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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Decluttering Christmas

If ever there were two words that didn't go together, they are "decluttering" and "Christmas".  However, this year I decided to stay true to my belief that a decluttered life is a good one and thought of ways to avoid adding to the clutter of loved ones.

To this end, I employed two strategies:

  1. Asking people what they want - in the past I have always tried to surprise people with the "perfect" gift, but this only works if you are a mind reader.  For my nephews and niece, I asked my sister what they want (the answer - vouchers because they like to put them together with money saved to buy things).  For my husband, I told him what I want ("Earth" by John Stewart) and asked him what he wanted (lessons of some sort, eg cooking, singing or guitar lessons).

    If you want to add the element of surprise, you could ask people to give you a wish list, so while they know they are getting something from the list, they don't know which one.

  2. Buying non-decluttering presents - when we think "gifts" we usually think "things", eg CDs, DVDs, jewellery, books.  But when you ask yourself the question "how do I have a non-clutter Christmas?", you realise there is a whole host of gifts out there that do not take up space, eg tickets to a play or movie, voucher for a massage (Colleen over at 365lessthings has put together a fantastic list).  I decided to put together hampers of yummy stuff.  While there seem to be a lot of shops selling hampers this year and for quite reasonable prices, the thing that put me off them was the basket.  It seems no matter how exotic the contents, suppliers can't get away from sticking everything in a wicker basket and when all the chocolates have been eaten and the wine drunk, you're still left with a wicker basket, aka instant clutter.

    I bought Christmas present boxes from The Reject Shop ($3 each - how do they do it?) because I thought, if you want to store things in them they stack neatly in the cupboard, they are hardy enough to recycle next year to "wrap" presents for someone else, or, if all else fails, they can be put out in the paper recycling. 

    Making your own hampers also means you can tailor the contents for the person you like.  With the pre-packaged ones there is always going to be something in them that gets thrown away (for me, its the fruit mince tarts - seriously, I just do not understand the purpose of those things).  All the contents I bought at Target, in their Christmas section - fudge, chocolates, shortbread biscuits.  Then in the queue at the registers I grabbed a few "stocking stuffers" for the nephews and niece so they had a little something to play with along with their vouchers.
These strategies worked very nicely, if I do say so myself.  Having left my Christmas shopping to the last weekend before Christmas, I was dreading hitting the shops.  But as it turns out, the interval between heading out the door to heading back in it was less than three hours - and that included one hour of travel.  I think the true beauty of hampers is that, as adults you go out and buy what you want, but you will hold off buying little treats for yourself because they put on weight.  Hence, its far easier to find a bunch of little treats for a few dollars each that people will like and be a novelty for them, than it is to try and guess what one big thing they would really enjoy.

I will see what reaction I get to the hampers, but I think I'll be sticking with these two strategies for years to come.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Quick update

A quick update to check in and compare where things are now to where I started.

Here's what my daughter's room looks like today:

Here's what it looked like when I started decluttering:

I think there's been some improvement there.  Here's another set of "after and before's" from a different angle:

When I took the photos earlier today, I was feeling quite annoyed about how much work was still to be done.  But what I notice now, is that while the room today requires a bit of a tidy up, there is not a lot of decluttering work left to do, and what is left to do (eg remove the bookcase on the right, clear the shelves of the remaining bookcase for toys) is straight forward and does not require a lot of "what am I going to do with this?" type thinking.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A moment to spare

Just in case you were under the impression that I had cluttered up only one room of my apartment (perhaps in some sort of Picture of Dorian Gray fashion), let me disabuse you of the notion by showing you a picture of the area beside my bed.

This has been how my beside has look for ... oh ... lets just say 30 years.  Being in decluttering mode, I stopped and looked at this one day (and took this picture) and pondered for a moment what this was telling me about myself.  I noted that half of the books there were ones I had borrowed from the library just because they had caught my eye and when I got them home, I read about ten pages and decided they weren't worth reading.  [Note to self - read those ten pages in the library and you won't have to carry the books home and back to the library again.]  I also noted that the one book I was really interested in (The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron) had been neglected in favour of the books I should have left in the library. It made me realise that not only do I indiscriminately fill my space with things that I don't really want and that I certainly don't need, I do the same thing to my mind.

This realisation was further reinforced when I tried to re-borrow The Places That Scare You to have time to finish reading it, only to have my request rejected because somebody else had reserved it.  I decided then to stop acting like a kid in a lolly shop at the library and to try to read only a couple of books, and preferably one, at a time. (Much to the joy of my husband who has been telling me to do this for years.) 

Today I was reminded of a guy I read about early on in my decluttering travels.  He was the ultimate couch potato, but decided to declutter his house.  After starting small, he eventually got the whole place sorted with the final item to go being his TV, because he didn't watch it anymore.  

At the time I read this I just couldn't imagine life without television.  I was spending three to four hours a day watching TV and couldn't see how I could reduce that down.  In our home, we have a PS3 with PlayTV and are in the habit of "taping" whatever catches our fancy in the TV guide.  As a result, the PS3 regularly fills up and we try to watch the shows to empty space so we can tape more shows.

But something strange has happened in the last couple of weeks.  First, the PS3 filled up again. At first I thought nothing of it, but by this Friday just past, we had recovered half the disk space (has never happened before) and I found myself clicking through the remaining shows and thinking "no, don't think I'll bother" for each and every one.  I actually found myself staring at the TV with nothing to watch.  I can't remember this happening since we got our first hard-disk recorder about four years ago.

Then today, my husband asked me about three times what I wanted to watch on TV and each time I said something along the lines of - "I want to get X done first".  As a result, I realised that there has been a shift.  I no longer tape things just for the sake of it, I usually only tape things I know I want to watch and if, occasionally I tape something just because, say, the title caught my attention, rather than watch the whole thing, I will watch if for a few minutes and delete it if it doesn't really interesting me.  Hence, for the first time in years, I found myself with nothing to watch (if only for a few hours).
So what has caused this shift?  My theory is that decluttering gets you into the habit of evaluating.  Evaluating what? Evaluating everything!

Decluttering is almost pure evaluation (and a little bit of moving things around).  You evaluate every item you come across to determine whether to keep it, give it to someone you know, give it to charity, try to sell it on eBay or to simply toss it in the trash/recycling (note, as time goes by the validity of that last option becomes increasingly apparent).

Decluttering gives you a true appreciation on how much you have and the realisation that its far too much. You realise that the easiest way to deal with things is to not buy them in the first place, so you stop shopping.  But the evaluation habit spreads, to books, to TV, to all the other things you are in the habit of doing, until one day, you find yourself for the first time in a long time, with a spare moment, an actual real spare moment in which you don't feel any pressure to do anything - and its wonderful!

Sunday, September 5, 2010


On the 4th July holiday weekend in 1991, Warren Buffett met Bill Gates.  The story of their introduction as written in The Snowball is a great read so I won't ruin it for you here, but I will repeat a comment that Warren Buffett made about it:

"Then at dinner, Bill Gates Sr. posed the question to the table: What factor did people feel was the most important in getting to where they'd gotten in life? And I said 'Focus.' And Bill said the same thing."

About 10 years ago, I first came across the notion that genius is not an accident of birth, but 10,000 hours of work. Aparently, this was proven in a scientific study in 2008 and written about in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  

Last year I read Anthony Robbins' book Awaken the Giant Within.  It includes a process for working out which goals to focus (there's that word again) on.  In the last step of the process, you write down what you are going to do each day for the next 10 days to work towards your goals.

At the time, I was pregnant and suffering with morning sickness.  By which I mean, I suffered food poisoning for nine months except it wasn't food poisoning, it just felt like it.  The upshot of this being that I was not feeling particularly motivated, so I decided I would do the absolute bare minimum for each of the 10 days.  For example, if I had to spend one minute looking up something on a website, that would be it for the day.  As a result of doing the absolute bare minium for those 10 days, I got more achieved in those 10 days that for the entire rest of the year.

Following the quote about focus by Warren Buffett, the author of The Snowball, Alice Schroeder, waxes lyrical about Warren Buffett's ability to focus like its a form of magic.  But I think she is wrong.  I think its a very straight forward thing, the more time you spend developing your skills the better your skills will be.  I think we all like to over-complicate things and assume successful people are inately better than us - but really, its just that they got off their arse.

In my last post, I wrote about the success I have had using the feng shui silver box.  You could not be blamed for thinking that the silver box is a form of magic, but again I don't think it is.  I think it is a ritual for developing your focus.  First you have to think about your goal and refine the wording down to one sentence.  Then you write out the words on a card and place it in the silver box.  Silver is a precious metal, so again the importance of this goal is highlighted to you.  Each time you see the box, which stands out in your home because it is silver, you are reminded of your goal, so your attention is focused on it.

The two silver box goals I have had success with both required my focus.  The first in gathering all the information required and filling out the extensive form for the Baby Bonus.  But I knew in advance that I was eligible.  I also had a fairly good indication that I could pass the test to join Mensa based on result of career apitutude tests and I was aware that, as with all tests, the more practice you do, the higher the score you will achieve.  So I was spending a least an hour a day doing practice tests leading up to the formal examination.

Even if I win the house in the lottery, I will still not be convinced it's magic, because someone has to win and there are only 80,000 tickets.  Yesterday I was given a tattslotto ticket for next week's $20 million draw.  I have put the ticket in the silver box.  If I win the $20 million, with odds of 1 to 8,145,060, then I may concede that there is something more to it.  In the meantime people, I recommend you follow Nike's advice and Just Do It!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

So how are things going with the silver box?

Way back in May, in my first post on decluttering, I wrote about a fung shui "cure" involving using a silver box to "attract" things you want to you. So far I have used it three times:

  1. to get the Baby Bonus - a $5,000 grant from the government available to anyone who has a baby and earns under $75,000 in the six months after the birth - as discussed in previous posts: Successful
  2. to join Mensa - I am constantly coming up with ideas of things to do that I regret when the time comes.  For example, I can't tell you the number of early Sunday mornings (when it is just wrong to be out of bed) that I have found myself standing in a crowd of properly fit people waiting to start a (no-)fun run and thinking "why the hell do I do these things to myself?".  It was this same spirit that led me to decide to try and join Mensa - the club for people who's IQ's are in the top 2% of the population.  Success or failure would not really have been an issue for me except for some strange reason, after sending off the form to do the entry test, I then updated my Facebook status to tell people I was doing it.  So of course then I had to get in.  So I got out another card and put it in the silver box just to be safe, and the result? - Successful
  3. Every year the Royal Melbourne Hospital runs a serious lottery where you can win some truely amazing prizes.  This year the first prize is a house and not just any old house but a 370 sqm (that's 3,984 square feet to our American friends) two-storey, fully furnished, four bedroom, two-living room plus a home theatre, double garage and a lap-pool house in one of Melbourne's most expensive suburbs. I want it. I want it in the way only someone who lives with two other people in a two bedroom flat can want it.  The prizes will be drawn on 19 Oct 2010 or (if all tickets are sold) on the early bird prize draw date 28 Sep 2010. Status: Pending

Note: further details of the lottery and tickets can be obtained here:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Progress Report

Just a quick update on where I am with the decluttering.

Pretty much the wardrobe is done.  I'm quite happy with the 30L white boxes, which are now all full and labelled.  The ramshackle looking pile in the corner (see below) is actually board games except for the white box on top, which is a present for my brand new nephew - born last Thursday.  As he lives 200 kilometres away, it may be a few weeks before I get to meet him.

I have cleared out all the stuff on top of the bookcases (see below) and all the extra books that I won't read again (Paulo Coelho recommends you give books you are unlikely to read again to a library. I, instead, give them to the Salvation Army or friends).  As soon as the body corporate manager gives me permission to add a new TV attenna point to my apartment, I will be able to rearrange the dining/lounge room and move these book cases out.  

You will note that the desk top remains rather messy.   There is also a white box to the left of the blue chair.  All these things belong to my husband, who assures me he is getting around to them.

At least this side of the room (below) looks like a baby girl's bedroom thanks to the wall stickers my sister-in-law gave me and the teddy bears. 

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's amazing what you find when you look

I have spent a lot of time complaining about the difficulties of decluttering, but today I am going to talk about one of the benefits - you find a lot of stuff that you had completely forgotten you had. Here are some of the things I have found so far:

  • fabulous black espidrills - I have a pair of cream espidrills that I bought a few years ago.  These black one I bought on sale last winter, put them away and promptly forgot about them.  I am now kicking myself because I spent all last summer thinking "gee I wish I had a pair of black espidrills".

  • bucket hat - I know this doesn't look like much, but I love this hat because it reminds me of Manchester bands and a night club I used to go to called Clockwork Orange.  I have not seen this hat for nearly four years.  I had assumed I left it on the boat my husband and I went on, on our honeymoon.

  • a present for my sister-in-law.  Who knows how many years ago this was bought.

  • a roll of great Christmas wrapping paper - you know how they say to buy cards and wrapping paper after Christmas when they are on sale?  Well that's only for organised people, coz the rest of us put it away, forget about it, and just buy more the following December.

  • Glow in the dark stars - how good are these.  I'm going to stick these up in my daughter's bedroom.

Speaking of my daughter's bedroom, here's a picture of her in it:
and yes, that really is a cot in the background that we have actually got her to sleep in (thanks to Ferberisation).  Here's some more progess photos:

I am not quite there yet, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Getting things done

I get the impression that some people in my life do not understand my current obsession with decluttering. The reason is best summed up by David Allen in his Getting Things Done Live Audio Seminar:

What is stuff? Stuff is anything that has landed in your world, psychologically or physically, that doesn't belong where it is, they way it is, for all eternity, but you haven't decided what to do with it yet.

Stuff yells at you "do something with me". You can't stand that yelling so you dumb it down and numb it out.  But you can't selectively dumb down and numb out. You also shut down the channels to enthusisam and inspiration in your life.  If you have numbed out all those things yelling at you because you have allowed them to come into your life, I guarantee you, once you retrieve that energy, it will blow you away.

I love this because it explains why I can be shut down by a messy kitchen.  I'm not sure why, but I was labouring under the belief that I should clean the kitchen first thing every morning.  This morning I got up and it was particularly bad.  I found myself watching TV to the point that I thought "why am I watching TV? I don't usually just sit and watch TV during the day".

I realised it was because I just couldn't face the kitchen.  So I wrote down on a piece of paper that I would work on the kitchen at 4:30pm - like an appointment. I then was able to spend three hours solidly working on other things I needed and preferred to get done.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Things Take Time

One of the things that decluttering makes you realise, is how much time you spend on things. Time that you would prefer to be spending on something else. 

This was particularly highlighted for me when I decided to tackle a pile of magazines that I pulled out of my coffee table. I have long had an addiction to magazines.  This is inspite of the fact that I am well aware that they promise so much and deliver so little. Well, actually, I used to read Smash Hits as a teenager and loved it.  In my 20's I moved onto The Face and loved it too. (Wikipedia tells me that these magazines were both created by the same person.)  These magazines were relevant to me at the time and let me know about the music and fashion that could actually become a part of my life, that is, I liked them and could afford them. For some reason, now magazines are full of $2,000 handbags and $500 t-shirts, all of which look like crap; who buys these things?

But I digress - back to the pile of magazines.  My intial strategy for dealing with it was just to flick through them  (about 20) and see if there were any pictures suitable for my vision board.  I thought that they were all magazines that I had read and decided to keep (new rule - never keep a magazine unless you own a library), but a number of them I had only half read.  So of course, that meant I had to read all the unfinished magazines as well as look for pictures before I threw them away. 

I started reading a copy of Vanity Fare, but after a time period that seem FOREVER, I had only read a couple of articles and there were lots left.  It was then I realised that I have no interest in learning about some rich woman who can no longer afford the upkeep on her mansion in the Hamptons, nor do I care about some Wall Street bloke who has become the go-to guy for the USA government since the global financial crisis because he doesn't work for any of the banks, etc.  So I tossed it.

I then picked up a copy of Shop Till You Drop.  I bought the first issue of this magazine and found a great pair of shoes in it, which I bought and to this day they remain my favourites.  As a result, I keep coming back to this magazine to hopefully have similar experiences but every time I am disappointed.  This magazine has become one of the worse offenders for advertising luxury brands (seriously, who spends $5,000 on one outfit?) and its full of demands - buy these jeans! read this website! decorate your home all in white!  If one of your friends spoke to you like this you would tell them to piss off, yet so many woman's magazines are the same.

In the end, I invoked the economics rule of sunk costs.  A sunk cost is a cost paid in the past that you cannot recover.  The idea is, that you should not think about sunk costs but only the benefit you can derive in future. This is at odds with how people actually behave. People buy things and then try to get their money's worth. So the more you pay for something, the longer you hold onto it and use it, trying to justify the cost. For example, you don't throw away magazines you haven't read.

The more you think about this however, you realise this traditional approach only makes sense if you don't place any value on your time. If you look at things from the sunk cost perspective, you say - I bought these magazines over a year ago, I'm never going to get the money back that I paid for them,  reading them is going to take up time that I could better spend on other things, hence I have got all the value out of them I am going to get and so should throw them away.  So I did, and it felt great.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Well and truly in the thick of it

Now I have everything off the floor (more or less), the plan is to move the four bookcases out into the living area and set up the cot in the left corner of the room as seen in (or rather, cut off of) this photo below. The black plastic that you can see behind the red ladder is covering the dismantled cot.

I was also rather pleased to realise the other day that I have the whole of the top of the wardrobe cleared out and have started putting the things to go into it in 30 litre boxes with lables. They are a good size but not too large and heavy, so you can pull them out without having to be an olympic weight lifter. I was thinking, that the right side of the wardrobe is also finished, but then I realised that the red ladder in the photo above is supposed to be going in there so I will need to do a bit more rejigging.

Today, being a Saturday, I had planned to get stuck into things.  Unfortunately, I got the results of a blood test yesterday, which showed that my thyroid gland is overactive.  In the past, it has been just slightly out of whack, but now its gone the full monty. My doctor has told me to do nothing for a week to try to calm it down (and she means nothing, to the point where she has given me a certificate so my husband can have a week off work to look after me and our baby). I hope it works because pretty much the only cure if it doesn't get better is to cut out the nodules causing the problems and then take tablets for the rest of my life.  

I really don't want to be on medication for the rest of my life, so I have spent much of the day in bed and the rest on the couch. Yesterday, I was thinking that an overactive thyroid is not so bad - I have almost got down to a weight I am happy with, I can eat as much as I want and I never get cold anymore.  However, doing nothing all day has made me realise I really don't feel well.  I have the jitters like I have drunk 10 cups of expresso, but I'm still tired and wish I could just fall asleep. 

The decluttering continues, however, with my wonderful husband in the process of moving the two bookcases into the dining area and setting up the cot. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spot the difference

No really, I have been working on this ...

Anyone who has questioned the buddhist maxim "everything is connected", clearly has never tried to declutter their house. I know a comparison of the photos requires a magnifying glass to see the changes, but most of the things crowding the room are required for regular use, while the wardrobe has been packed (with extraordinary and disheartening efficiency) with all the things we never use. 

So over the past fortnight I have been concentrating on moving things out of the wardrobe to a storage locker.  There are now 12 things in it, including golf clubs (used once over the past 11 years), a box of video tapes (last watched over 6 years ago), a christmas tree and decorations (at least they get used once a year).  This will allow me to create a home for the things we do use in the wardrobe and get them off the floor.

Another tricky aspect about decluttering is that it opens your eyes to how much clutter surrounds you.  So I have also been working on other areas of the apartment:
  • the two guitars and two violins we own are now safely housed in my parents' back room,
  • my Thomas Gannon coffee table is now a giant toy box, while the 3 year old magazines and newspapers that were in its draws are now cleared out,
  • a collection of stray homeless items are now in a "find a home" box for dealing with as I progress.
The silver box I discussed in my last post appears to be working.  In these types of things you can never sit back and wait for the universe to come to you, so I called my boss so he could give me the phone number for HR and wrote it down on a catalogue while talking to him. Of course I ended up throwing out the catalogue before I called HR, but then I thought, "OK silver box, lets test you out".  I decided I would look under the silver box to see if I could find the piece of paper with the phone number for HR (and my employee number, which I would also need).  The silver box was sitting on the desk with nothing underneath (you can see it in the second picture above, on the left hand corner with a CD-ROM box sitting on top of it).  So I opened the draw below it and pulled out a bunch of papers.  The last piece of paper was the one I was looking for.  I called HR and 10 minutes later they had emailed me my pay slips.  I now just need one of my husband's payslips, and I have all I need to apply for the baby bonus.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Project: Decluttering

My husband and I have lived in our apartment for nearly six years, I have never been happy with the amount of stuff we have in it.  We now have a baby who needs her own room - here is what her room looks like at present:

I once read that the best advertising works by making you envy your amazing future self which possesses the item being advertised (Ways of Seeing by John Berger).  This is what makes decluttering difficult - you pick up something you haven't used for years and you imaging yourself using it so you want to keep it.  Decluttering means you have to admit that you are old and boring and never do the fun stuff you used to do.  It means facing up to the fact that you have wasted thousands of dollars on things you have only used a couple of times. It means accepting that the "future" you with the advertised item is no more amazing than the past you without it.

Being me, I, of course, own a book on decluttering called Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston.  It claims that clutter clearing "is one of the most powerful, transformative aspects of Feng Shui" and mentions that decluttering gives you energy.  I have found this to be true.  In the few days before I started decluttering I was getting out of bed at 11am and spent a lot of time on the couch.  Yesterday, the day after I started decluttering, I was up at 8am and spent the whole day being active.  Today, I was up at 8:30am.

Clear Your Clutter also explains how the bagua relates to your home.  The bagua is a 3x3 grid which links different areas of your home with different aspects of your life.  The room above affects two areas:
  • Career / Life Path / Journey - which is definitely the area in which I feel my life is most blocked at the moment; and
  • Helpful friends / Compassion / Travel
 The website Feng Shui Palace explains this second area in more detail.  Amongst other things, it says:
"This part of the home (the front right gua) is associated with getting you into the synchronicity of life. When you are in-sync, you don't have to expend any energy getting help with anything. It is also usually easier to make money when you are in-sync with life."

I find this interesting, not just because it mentions money, but because I have been trying for months to get my application for the $5000 baby bonus sorted out and each time its a case of one step forward, ten steps back.  The problem is that I need to send in pay slips to prove I don't have an income while on maternity leave.  To get the payslips I need to log onto the HR system at work.  I was going to do this from home, but I couldn't find my token, so I went into work one evening, but I had been locked out of the HR system because I had not logged into it for over one month.  I called the IT Help Desk, they said because it was after business hours all they could do was arrange to email me a new password the next day.  I couldn't make it back the next day, so I left it.  About two months later I found my token, so I thought "great, I can get IT to send me a new password, log in and get my pay slips".  But when I tried to log into work from home I was locked out completely from the whole system.  I called IT, they said that because it had been too long since I last logged in my access had been cancelled. Yesterday, I thought I would just telephone HR and ask them to post me my payslips but I couldn't find the telephone number even though I was certain I have placed it in a particular draw.

Feng Shui Palace suggests getting a silver box, placing a written prayer of thanks for what you want in the box and putting it in the Helpful Friends etc area of your house.  I went into the room to see if I could find something appropriate to use for the box, thinking I didn't have anything.  First I saw my husband's glasses case, which is silver, so I was going to use that.  Then I saw the rewards pack that Ford gave us when we bought a car from there a couple of years ago.  It comes in a silver box (and is more clutter I intended to get rid of).  I took out the rewards paraphernalia, which is now out of date, and put in a green (the colour for money in Feng Shui) card saying "Thank you for sending me the baby bonus."  Clear Your Clutter says that these "cures" don't work as well when a room is cluttered, but we will see what happens.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 40: The end or just the beginning?

The Day 40 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life recommends you take some time to prepare a Life Purpose Statement, in which you write your own commitment to the five purposes. I feel I have a bit more work to do before I can truly commit to each purpose but I will say I found the book a worthwhile read.  It has highlighted to me the absence of opportunities to learn a good moral code in general life and now, when I watch TV (which is where I think a lot of people learn their "morals" from), I can't help but notice how it promotes negative behaviours by always showing a positive outcome when people do the wrong thing.

It reminds me of something a friend of mine told me years ago.  He was friends with a journalist who wrote a column in The Age newspaper's Good Weekend magazine. The column presented three people's experiences in relation to a different topic each week.  The journalist was trying to find three people to present different viewpoints on infidelity.  He had found someone who had been unfaithful and their relationship had ended. He had found someone who's partner had been unfaithful and their relationship had ended.  For the third person, he was looking for someone who had been unfaithful, but who's relationship had survived.  He couldn't find anyone. Yet many TV shows had relationships surviving infidelity like its just another issue that people have to deal with in life (I'm thinking of Californication and The Sopranos as examples).

But I digress, as I said in yesterday's post, I'm feeling quite overwhelmed by all the requirements of this book.  However, at the end of "40" days (or 61 actual calendar days) I am more interested in learning about the bible and have downloaded the one year bible reading plan from The Purpose Drive Life website. I have also ran out of excuses and will be starting back at church this Sunday 2 May 2010.  (Now that I've written that, I have to do it).


For those of you who have read through all my posts, you may recall that I undertook a "wellness" test back on Day 8, as a benchmark to see whether following the five purposes would improve my life. Back then, I got a score of 772 and having just redone the test, I got the exact same score of 772. I'm not sure that it proves anything except that I should start exercising.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 39: Balance

Having read 38 chapters of The Purpose Driven Life, I was becoming inceasingly overwhelmed at everything we are supposed to do.  So I was quite encouraged when I saw the title for Day 39 "Balancing Your Life".  Unfortunately, this chapter sets out a bunch of more things to do to keep you on track with all the other things you need to do:

  • talk things through with a partner or group
  • give yourself regular spiritual check-ups
  • keep a journal
  • pass on your knowledge to others
Its all too much.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day 38: Being World Class ...

... a world class Christian that is.

The Day 38 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life is about reaching out to non-believers all over the world. You can start doing this by praying for countries or by going on a short term mission.  I had not heard of short term missions before reading this book, but basically, instead of spending your holidays at the beach or whatever, you can go on a mission and help people overseas.

With a 5-month old baby, I'm not about to jump on a plane.  However, I somehow think that going on a mission to help the people in earthquake devastated Chile would be more rewarding than going to Florence and spending 3 hours in a queue to get into each art gallery.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 37: Testify!

In the Day 37 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life we learn that we are to share our life messages with others because God speaks to the world threw His believers.  There are four parts to your life message:

  1. Your testimony about how Jesus has made a difference in your life. 
  2. What life lessons you have learnt.
  3. Your godly passion - God gives us passions to do what he wants done in the world.
  4. The "Good News" that Jesus died for our sins so we may have eternal life.
Rick Warren writes in this chapter "You may feel you don't have anything to share, but that's the Devil trying to keep you silent."  In that case, the Devil is in my ear today because I cannot think of a "night-and-day difference" that Jesus made for me, when I try to think of what lessons life has taught me I find myself questioning my viewpoint,  I don't feel I have a Godly passion, and I still don't understand the logic of having Jesus crucified and thereby wiping out everyone else's sin.

Perhaps those reading this could share their life message in the comments.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 36: Purpose 5 of 5 - On a Mission

The Day 36 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life introduces the final purpose - to convert non-believers and save them from eternal damnation.

I have issues with this because it immediately reminds me of annoying encounters with people from the Church of Christ when I was at university.  You would be going about your day and out of the blue be approached by some over zealous person with no respect for your privacy.  I'm sure they considered my salvation more important than anything else I had to do that day, but I don't know of anyone who started attending church because of them.  I do know at lot of people who were very pissed off with them, and their approach no doubt created a number of firm atheists.

Rick Warren writes "You are the only Christian some people will ever know, and your mission is to share Jesus with them." Given that I live in a country that grants public holidays for Christmas and Easter, and while there are other public holidays, it is only the Christmas and Easter public holidays that are fully observed - that is, the shops are open on the other public holidays but not Christmas and Easter - given this, I find it hard to believe that I am the only Christian some people will ever know.

Having said all that, I note that Rick Warren also warns against being distracted by Satan and I wonder whether I have been distracted by Satan (for anyone paying attention, you will note that this 40 day exercise has already taken more than 40 days) or just overwhelmed.

I was listening to a report on an atheist conference recently and one of the speakers made the point that in every other field of study other than theology, things can be learnt from emperical observations. That is, you can't perform an experiment and witness the results first hand in theology, it is just reading things written by other theologists.  This concept did distract me for a while but eventually I realised that there is a way to perform emperical tests - by keeping a prayer log.  This is just a list of the things you have asked God for, the date you made the request and the date it was answered.  It might not be as scientific as, say, dropping two objects of different weights and seeing them fall to the ground at the same time, but it is a start.  This thought came to me after I took a recommendation from an earlier chapter of The Purpose Driven Life, which is to pray for protection from Satan.

I will not be stopping people on the street to tell them about Jesus, or inviting non-believers to come to church with me (particularly as I haven't actually started back at church yet), but I am happy to write this blog because people can choose not to read it if they don't want to.  Alternatively, if someone does read this blog and decides to convert to Christianity - all the better.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 35: Weakness

The Day 35 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life discusses our weaknesses.  I think the point of the chapter is that you should not worry about your weaknesses because God can overcome them. It also makes a number of interesting points, such as admitting your weaknesses to yourself makes you more forgiving of weaknesses in others, while admitting your weaknesses to others will build stronger relationships with them.

I recently saw an interview with Alicia Keys in which she said she prays before every performance and sings for the glory of God.  I have her first album (which I have not listened to for some time) but I can't recall her singing making me think about God. I just thought she was a good singer.  That's how it is when people are good at things, you may be impressed by them, but you won't necessarily be impressed by God as a result.  However, when people overcome their weaknesses they tend to openly thank God, so even if it does not occur to others at first, the message still gets through.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Day 34: What we think we become*

The Day 34 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life sets out five ways that servants think:

  1. Servants spend more time thinking of others than they do thinking about themselves.  
  2. Servants think like stewards, not owners - that is, they know everything, including their time, belongs to God.
  3. Servants think about their work, not what others are doing - they don't compare, critcise or compete with others.
  4. Servants have nothing to prove - because they know they are loved and accepted by God, they willingly accept jobs that insecure people would consider beneath them.
  5. Servants think of ministry (ie serving others) as an opportunity, not an obligation - "because they love the Lord, they know serving is the highest use of life, and they know God has promised a reward".
When I first read this chapter I had difficulties with it.  At the age of 29, I resigned from the worst job in the world and had a bit of a mid-life crisis.  All my life I had done everything you are supposed to do, got good marks at school, gone to university and completed both an undergraduate and masters degree, worked hard in the jobs I'd held and here I was turning 30, single, unemployed, moving back in with my parents because I had no money and feeling miserable.  So when I first read the chapter I thought "well I did all that and it got me no-where".

When I told my husband I was having trouble with "thinking like a servant", he said, "but you are a servant every day to our daughter" (she is five months old).  I again looked over the five ways servants think had to admit it, when it comes to my daughter it was true. Then I thought more about spending 29 years of my life doing "everything you are supposed to do" and realised I had not done it for God or for anyone else, I had done it because I wanted a good life. Even if I had worked long hours for others, ultimately, I had done it for me and in doing so had broken the second commandment and made an idol of success.

After I had moved back home to my parents (from Sydney to Melbourne) I caught up with a friend of mine, who asked me whether I had learnt any big lesson from the whole experience.  I told her no, it was just all crap.  Maybe it has taken 10 years for me to work out what the lesson was.
* The title is a quote by Buddha.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 32: Use it or lose it

 The Day 32 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life discusses discovering, accepting and developing your "SHAPE" (refer my previous post for the definition).

Having had numerous jobs, I have done numerous aptitude tests. So I have had a look over all the results and found a definite bias towards analysis and creativity.  Rick Warren mentions spiritual gifts tests, so I did a google search.  There are a surprising number of them.  I did one on Christianet (  It determined that I had the following spiritual gifts:
  • teacher - This gift enables particular Christians to communicate the truths of God's Word in a manner that others can learn and apply those truths to their own life. (Maybe God has directed me to start this blog.)
  • hospitality - This gift is the special ability that enables the Christian to provide open arms, an open house and warm welcome for those in need of friendship, a warm welcome, food or lodging.
  • exhortation - This gift enables certain Christians to stand beside fellow Christians in need and bring comfort, counsel and encouragement.
  • discernment - This gift allows certain Christians to know through the power of God and with assurance whether some behavior is of God or of Satan.
I was disappointed to learn that I scored 0% for the gift of being a prophet, not that I have ever had any indication that I was a prophet, I just think it would be interesting (although possibly likely to land you in a mental insitution if not handled correctly).

In relation to accepting and enjoying your "SHAPE", Rick Warren writes "Nobody is good at everything, and no one is called to be everything. We all have defined roles."  I love this because it means I can stop feeling guilty about not caring about things that don't interest me.  For example, some people seem to get so excited about the emmissions trading legislation.  It will be 20 years before they work this stuff out and get a bill passed, so I really just don't care.  This doesn't mean that I don't think the environment is an important issue - I am a member of greenpeace.  I just think politians waste a lot of time squabling and calling each other names and my time is better spent on other things.

However, it also means we need to "be all we can be".  When I look at the two results of the aptitude tests - analysis and creativity - I see that I have spent a lot of time on my analytical skills and virtually no time on my creative skills.  The two don't natually fit together - have you ever thought of a banker as creative?  But if I could find a way to mesh them together in my life it would be great.  (If you have any ideas - please leave a comment)

To develop your talents, you need to use them.  The Snowball, the biography of Warren Buffett, relates an incident in which both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates were separately asked "what is the key to success?" Both answered "focus".  The more I think about this, the more I agree with it.  There are so many distractions available that it can be hard to concentrate on what you need to do. It is only by staying focused that you can achieve anything.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Day 33: We remain your humble servants*

I've jumped over Day 32 because I need some reports that I don't have with me at the moment.

The Day 33 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life  talks about how we are to use our gifts to serve others, rather than for personal gain, and makes the point that sometimes we are called to do things at which we are not particularly gifted because there is no one else around to help.

Rick Warren defines a real servant as having the following characteristics:
  • they make themselves available to serve even when it is inconvenient to them - can God mess up your plans without you becoming resentful? Hmmm, that would be a "no" from the control freak in this corner.
  • they pay attention to needs - you can begin by looking for things no-one else wants to do.  Coincidentally, I was watching Rowena McEvoy on the latest Biggest Loser Master Class today.  Leaving school she wanted to be an aerobics teacher, so she went to a gym and asked to do the classes no-one else wanted to do.  This turned out to be the Sunday morning class.  She started with 3 regulars in the class and soon had 60 regulars.  She is now one of the richests people under 40 in Australia. 
  • they do their best with what they have - you don't have to be able to do things perfectly
  • they do every task with all their heart - "God will never exempt you from the mundame." That's a shame, I really don't cope well with the mundane. I must try remember that while I'm doing the dishes and putting away clothes tomorrow.
  • they are faithful to their ministry - in other words, they are reliable
  • they maintain a low profile - it is only God that you need to impress.  Rick Warren cites Joseph as an example here (I talk about Joseph in my post on Day 28), and pointed out that because of his servant attitude he was blessed by God. He goes on to write these words that I feel are directed right at me "You may be serving in obscurity in some small place, feeling unknown and unappreciated. Listen: God put you where you are for a purpose! ... You had better stay put until he chooses to move you."  No wonder switching jobs has never got me to a better job. 

As you may have realised by now, I have real issues with my job.  But it occured to me while reading this chapter that if I thought about what my boss needs me to do and said to him, why don't I do X, rather than just sitting around complaining about the stuff he does get me to do, we might both be better off.

Note: I managed to track down A.J. Jacobs book The Year of Living Biblically. In it he mentions buying The Purpose Driven Life but only discusses how Rick Warren tithes 90% of his income and keeps only 10%, rather than the standard tithe 10%, keep 90%. In any case, well worth a read, I couldn't put it down and read it in only three days.


* Years ago I worked on a project to select a consortium to build a new building for the County Court.  This was the sign off (that is, in place of "yours sincerely") on the cover letter presenting the County Court's annual report to parliament.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Days 30 & 31: Getting in Shape

[Have been on a short holiday, so doing these two days together.]

In the Day 30 and 31 chapters of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren presents the SHAPE acronym detailing how God "shapes" each one of us.

S is for Spiritual Gifts
Rick Warren contends that when you become a believer, God gives you special abilities to serve Him. I was baptised when I was only three months old and some of my earliest memories are of going to church, so I can't say whether I suddenly developed new abilities as a result of believing in Jesus.  If you are reading this and started believing in Jesus later in life, please let me know if you found you had new abilities after accepting Jesus into your life.

H is for Heart
"We instinctively care about somethings and not about others. ... God has a purpose in giving you these inborn interests ... Don't ignore your interests.  Consider how they might be used for God's glory.  There is a reason that you love to do these things."

I find this quite a radical view for a religious book, but maybe that's because, growing up, it was made quite clear to me that nothing I was interested in was important (including a university degree).  When I was 12 or 13 years old, I taught myself the computer language BASIC from a book, using paper and pen (for those of you born in the 1990s - virtually no-one owned a computer in 1983). Then for my 15th birthday I wanted a computer (a Commodore 64 if I remember correctly) so I could write computer programs, but at the time I also wanted to give up piano lessons (is there anything worse than being forced to learn how to play the piano? Well yes, there are plenty of things that are far, far worse, but I digress).  What do computers and pianos have to do with each other you ask? In the absurdly heated discussion that ensued when I told my mother I wanted to give up piano lessons, and having no logical reason to convince me to continue, my mother eventually said "if you give up piano, you are not getting a computer for your birthday." I hated piano lessons so much I said "Fine."  Perhaps this made my mother realise that she was not going to win, or perhaps she had no-more ammunition left in her arsenal, but the "discussion" ended there and I had to wait another two years for a computer (a lifetime at that age). 

Anyway, enough therapy, back to the book. You know you are using your spiritual gifts when you feel enthusiastic about what you do and this leads you to do it well. (Definitely need to find a new job.)     

A is for Abilities
Your abilities are like your spiritual gifts, but you are born with your abilities. Again, God wants you to use your abilities, not just to make a living but to make a difference at your church. 

P is for Personality
God gave you your personality, just as He gave you your abilities.  Your personality affects how and where you use your abilities. Growing up I thought I was too quiet and believed that only extraverts had self-confidence. But a few years ago I was at a work training course where we had all done personality tests. We had drinks afterwards and I got into a conversation with someone who described his score for being an extravert as "off the chart".  So, under my theory, he should be extremely self-confident.  However, he openly admitted he was not.  He felt he often put his foot in his mouth and said the wrong thing because whatever he was thinking came out of his mouth. I realised that the two things are not tied together and didn't need to worry about being an intravert. 

E is for Experiences
God uses experiences to mould you. All experiences matter, but it is your painful experiences which most equip you to help others. By sharing your experiences in how God helped you overcome a problem, you can help people currently going through the problem. People generally keep their problems secret, as if having difficulties is some sort of failure on their part.  I used to be envious of successful people becuase I assumed their lives had been one achievement after another with no obstacles getting in their way - for example, surely someone like Warren Buffet (one of the contenders for richest man in the world) never had a bad day in his life.  That was until I read his biography, The Snowball, and found out he had to deal with some serious issues including a verbally abusive mother and a wife who left him for another man and staying married to him while living in another city and keeping the affair secret from him.  Somehow, learning this made me feel better about my life because it made me realise that having problems in life is normal.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day 29: Purpose 4 - Serving God

Day 29 introduces the next purpose - serving God.  We serve God by serving others, in other words, meeting their needs.

In one sense, this purpose seems the easiest to understand.  It was what I was looking for when I first read the book The Purpose Driven Life - what am I supposed to be doing with my life? 

In another sense, I find it also the most challenging.  In my work (before I went on maternity leave) I met people's needs all day, but I didn't feel like I'm making a contribution. I felt like I was taking up a position that someone else would be grateful to have, while I had long ago taking a wrong turn and was now irretrievably lost.   
The question to consider for this chapter is "what is holding me back from accepting God's call to serve him?".  I have to say, I seriously just do not know what to do.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day 28: For the impatient among us

The Day 28 chapter talks about how it takes a life time to become like Christ, explains why it takes so long, and recommends patience.  I have to admit, I'm not at all impatient about this.  I think its because I don't really aspire to be like Christ, I aspire to be like a buddhist or taoist monk - nothing seems to bother those guys, they appear constantly serene, and their koans seem a lot cooler than Jesus's parables.  Maybe that's just because I grew up with Jesus's parables but the koans remain exotic. Maybe if I knew more about Jesus, I would find becoming like Christ more appealing.

This chapter again contends that God creates problems in our lives so we will draw near to him.  I note, however, that unlike practically every other point the Rick Warren makes in the book, he has no bible versus quoted to back this contention.  I'm glad that it might just be his point of view, because the only sane response to someone who trys to attract you to them by causing you problems is to slowly back away from them making no sudden movements until you are out of the room - then run like hell.

The chapter does have some good suggestions on how to "cooperate with God":
  • believe God is working in your life - while somethings happen quickly, other things take time
  • don't get discouraged - a delay is not a denial by God
  • keep a notebook of lessons learned - it will help you remember the lessons so you don't need to be taught them again! [I also find there is something about having things in black and white that is impossible to ignore.  For a decade now my natropath has been at me to give up diary foods because it blocks my sinuses, and I've been sort of off diary in a half hearted way for a few years now.  A few days ago I decided to start writing down everything that I ate so I could monitor what gives me energy and makes me feel good and vice versa.  The first day I had a glass of milk on my cereal and within minutes my sinsuses where congested.  Staring at my notes that night before going to bed (with a still congested nose), I thought, "why do I do this to myself, its just stupid" and now I just don't want to go near the stuff.]
  • be patient with God - his timetable rarely matches ours.  This reminded me of Joseph (he of the amazing technocolour dreamcoat), he was sold to slave traders by his brothers (who then told their father he was dead), he is then sold to the captain of the guard in Egypt and serves him faithfully until the captain's wife accuses him of attempted rape when he resists her advances.  Joseph then spends years in jail until he is give the opportunity to interpret two dreams for the pharaoh and recommends a way to deal with a forecast famine in the land. As a reward, the pharaoh puts him in charge of all of Egypt.  When I first read this story I thought it unfair that God made Joseph wait so long in prison, just to be in the right place for the pharoah to find him when he needs him.  However, reading it again now, it strikes me that as a child he helped on his fathers farm, as a slave he proved his worth and was put in charge of an estate, in prison he refined his dream interpretation skills, so when the time came, he was ready to meet the pharaoh and had the skills required to run a country.  All the while, he trusted God and did not complain.
    I think I want to be like Joseph even more than I want to be like a buddhist monk.

Friday, April 2, 2010

An alternative perspective

If you are interested in the views of an atheist on The Purpose Driven Life, check out The Battleship Cerebral.

It's author, Ryan Schneider "atheist English major" is writing the occasional post on each chapter.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Day 26 & 27: I can resist everything except temptation*

I'm blogging on days 26 and 27 together because they are both about temptation and I don't really have much to say about them.

Interestingly, the Day 26 chapter is the first in which Rick Warren really talks about Satan.  He sets out the steps Satan takes to tempt you:
  • Step 1: Satan identifies a desire inside of you - can be either a good or bad desire - and plants a thought in your mind to give into an evil desire or to fulfil a legitimate desire the wrong way
  • Step 2: Satan gets you to doubt that what you want is wrong.
  • Step 3: Satan lies to you about the consequences of what you are tempted to do.
  • Step 4: You take action and sucumb to the temptation.
Rick suggests the following will help you to overcome temptation:
  • know that it is OK to be tempted - it is a sign that you are following God's word if Satan is after you.
  • recognise what leads you to temptation, eg when you are alone or when you are with a certain group of friends, and prepare for it
  • ask God for help when you feel temptation
  • think about or do something else so you don't focus on the temptation
  • get help from a friend or support group
  • resist Satan by quoting bible versus (don't think you can talk your way out of it, Satan has more practice at tempting people that you have at dealing with Satan)
  • accept that we are all vulnerable to temptation and work to avoid it
I'm not entirely sure I agree that temptation comes from the devil.  It's a bit too convenient to have a scapegoat, even though you are still required to resist temptation.  Having said that, if I am going to buy into this line of thinking (which was what I said I would do when I started this blog), perhaps I have never really been tempted by Satan because I have never been a good enough Christian.  When I think about what tempts me, I immediately think of food, but I don't think it is a sin to eat and even those of you reading who might think of gluttony, I'm not overweight so I don't think it applies. 

Rick writes that the closer you grow to God, the more you will be tempted - which is all a bit scary. Even when you are praying, he will try to distract you (in this case, the advise is: don't allow him to, put the thought aside and continue praying).  My husband, Michael, said it is probably more likely that you are more aware of these things when you focus on them. I suppose I will just have to wait and see what happens.

* The title is a quote from Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 25: Transformed by Trouble?

The Day 25 chapter is a troubling one for me. 

It does contain some comforting thoughts, such as:
  • everything that happens to you has spiritual significance
  • it is by experiencing the same troubles Jesus went though (eg loneliness, temptation, stress, criticism, rejection), that you become like Jesus
  • God knows what is best for you and has your best interests at heart
  • instead of asking "why me?" when facing problems, ask "what do You want me to learn"
In relation to this last point, as a trivial example, my body corporate manager is annoying me again.  Back in August 2009, they sent around a circular saying they had arranged for a hard rubbish collection so people could get rid of any items in their car park.  They threatened that if people didn't remove the things stored in their car parks, they would be removed by the body corporate manager at the cost of the owner.  They claimed that this was because the insurer was threatening to withdraw its insurance policy.  If I was the body corporate manager, my response to the insurer would be "fine, we will find another insurer".  Given the size of the building, I'm sure any insurer in danger of losing a signficant chunk of revenue would find a way to accommodate the odd bit of furniture in the car park. In any case, I didn't believe this story at all, because only a few weeks before the minutes of the annual body corporate meeting had arrived and it made no mention whatsoever that the insurer had taken this view.

I was throughly pissed off at the body corporate manager for using a passive aggressive tactic, for threatening to steal its clients possessions, and for going well beyond its rights as a body corporate manager.  I wrote a letter to them pointing out that the car parks are on freehold title, to enter them would be tresspass and to take anything out of them would be theft, for which I was prepared to go to the police.  I also took the opportunity to clear out my car park space, which I was intending to do anyway, and had to admit that by organising the hard rubbish collection they had made it significantly easier for me to do so.

I got no response to my letter, however, as months had passed and the stuff in the carpark remained, I figured they had perhaps realised that stealing people's stuff is not such a good idea.  That was until yesterday when I recieved a follow up circular stating that a contractor had been appointed and would be removing everything on the 13th of April.  They also included virtually impossible to decifer black and white photocopies of photos of the car parks being affected.  I wondered whether this was an attempt to shame people, felt instantly angry again and started googling to find out how to obtain an injunction to prevent it.

Later, when I was lying in bed unable to sleep because I was still angry, I asked God "what am I meant to learn from this?" and then a thought occurred to me "was I loving my neighbour as I loved myself?"  Quite obviously I was not.  I had to admit that the body corporate manager had actually helped me to clear out my car park which I needed to clear out anyway to get a car in there, that other people may be quite pissed off by all the crap in the car park, that is it a potential fire hazard and that while they could have approached the problem with a greater degree of charm (for want of a better word), the body corporate were probably just doing what they had been told to do by the building committee (which comprises four of the owners).

Immediately, my anger subsided and I thought, well those people who are affected by this may actually appreciate having someone else clear out their car park for them and if not, no doubt, are big enough and smart enough to deal with the body corporate themselves. 

So that's all good, but there are a couple of points made in this chapter that are not so good.

  1. Rick Warren again asserts that your life is predestined "Because every day of your life was written on God's calendar before you were born, everything that happens to you has spiritual signficance." I would say that because you are a child of God, everything that happens to you has spiritual significance, that it is impossible for anything not to have spiritual significance, but as I discussed in Day 2: I am not an accident, the idea that God has every day of your life set planned in advanced is not set in stone.
  2. Rick Warren also writes "Regardless of the cause, none of your problems could happen without God's permission". I can accept that proposition for my life because most of my problems are small and some could be categorised as nice-to-have eg I need to buy a house because we can't fit all our stuff into our apartment. But when it comes to serious problems that some people have to go through, such as child abuse or domestic violence, I cannot accept that a God who loves you would allow these things to happen. I realise this implies that God is not omnipotent, so I'm not sure what to make of this. What are your views on this issue?    

Day 24: Read the bible

The Day 24 chapter discusses the importance of reading the bible and putting what you learn into practice.  It is one of the tools to help you become like Jesus.

A few years ago I decided I would read the bible, because a lot of people say they don't agree with the bible but how can you decide to agree or disagree with something if you don't know what it says?  I think I managed to read about half.  When people asked me what I thought about the bible, the only answer I had for them is "It's long!".  When I read The Purpose Driven Life, I am amazed at the practical advice the bible contains, but when I read the bible directly, I had real trouble getting anything out of it.

Looking back, I can see two barriers that got in my way:
  1. I just wanted to get it finished, so I read the words on the page but I didn't think about what they meant;
  2. I was looking to find things that interested me, rather than trying to understand what God wanted me to learn;
Rick Warren recommends that when you read the bible you ask simple questions (who, what, where, why, how) and take the time to write down your thoughts about what you have read.  In order to apply its principles, he recommends that you write out an action step and a deadline for taking that action.

As I am finding it hard to read each chapter of book and write this blog, I will wait until I have finished to start reading the bible again.  On the PDL website there are 30 day and 90 day plans for reading the New Testament and a 1 year plan for reading the whole bible, see

Have you tried to read the bible? What was the experience like for you?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 23: Think about others

The Day 23 chapter sets out the first thing you can do to promote your spiritual growth and become like Jesus - think about others.  Before getting to this, however, it makes a few other points along the way.

Rick Warren writes "It takes an intentional commitment.  You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing."  I like these words because a lot of people these days talk about committment like its an emotion akin to desire or ambition.  Along with various other definitions (eg perpetrate a crime), the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines commit as "bind oneself to (a course)".  In other words - you just keep turning up - it doesn't matter whether you want to or not. 

In January 2007, I made a commitment to attend "boot camp" exercise training twice a week for six weeks at 6.15am.  I was never one for exercising and no-one who knows me would mistake me for a morning person, so I didn't really think I would last six weeks. However, I ended up going for over two years, increasing my attendance to three times a week, doing additional exercise by myself including a 10km fun run, and only gave up when I was six weeks pregnant.   

I started going to boot camp because I wanted to lose weight, I didn't lose weight and I didn't really care because I experienced a range of other benefits - I got stronger, I had more energy, I had better balance, I developed more self discipline because I realised that having that internal argument with yourself about whether or not to do something you don't want to do is usually far worse than just getting on with it, I developed a louder voice which made people listen to me more (true - it was bizarre), I made friends with people at boot camp and people at work who liked to exercise, on days when I go up to exercise I felt like I had achieved something for the day and all before the time that I would have got up on the days when I didn't exercise.

The point I am trying to make here, in a very long winded way, is that when you decide to start doing something good and keep doing it, you will reap a whole host of rewards that you cannot foresee when you start.

Rick Warren writes that we should think of others instead of ourselves because it is what Jesus did.  He doesn't give any other reasons, even though I'm sure people would be quick to shower you with cliches about this if you asked.  I think commiting to this will reveal a whole host of benefits that I might make the subject of the blog once I finish reading The Purpose Driven Life.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 22: Life wasn't meant to be easy*

At Day 22 we are onto Purpose #3 - to become like christ - the goal of your life is character development.

Many people have asked the question "if God exists, why do bad things happen to good people?".  Although Rick Warren doesn't explicit address this question, I think he answers it when he says "life is supposed to be difficult! It's what enables us to grow." So perhaps when we are going through a difficult time, we should in part be pleased that God believes we are ready to learn a significant lesson.  If we start asking ourselves "what does God want me to learn from this?" instead of "why is this happening to me?", it might be easier to get through.

*Some may recognise the title I have chosen for today's post as a quote by Malcolm Fraser, former Prime Minister of Australia.  In an interview with him I found here:  he made the following comments on this:

"not many people are well enough read to know that it's a quotation, and also only part of a quotation. It's the old man in George Bernard Shaw's Methuselah. 'Life' - I'm not sure that I've got it exactly right but - 'Life's not meant to be easy, but take courage child for it can be delightful.' 
And you know, the Labor Party, when they got hold of it they thought, ah, now we can hang Fraser, and if I had some enemies in the Liberal Party they would have thought, ah we can hang Fraser. But most people - which they did not understand, what so many people did not understand, that you don't con the Australian public - for most of them it is not easy. For many it is damn difficult. And the recognition that whether it's meant to be or not, it is just not easy, but it can also be delightful, was a recognition of a truth."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Do not be afraid ...

its the same old blog, just trying out a new look.

Not sure I will keep it.

Day 21: Protecting the unity of your church

The Day 21 chapter talks about the importance that God places on unity and presents ways to promote it at your church.  As I have not had a lot of experience going to church or even being part of a group, I've justed noted below the things that stood out to me.

  • Focus on what you have in common with other members,  Rick Warren makes an interesting point "We must remember that it was God who chose to give us different personalities, backgrounds, races and preferences, so we should value and enjoy those differences, not merely rolerate them." But we should focus on what matters most - loving one another.
  • Be realistic in your expectations - Nobody's perfect
  • Choose to encourage rather than criticise - Rick Warren writes that four things happen when you criticise: (1) you lose fellowship with God, (2) you expose your pride and insecurity, (3) you set yourself up to be judged by God, (4) you harm thefellowship of the church. Also "The bible calls Satan "the accuser of our brothers". It is the devil's job to blame, complain, and criticize members of God's family. Anytime we do the same, we are being duped into doing Satan's work for him."
  • Refuse to listen to gossip - "Gossip is passing on information when you are neither part of the problem or part of the solution." You should not even listen to gossip, instead ask the person gossiping whether they have spoken to the person directly andmake it clear you do not want to listen to gossip.
  • Practise God's method of conflict resolution - If you have an issue with someone, don't complain to a third party, instead follow the steps provided in Matthew 18:15-17:
"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him — work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won't listen, tell the church. If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love."

  • Support your pastors and leaders - they have to act as mediator between arguing individuals.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 20: Restoring Relationships

This chapter presents a seven step strategy for conflict resolution based on the teachings of the bible.  But first it talks about the importance of being a peace maker.

In the sermon on the mount, one of the things Jesus says is:

"God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God."
(Matthew 5:9) 

It struck me as I read this that these days its fashionable (for want of a better word) to focus on winning and success.  But in a way we are trying to get to the destination without taking the journey, because to win is to be blessed by God and is solely in His control.  It is only how we act and what we focus on that is in our control.  So maybe we should focus on making peace and let God focus on who wins.

Here are the seven steps for conflict resolution.

Step 1. Pray first

Often this is all you need to do because when you vent your feelings to God, he my change your heart or may change the other person.  As I mentioned with the "extra grace required" person in my last post, I don't know what changed but after I prayed, that person stopped annoying me.

Step 2. Make the first move to fix things and do it without delay 

Not only does delaying resolution make things fester in your mind, but Jesus said that resolving conflict takes priority over worshipping God.

"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)

Step 3. Sympathise with their feelings

When you approach the person to resove the conflict, first let them talk and focus on their feelings.  The Listen - Acknowledge - Explore - Respond technique I discussed yesterday, is useful for this.  It is important for people to feel they have been heard, often this is all that is needed to resolve an issue.

Step 4. Confess your part of the conflict

As Jesus said
"Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well
enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. (Matthew 7:5).

I have found when I open with the things I have done to contribute to an issue, it immediately disarms the other person and they relax. They are then likely to volunteer an admission of what they have done wrong.

Step 5. Attack the problem, not the person

Insulting people will immediately make them put up their defenses and will kill the dialogue.  Instead use phrases such as "when you [x], I [x]".

Step 6. Cooperate

Rick Warren writes "do your best to compromise, adjust to others, show preference to what they need".  I have a problem with this because it assumes what is called a zero-sum game. That means, it you get something, I lose something.  This is where the concepts of lose-lose, win-lose and win-win come from, with win-win being based on compromise.  However, when I did the conflict resolution course I learnt that there is another possibility, and that is to come up with a creative solution, so by working together you actually create something new and better than what either party originally expected. 

Step 7. Emphasise reconciliation, not resolution

If all else fails, it comes down to the question Dr Phil likes to ask "would you rather be right or be happy?". Agree to disagree. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 19: Developing Relationships

The chapter for day 19 looks at the characteristics you need to develop to create fellowship - in other words, what you need to do to build relationships with people in your small church group.

The first characteristics is honesty with a focus on approaching people who are doing the wrong thing, or what academics would call conflict resolution.  Conflict resolution doesn't come easily to most people.  I think because it is not something that gets taught and it is rarely something that people do.  Even on TV it is usually violence or insults that are passed off as conflict resolution.  In real life, this does not resolve conflict, it creates more.

Working in a bank with long-term clients means you sometimes have to say "no" to them.  Because I felt I was particularly bad at this and usually when I had a conflict with someone I would try to just ignore it (not an option when the powers that be won't approve a loan), I went off and did a conflict resolution course. There were three things I learnt that were key for me:
  1. to resolve a conflict you have to talk to the relevant person about it, 
  2. its much easier to deal with a small conflict than a large one, and 
  3. a small conflict will escalate to a large conflict if you don't deal with it.
A couple of years ago, I saw someone loose hundreds of thousands of dollars because they wouldn't pick up a phone.  The other party told a third party about their problems with this person.  The third party passed on the information.  Rather than try to resolve the conflict, this person tried to avoid it.  As a result the relationship was severed and they are now chasing their money through the courts. If they had of made the phone call the relationship still might not have been saved, but it would at least have removed any doubt that the money was theirs and they would not now be in court.

The second characteristic is humility. Obviously no-one likes people who think they are better than everybody else, and the bible tells us neither does God:
  "In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, 
serve each other in humility, for 'God opposes the proud but favors the humble.' " (1 Peter 5:5)

Rick Warren writes "Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less".  I did a google search to find out what it means to be humble. There are a lot of people with varying views on this, but I finally concluded that being humble is a variation on being honest.  No matter what you do, other people had to help you, even things you might consider to have been done alone by yourself.  Lets say you cooked a really good meal by yourself and without anyone's help, well unless you did all of the following, you had help:
  1. hunted and butchered a wild animal;
  2. collected and planted seeds to grow vegetables and fruits
  3. where necessary, processed the plants, eg ground wheat to make flour
  4. dug up iron ore, processed it to make steel and then produced pots, pans and knives and cutlery
  5. dug up clay and made plates, bowls and cups
  6. grew a forrest of trees and lit fires by rubbing two sticks together in order to cook the food (not to mention tasks 4 and 5) 
  7. made the meal using your own reciepe
And even if you did do all those things, you still needed God's help to make everything available. So with anything we do, we can acknowledge the contribution of others and then we are being humble.

The third characteristic is courtesy. Rick Warren writes "Courtesy is respecting our differences, being considerate of each other's feelings, and being patient with people who irritate us."  He calls people we find difficult "ERG people" for "extra grace required".  When I first read The Purpose Driven Life, I was working with an ERG person.  The leader of the PRL group I was in suggested to for help when dealing with difficult people.  So I did, and while others I know still have issues with this person, he and I now get along well.

This also reminds me of a technique I learnt while working at a consultant firm for when you are criticised.  I think it would also work for any disagreements:
  1. Listen - listen to the criticism eg someone tells you "This report is rubbish"
  2. Acknowlege - acknowledge their view with reflective listening, eg "You think this report is no good"
  3. Explore - ask for more details, eg "What needs to be done to improve it?".  The person might say something like - "Well, it is supposed to include information on X but it has been left out."
  4. Respond - now you know the real problem you can fix it - "We can add that in."
It's tricky at first to not jump straight to "Respond", but it is worth persisting.  I was at a wedding a few years ago, while I was still working at the consultancy firm, and when I told someone on the table I worked there he said my firm had done a project at his work and it was rubbish.  In the past, I would have ended the conversation and just thought "well isn't he a bastard" but instead I said "That's no good, what was wrong?" after a long rant he talking himself around to saying that the team did a good job.  So in the end I didn't even need to "Respond".

The fourth characteristic is confidentiality or "what goes on tour, stays on tour".  Whatever is shared within your small church group, should stay within it.  You should not go and gossip about it to others and should confront anyone who does.  I know when people tell me unsavoury stories about others, which generally seem too over the top to be true anyway, I immediately wonder what that person is telling others about me and make a mental note not to share anything significant with them.  Fortunately, I have found that people like that generally have a reputation for being gossips and everyone is wary of them.

The fifth characteristic is frequency. It takes time to build up relationships, so you should attend the meetings regularly even when you don't feel like it.