that is when I know what it was).  Second, although these tasks are focused on adolescents and young adults, this material is applicable to all of us.

It is said that Benjamin Franklin work on 2 virtues at a time, rotating among the 13 virtues that he believed were valuable and critical to life.  He is said to have commented that he never met all the virtues at the same time; rather he met them on a rotating basis.  As a therapist and participant in adult society, I think this is probably true for most of us relating to the 25 tasks that will be introduced in the following posts.

My goal in writing is to share what I have learned in my dealings with parents and students.  I frequently refer to the under 25 crowd as “gooey on the inside”.  Brain development tells us that the brain is probably not fully functioning until the age of 25, behaviorally this may be closer to 30 and for some never.  The material is not intended as an indictment on anyone, rather a challenge to pick up the control of your own life and begin living fully as an adult.

This is a shared journey; I do not claim to have all the answers.  I do have, through experience and study, a lot of the information.  But, unapplied information is only noise in life; it is of little value.  So reading the posts and putting them away is a waste of time and effort.  My recommendation is that you take the time to work through the exercises and example plans to move yourself in the direction of maturity.


New Year’s Resolutions

I have never been a fan of new year’s resolutions.  I find that I can’t remember what I resolved to do once the new year starts.  So…  It is kind of useless to do that.  But, I have recently seen a different approach.  It is the choice of three words to govern your new year.  Here is the process.

First, I suggest a review of the previous year.  What were areas of consistent concern or issue?  Where did you find yourself struggling?  What area of your life experienced the most disappointment or attention due to discomfort or lack of success.  (I really do not like the word “failure”, really all circumstances assist in growth and learning if we will let them.  But, that discussion is for another time.)

Review those times, do you see a pattern?  Is there a consistent trait or habit that seems to lead you to repeat what has happened?  Is there a word, literally one word, that can encompass that for you?  That is the word.  Limit yourself to 3 words, 3 areas of your life.  They, those who study these things, say that more than three words places too much on your focus ability.

Second, write out the three words with their meanings.  Not the dictionary definition, but the meaning to you.  What do you mean by the word?  What does it convey to you?  No one else has to understand this, only you.

Now, as you calendar the year, plan the month, task the week, keep these words in your mind, on the page, obvious and undeniable.  What is in your planning that does not move you toward these words?  Why is it there?

I happen to work for a large organization, they expect me to be places and attend meetings that do not move me toward my words.  But, I can limit those as much as possible.  I can work to accomplish their goals and objectives while focusing on my three words.  Sometimes, this process really forces me to evaluate my work and my attitude toward my employer.  It also empowers me to use my best to meet my words, while in their employment.  If I have done this correctly, and I am in a work environment that is in line with my ethical, skill and passion set,  then the two should come together and synergize each other.  They should each grow stronger by their interaction with each other.

Why this is here

As I study, learn and grow, I find that I want to share.  So, here is my sharing spot.  It is an opportunity for me, Dr. Rolla Bradley Jr., to write and share.  It is available to those who want to view and read.  It is easy to ignore to those who do not.  I do not limit myself by topic.  So there will be a wide range of topics related to the general areas of my interest.  These include but are not limited to:

My faith

The About Dr. Rolla Bradley Jr. provides some background on me.  It is there only if you want to know.