Life without: Home, work & homework

In 2023, I started a personal discipline of “living without” a particular activity each month.  This has been a helpful opportunity to keep certain addictive practices in check (books, audiobooks, coffee, smartphone), which has created more space for my attention to be on God and what He’s given me to do. 

In 2023, I added some new elements to my life: playing guitar at church, playing adult soccer and coaching my son’s team, serving on strata council, and doing a paper route with my sons.  These were all completely new experiences for me, and much better uses of my time than the time-wasters I’ve been cutting!

Alas, it is now 2024.  I stayed true to my commitment to not purchase books for myself in 2023, but by the end of summer, I think I’d experienced “life without” enough things for a while.  While I could try a month without driving, watching videos, eating sugar, etc., these things don’t appear to be major threats in my life.

In many ways, my spring/summer sabbatical served as a climax of this endeavour to make new space in my life – so that, upon returning in the fall, I was ready to focus on adding.

My Sabbatical started in mid-April, after Easter.  After beginning with a week-long personal retreat, I had been expecting this three-month period tobe a perfect opportunity for me to forge ahead in my doctoral studies.  However, my wife and I concluded that May would also be the perfect time to take our kids on a month-long road trip to see the National Parks of the American southwest.  This had been a bucket-list item for years, and the kids were the perfect age: old enough to enjoy it, and young enough that missing school wouldn’t be a problem.  So, for the entire month of May, our family vacated our home – staying with friends and family along the way, we visited 10 national parks in California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Montana – in addition to other stops of interest.

Being away from home for a month – I hadn’t done this since my wife and I spent a summer doing missions work in Russia, as newlyweds.  Now, we were doing it again, as a family of 5.  In both cases, it had a really galvanizing effect on our relationships:

Removed from our daily commitments and regular roles, we were set free to learn, grow, and “come out of our shells” as we experienced something new together.

Of course, being away from home meant taking a break from work – for the most part.  As a pastor, I spend a lot of my time supporting what other people do in the church.  While preaching is certainly essential to my role,

I consider everything I do to be for the purpose of glorifying God by equipping the people of the church for their works of service and collective spiritual growth into Christ-likeness (Ephesians 4:11-16).

And so, while preaching can be covered by a guest preacher (thankfully, my dad, a retired pastor, came to do that), I found myself frequently checking emails and messages from people back home – making sure that people had what they needed to perform their various roles.  Though this somewhat took away from my feeling of freedom while on vacation, I’m thankful for how it set in motion a healthy process of maturation in my church: from that point on, various members became more and more able to serve independently of me – which, in turn, freed me up to address other needs.  Now, 8 months later, I look at my church and see a healthy, functional and maturing congregation that took major steps forward, last year.

Finally, while I took a break from home and from work during my sabbatical, I also took a break from homework.  The previous year (year 5 of my Doctor of Ministry journey) had been another great step forward – I had interviewed 20 newly baptized believers in my city, recording their stories of coming to faith.  Next on my to-do list would be to transcribe them and codify their content according to the themes and connections that I found in them.  I expected this to be a long and tedious process, and struggled to discern whether I should forge ahead or wait.  But, when I found that a computer program could transcribe my 30 hours of audio files in a matter of minutes, I felt free to receive this gift and set aside further work until after my family trip.  Since then, after finishing my Sabbatical and getting rolling again in ministry work, I’ve resumed my studies and have found the codifying process to be both tedious and rewarding.  What a privilege to be studying the stories of people who have recently come to faith in Christ!

For now, this ends my year-long journey of withdrawing, cutting, and ceasing from certain life practices…in order to make room for other things.  It is certainly an ongoing need – to monitor one’s free time and ensure that the right priorities are in place.  But perhaps the cumulative effect of this past year is that it has left me in a place where I have time and space to take on new, positive, productive, and rejuvenating endeavours.  Here are a few devotional books that I have started this year:


The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in Daily LifeNew Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel DevotionalThirsting After God: Price, Keith A.: 9780875098203: Books -

Thirsting after God is written by the Canadian director of “Christian Direction,” a ministry based in Montreal.  Price urges his readers to seek the satisfaction of their hearts in God, alone.

New Morning Mercies is written by American pastor, speaker & writer, Paul David Tripp – offering daily reminders of how the gospel impacts our lives.

The Ignatian Adventure is written by American Jesuit priest, Kevin O’Brien, who seeks to make the Ignatian retreat exercises (Scriptures with guided prayers) accessible for people in their daily lives.

May God bless, guide & satisfy you in this year ahead!

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Life Without: Smartphone?

After starting 2023 with a commitment to avoid buying books for the whole year, I’ve selected something new to give up for each successive month.
Have I lost your attention yet?  Why would I do such a thing?

Maybe giving up things for a month at a time sounds drastic and self-destructive.  Maybe it sounds pointless and overly negative.
Is this just some kind of excessive legalism or ancient asceticism?
Why not focus on doing positive things?

The answer to that is simple – sometimes, good things get crowded out of our lives, and we need to make space for them to regain ground.  That’s why Christian spiritual disciplines involve both stillness and initiative,
as gardening involves both plowing and sowing, both pruning and planting.

Marva J. Dawn, in her book Keeping Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting image number 0the Sabbath Wholly, argues from her own personal experience that Sabbath includes activities of ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting.  And these turn out to work as a sort of process: when one removes certain activities from a day and regains a measure of freedom and energy, he or she is able to take initiative in new areas and enjoy the blessings already present in his or her life.

This is why I have viewed Sabbath as a foundational spiritual discipline – it creates time and space for other spiritual practices to flourish.  These include things that we do on Sundays together in fellowship, as well as things we’ve been waiting all week to do on our own.

And there are other forms of ceasing.  The Bible speaks plenty about fasting from food as a way to focus more, spiritually, or to express earnest desire.  For me, fasting from other life habits on a monthly basis has served as a way to keep certain activities in check, avoiding excess while creating opportunities to replace them with more worthwhile activities.

After doing so with buying books, listening to audiobooks, and drinking coffee, I decided to try cutting the use of my smartphone in the month of April.

To some, this may sound impossible – we’ve become so reliant on what smartphones offer.  To others, this may sound foolishwhy make life difficult for myself?  Perhaps others have not yet let smartphones become an integral part of their lives – they may wonder, what’s the big deal?

I didn’t have a cellphone until I was 22, and teaching English in St. Petersburg Russia for a year.  Realizing that my Russian was a little sub-par, I needed a way to contact help when I needed it.  Back then, we texted by repeatedly pushing numbers until they gave you the right letter.  Sometimes, the technology of “predictive texting” expedited the process.

Now, I find my smartphone quite essential to my daily life – it has rendered street maps obsolete, it has replaced the morning newspaper, the sports channel on t.v., visits to the local bank, my calendar, my notepad, my camera – and it has streamlined a lot of communication.  There’s an app for everything.  So what would life be like without my smartphone?  I thought I’d try to find out.

For emailing and messaging, the smartphone had made this available all of the time – even by voice texting (hands-free) in the car.  But confining emails to certain times and places (in front of my computer) created space in my life for other things – to think, to pray, to rest my mind.

For checking news and sports scores, it was similar – while a smartphone makes these available all of the time, I found it a helpful relief to compartmentalize and localize that practice to my computer desk.  I could more easily pick an appropriate time for it, and then walk away when I was finished.

With a smartphone, it’s so easy and tempting to pick it up at any spare moment – and so it is those spare moments that I gained back.

For google maps and google calendar, I actually missed these quite a bit.  While it is possible to plan your route ahead of time, or write appointments in an agenda book, the ability to receive directions in real-time (on the crazy roads of Victoria) and to instantly synchronize your calendar with your wife – these have proven invaluable for me.  Maybe if I still lived in a city whose streets followed a numerical grid (Metro Vancouver), I wouldn’t need Google Maps.  Maybe if I worked a 9-5 desk job or trade, I wouldn’t need google calendar – but I’m thankful for these functions!

I could go on and on – there are other phone functions that can’t easily be replaced – it was hard to see any advantage in ceasing to cash my paycheque online, and without Whatsapp, it would be a lot harder to  keep in touch with distant family.  However, there were certain functions that I quickly saw the value in cutting completely.  As much as I value Twitter/X as a source of breaking news and interesting facts, I greatly benefited from cutting its use from my phone.  While I made exceptions for other things, this was the one discipline I stuck to.

Overall, the great gain from restricting my smartphone use came in the form of spare moments.  By removing this constant distraction of my attention, I was more able to focus on things, and to be present to each and every moment – open to what God may show and tell me.  Without such discipline over our attention, it’s hard to imagine following the advice of this Psalm:

Psalm 46:10 | Creative | Scripture Art | Free Church Resources from Life.Church