When the Well Runs Dry – Quieting the Mind

train tracks

Like a cars driving in summer heat with old, scarce oil in our engines, many of us continue to trudge on through times of spiritual and emotional lean. We do it because we have to—or because it makes us feel strong to do so. What we often fail to realize is the longer this goes on, the weaker and less efficient we become. This makes our work less fruitful, bringing the need to work harder to achieve the same results. The well begins to dry up.

“The well,” is a way we can talk about our soul, psyche, and “sweet spot” of mind and spirit. The well is where our joy, ideas, depth, and so much more come from. When the well runs dry, it can feel as though life itself is running dry. For a pastor, ministry becomes drudgery, vision dries up, irritability grows, and even things that usually bring a sense of personal fulfillment no longer do so. It’s not where we want to be.

In the first two posts of this series (Click here for the first post, Click here to for the second), we talked about how important it is to pay attention to the well and began to prepare ourselves for refreshing. One of biggest obstructions to our finding spiritual renewal in time the well runs dry is a chaotic mind–when we store stuff in our heads rather than in a trusted system–thus allowing our minds to be polluted by tasks on a constant basis. This is not good. Our minds will hold anything we are afraid we will forget or want to worry about. The only solution I’ve found is a really good system.

It can’t simply be a system–it must work.

All the time. When you’re exhausted. When you’re sick. Time and task management guru David Allen says, “Your system has to be better than your mind for your mind to let go.” Some pastors lack a credible organizational system, so, their mind is full of tasks and “oughtas.” Get that stuff out of there and into a system that works even when you are sick and tired.

Here is a process I hope will be helpful to you:

GATHER THE TOOLS

I have four tools I live on: 1) a writing tablet of paper and a nice pen near me at all times–for capturing stuff; 2) Evernote–for storing and organizing notes, 3) Nozbe–for task management, and 4) A smart phone I enjoy using so I don’t dread picking it up–the OnePlus One. Here is the key: I don’t allow any of these to speak to me unless they are spoken to. That is, all notifications are turned off at all times, except text messages on my phone–which I usually keep out of sight, or face down–with the sound off.

The tools we use will use us if we let them. Don’t let it happen. Turn it all off–so you can engage them as you see fit. Saying this doesn’t mean I don’t check them regularly. I just choose when that happens. Unless you are brain surgeon, you’re not needed that urgently. How often do I check them? Once an hour or so. I also keep my email inboxes separated so I don’t have to look at all of my email unless I really want to. I could go on and on here, but the point is–gather the tools and set them to serve you rather than you serving them.

DRAIN THE WELL

This past week, a friend preached at New Vintage Church–and I used that time to get on top of things…rather than prepare the sermons for 2 weeks from now or go on vacation. I did it because the well wasn’t dry, but it was polluted with task traffic that was taking my mind and life into chaos. So, I drained the well.

First, I opened an entirely new task management system–with no to-dos in it. I gave myself a blank canvas to start. Second I gave a quick scan to identify any urgent or actionable items, and then archived ALL email. Inboxes are now all at zero. I got a fresh new pad of paper and a new pen. Then, I dumped my mind out on the paper. Anything. Everything that was occupying any real estate in my mind.

People on my heart…Sermon ideas…Things I’d like to try…The golf I wanted to play…The membership I’d been wanting to cancel… The bill I forgot to pay…The desire to spend some quality time with one of our kids. Yep, it was all up there in my head but it wasn’t written down anywhere–and definitely not in a system I trusted. It was in my head. On and on I went for several pages.

I usually don’t let it get that bad. But, it was clear my mind was polluted with tasks I hadn’t put into a trusted system. So, I put it into the fresh Nozbe account I had started. Then, I took all the information from the old one and transferred it over.

Already I felt like a new man. It wasn’t that I had done any of the tasks. It was that I now had command of them.

CHECK WATER LEVELS REGULARLY

It’s important that we check water levels regularly. Drought is best addressed early, not when all nourishment has dried up. I try to engage in the following:

A Weekly Review. If there was only one practice I could emphasize to you, it would be this one.

I begin with a brain dump–the same process I mentioned above. Then, I address all inboxes. Mail, phone calls, email, texts, task lists in Nozbe and Evernote. I don’t need to complete these tasks I just need to know they are in the system dependably and I have dealt with anything time sensitive or urgent.

I usually do this on Thursday afternoon around 2pm. It is written into my schedule every week at that time. My goal is simple: get on top of my life. It is the single best practice I know of for preventing  a chaotic mind. I know that without fail, I will deal with EVERYTHING once a week. This practice allows me to trust my system. I do it on Thursday, before the weekend. If I fail to do it, my time off is ruined…and I begin to drain all the aquifers at the same time.

Monthly “Horizon” checks. I take half a day once a month to reflect on “how I’m doing” on the various horizons of your life–spiritual, family, vocational, recreational, emotional, etc. Then, I add anything I’d like to do into my trusted system. The idea is fleshed out more in David Allen’s book, Making it All Work. I highly recommend it.

Annual personal retreat. This post is an oldie but goodie, and can walk you through how I structure mine.

Having dealt with our sin, cleared our lives of as many negative inputs as possible, and cleared our minds of all the tasks, worries, visions, etc., we can prepare to…

LET IT FLOW (coming in the next post)

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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