9 Signs Your Marriage Needs More Attention than Your Career or Kids

The longer you are married, the easier it is to let things come in between you and your spouse. When you first get married, you are ready to take on the world together. You make decisions together, you dream together, you are romantic with each other, continually pursuing each other. You can’t imagine anything coming between you and the most crucial person in your life.

But something happens.

Kids come along, and they have enormous needs that won’t go away.

Aging parents step in, and now you are taking care of them. Or parents who step into issues within your marriage. Or, if your spouse struggles to leave their family of origin and cling to this new family.

And your career starts to pick up. For many, the career catches them off guard because now they begin to feel affirmation, accomplishment, and people are noticing them in ways they didn’t have before.

Slowly, you stop pouring energy into your marriage because it feels more natural and comes easier to throw yourself into work and your kids.

But make no mistake, that path leads a ton of regret.

So, think of this post as a car dashboard telling you when to get your oil changed. Here are nine ways to know you need to spend more energy and time on your marriage than your job or your kids.

You check your email and text messages during dinner. The dinner table needs to be the time of day when you turn your phone off. Whoever emails you or texts you during dinner can wait. If not, don’t eat dinner. It is easy, though to have your devices at the table.

Interestingly, parents complain about their kids bringing devices to the table, but guess who did it first? Parents.

At our house and on date nights, we have a no devices rule. If you need to bring out a device, ask the other person if that is okay.

You can’t remember the last date night you had. The older your kids get, the harder it is to get time together with your spouse. A lot happens, and a lot needs to happen.

But you need to schedule a time for you and your spouse to be together. To have time to talk, process, share what is going on, get feedback, pursue each other.

This needs to be one of the things that are blocked out on your calendar each week. It doesn’t have to be expensive or a major production, but it does need to be consistent.

A few rules for this time: plan it, no electronics, have the goal be a connection with each other.

You are quick to say “yes” to your kids, sleeping with you at night. This is not the same thing as feeding a baby at night, but many couples to be kind to their child or do not have to say no to their spouse about sex, allow kids to overrun the bedroom. If this is happening, something deeper is going on that needs to be addressed.

Every night we have a child who wants to sleep in our bed, on our floor for one reason or another. If they show up at 3 am, that’s different than 10:15 pm. But communicate that there are places where kids don’t get to be, they won’t end up in counseling because of this.

Your bedroom has a TV in it. One of the best ways to kill your sex life in marriage is by putting a TV in your bedroom. Whenever I meet with a couple who is frustrated about their sex life, they often have a TV in their bedroom. If you have a TV in your room and a great sex life, great, but you are the exception.

A TV is a distraction (it also keeps you from getting great sleep).

PDA. One of the most significant signs that your marriage needs to attention is a lack of public displays of affection. Affection is the barometer of your marriage.

The older you get, the easier it is for this to slip. You stop holding hands, kissing, hugging.

The moment you look up and realize that your PDA is low, you need to give your marriage some attention.

Your weekends and evenings are taken over by your kids. Life is busy with kids: projects, sports, scouts, schoolwork, and plays. But when you begin to realize that you don’t have friend time, hobbies, you are running from one thing to the next; it is time to pull back and reevaluate. You don’t have to be in everything or be at everything.

When you hear a wife refer to her husband as one of her kids. This is a big one.

When a wife does this, underneath is disdain and disrespect of her husband. I’m not saying he doesn’t act like one of her kids, because he might. But this is one that tells you a lot about where your relationship is.

You are more open with someone at work than you are with your spouse. You spend a lot of time with people at work, and often, they are easier to talk to than your spouse. Slowly, during break time, lunch, or working late, you begin to share things with this person that you don’t share with your spouse.

You begin to get emotionally connected in a way that is incredibly dangerous to your marriage.

You see your spouse as getting in the way of your dreams. This a touchy one but an important one.

When you start in marriage, you are your spouse’s biggest cheerleader, standing in their corner (or at least you should be). Over time though, you can find yourselves pursuing different dreams, different lives. Slowly, the people closest to you seem to be inhibiting you from your goals instead of helping you to get there.

If you find yourself nodding your head to any or all of these, it isn’t hopeless. It just means that your marriage needs more attention than you and your spouse are giving it.

You Might be a Legalist If…

One of the biggest struggles we have, regardless of our faith or belief in Christianity, is legalism; the temptation to look for a list of rules instead of freedom.

Whenever I talk to anyone about any struggle, the answer they are looking for often resides in a list of rules — trying to lose weight? Tell me what I can and cannot eat — trying to get out of debt? Give me the ten things I have to do.

I do this all the time in leadership. I’ll meet someone who is further ahead, and my mind goes to what are the 3-5 things they did that I need to do.

Now, this isn’t necessarily wrong. It gets at the motivation and what we hope will come from these steps.

The problem is when we look to our list of rules to make us whole, to redeem us, save us.

In Christian terms, it is when we look to rules and how we behave to make us right with God, more accepted by God or ultimately, more loved by God.

In human terms, legalism helps us to feel superior to other people.

Here’s one of the things I run into though, while we all struggle with this, many of us don’t think we do this as much as we do.

How do you know if you’re falling into legalism? 

1. Why do you feel guilty about something?

We all have guilt. We feel it for different reasons.

I remember when I first became a Christian, I would try to reach my bible and pray first thing in the morning. I was told, Jesus got up while it was dark to pray, so that’s what I was supposed to do. The problem was, I’m not a morning person, and so I would fall asleep. Then I would beat myself up about it because a good Christian didn’t fall asleep while praying.

Why did I feel guilty? I wasn’t good enough.

The reality is though; a good Christian can read their bible and pray any time of day. And, falling asleep while praying isn’t a sin. I can’t think of a better time to fall asleep.

Good guilt would’ve been feeling guilty that I am missing out on being with Jesus.

2. Do you feel more or less free after doing something?

This gets at how you handle when guilt happens in your life because we all have guilt and shame we carry.

Here’s why this question lines up with legalism: what I’ve learned about rule-followers is we don’t know how to feel anything but guilt. Most of us don’t know what freedom feels like, and because of that, we don’t go for it.

3. Do you want people to know, or are you okay if it is anonymous?

This is a good one.

When you follow one of your rules, do something that makes you feel more spiritual or superior to someone; do you want people to know?

Do you want people to know how much you give? Serve? Can you read your bible without posting a verse on Instagram? Do you spend more time posting something good you did than actually doing something right?

The flip side, do you post things to get sympathy from people to tell you that you aren’t a failure? This is the “well that happened” post on Facebook. Parents do this all the time. We do this with our boss. So people will say, “I see you, and you are awesome.” But why does their opinion matter? Why does your kid’s opinion matter? Have you noticed, the view of someone else can crush us? Why?

Because we struggle to live free.

4. Do you feel more alive and closer to Christ or less?

Jesus said in John 10 that he came to give life. Be honest for a moment, if you’re a follower of Jesus, do you feel alive? Or do you feel exhausted? Do you feel like you are overflowing with life, you can’t handle how much life you have in Jesus?

Keeping rules is exhausting. Impossible for us. It is a burden we carry that we aren’t meant to carry.

There are two ways in Christian circles: through Jesus or legalism or ourselves.

Here’s the thing, as a follower of Jesus, you would say there is nothing you could do to earn salvation, life with God, but we live as if we could win his love. That what we do keeps us following Jesus or proves that we are following Jesus. What shows we are following Jesus is God’s love for us.

As we grow in our faith, to become more like Jesus, we think it rests entirely on us.

Many of us think our behavior determines whether our relationship with God is good or bad. But Christianity has never been about following rules; it has been about following Jesus.

Jesus is more interested in the person you become than the rules you keep.

Summer Break!

A little later than usual, but my summer break is here!

My elders are gracious each year to make sure my family and I get some time to rest and recharge. I’ll be posting many of our adventures on Instagram if you want to keep up. For me, it is five weeks away from preaching to work ahead on things for Revolution, rest, play, and recharge.

Be praying for our family and our church as we have some big things we are working on for the fall and 2020!

I often get asked what I’m reading over the summer, so here are a few of the books I’m most excited about (remember leaders, on your vacation, read books that benefit you personally):

No, I won’t read all of these, and I won’t feel bad about it!

In the meantime, here are some of the most recent top posts on my blog to keep you company until I get back:

Healthy Marriage (Katie and I wrote a lot about this topic this year because of doing a marriage series this year)

Healthy Church

Healthy Leadership

Healthy Faith

Being Satisfied Where You Are

Our culture is one that likes new things.

I know I do.

Regularly I talk to people around the same topic: Wishing they were somewhere else.

Not necessarily physically (although sometimes that’s it), but wanting to be somewhere else in life.

I had a season where I was discontent with my life and where I was. I was frustrated at my lack of progress; I started to dislike where I lived, and a friend looked at me and said, “What if you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be? What if where you are right now, with how your life is, this is where God wants you?”

Honestly, I looked at him and said, “If that’s the case, then I don’t like God at the moment.”

But life and where we end up is a battle of contentment.

We often focus on other things, yet I find it interesting in Philippians, that Paul talks about contentment.

Usually, that gets attached to finances (which makes sense), but what if contentment is bigger than that?

What if it covers contentment with your career, house, your body (!), your kids?

What if you are precisely where God wants you to be?

Notice, I didn’t say you would stay there. Sometimes God needs to keep us in certain places and seasons for us to learn things for what is next, but also for others to be prepared for us in what is next.

4 Ways to Destroy Any Relationship

Almost all marriage problems go back to communication. One person not saying what they want/need or the other person is not listening.

What is most interesting to me is how we often struggle to know what we even want in a relationship; what we need from the other person. I know for Katie and me, many times frustration sets in because I either don’t know what I want or need, or sometimes I’m afraid to ask for it because I don’t want to be a burden, but also because I’m worried she might say no.

So, instead of stating a need or desire, we settle for less in a relationship.

Dr. John Gottman, in his excellent book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, says four things destroy relationships. He calls them The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. As I walk through these, listen to which one is your go-to move in relationships, cause you have one.

1. Criticism. Complaint and criticism are different. A complaint is, “I’m frustrated you didn’t put away your clothes last night.” A criticism is, “Why are you so forgetful? I hate having to pick up after you all the time. You don’t care.”

Two words go with criticism: always and never. You always. You never.

Or by asking, “what is wrong with you?”

Why can’t you remember anything? Why can’t I count on you? Why are you always so selfish? What is wrong with you? What is your problem?

When we criticize a child, spouse, or friend, we are demeaning them and elevating ourselves.

What this also brings into the relationship is shame and shame is a powerful tool in relationships.

2. Contempt. The second horseman comes right after criticism and is contempt.

This is a sense of superiority over the other person and comes through as a form of disrespect.

This will show up in cynicism, sarcasm, mocking, eye rolls.

This shows up when it comes to time management, parenting skills, in-laws, handling money, almost any skill that someone thinks they’re better than the other.

According to Gottman, “Studies show this doesn’t just destroy your relationship, but couples that are contemptuous towards each other are more likely to get sick.”

3. Defensiveness. Defensiveness is a way of blaming your spouse, child, or co-worker.

It is saying, “the problem isn’t me; it’s you.”

Things you’ll say are: “why are you picking on me? Everyone is against me? What about all the good things I do? You never appreciate me. There’s no pleasing you.”

Have you ever noticed that the more someone gets defensive in a relationship, the more the other person attacks that person?

This does something else when a problem arises in a relationship. Defensiveness keeps me from having to deal with it. As long as the problem is “out there” or “someone else’s fault,” I don’t have to do anything about it.

4. Stonewalling. This one is powerful in relationships, but not in a good way.

This is when you disengage. You ignore. You walk out of the room while the other person is talking. They don’t respond in a conversation; they are silent.

Stonewalling communicates that you couldn’t care less about the relationship or situation.

Stonewalling is a power move.

While men and women stone wall, studies show men more often do this.

I think for several reasons, but one is that they saw it done growing up, and men are afraid of engaging emotions in relationships.

I’ve learned in our marriage; if I want to hurt Katie deeply, I need to walk out of the room during an argument.

Do you know what they all have in common? This is important and easy to miss.

They are moves to protect ourselves in relationships. They are power moves to get what we want. But they are also how we seek to belong and find intimacy in unhealthy ways.

Friday Five

It’s hard to believe it is summer. I’m a little over a week away from my summer preaching break and excited for some downtime with Katie and the Reich 5, to play, take some naps, explore and read some good books and have some slow days.

So, to help you with your summer travels here is my Friday Five:

Favorite book:

I recently read Tyler Reagin’s book The Life-Giving Leader: Learning to Lead from Your Truest Self. I mentioned Tyler in another Friday Five from a podcast interview I had with him. One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book is the parts about listening to your body, understanding what is happening inside of you while working and in relationships. 

I always have a novel going while I read leadership or ministry books, and I just finished Steve Berry’s new one, The Malta ExchangeI love books that involve church history (even if some of it isn’t accurate), I find it fascinating and this book, along with the series, was fantastic.

Favorite podcast:

I love all of Jim  Collins’ books, and when I saw that Tim Ferriss interviewed him, I was so excited, and this podcast episode did not disappoint. So much leadership wisdom packed into it.

The most recent Craig Groeschel leadership podcast on energy management might be his best episode yet. I love this idea and have found it to be right on in my life. This episode is a great listen for any leader (or parent) on how to know when you should do what in your life.

Favorite blog posts:

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on life stages and what happens at each life stage for a man, and it has been incredibly helpful. Helpful to see where I’ve been, where I am, and where I am going. The art of manliness had a great blog post that went with this in terms of anticipation in our lives.

See Yourself Through God’s Love for You

One of my biggest struggles and I don’t think I’m alone in this is experiencing and believing God’s love for me.

And yet…

One of the strongest and clearest messages throughout the Bible is God’s love for us. We are reminded that God doesn’t forget us (even though many of us feel forgotten), that God is close to us (also though He often feels far away), and that not only has He created us in His image but He knows us, and that doesn’t scare Him away (although we always fear that the moment someone truly knows us, they’ll bolt).

And yet, many of us still struggle to believe God loves us.

We believe God loves the world. We believe that through Jesus, God will redeem and restore the world, but we have a hard time placing ourselves in that.

So we run, we hide, we put up fronts, wear masks, beat ourselves up for past mistakes, try to earn God’s love, try to prove ourselves worth God’s love, and all the while God’s love sits there.

Philip Yancey, in his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? shares this story: David Ford, a professor at Cambridge, asked a Catholic priest the most common problem he encountered in twenty years of hearing confession. With no hesitation, the priest replied, “God.” Very few parishioners he meets in confession behave as if God is a God of love, forgiveness, gentleness, and compassion. They see God as someone to cower before, not as someone like Jesus, worthy of our trust. Ford comments, “This is perhaps the hardest truth of any to grasp. Do we wake up every morning amazed that we are loved by God?… Do we allow our day to be shaped by God’s desire to relate to us?”

The problem for many of us is that we read verses about God’s love for the world and us (John 3:16), that Jesus loves us (John 15:9), that God predestined us in love (Ephesians 1:4 – 5), that God sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17), that God loved us first (1 John 4:19), that God draws us to himself (John 6:44). We read Paul saying over 160 times that as a follower of Jesus, we are “in Christ,” and yet we live each day as if God is disappointed in us, indifferent towards us, mildly happy with us or “likes” us.

What if, and I say what if not because it isn’t right but because we wonder if it is.

But what if, all those verses listed above, are about you and God’s love for you?

They are.

In Colossians 3:12, Paul tells us that followers of Jesus are chosen, holy ones, dearly loved.

One of the things all of us long for is to be chosen, to be wanted, to be pursued. 

Many of us have nightmares from the playground of being chosen last for the team. Anything but the last one picked.

Not being asked to prom or the banquet, not being chosen for a scholarship, grant, or job.

Levi Lusko said God didn’t get stuck with you; He chose you.

Holy ones carry the idea that we are set apart, different. For something to be set apart, there is care with that person or thing. To be set apart carries the idea that there is a specific purpose for us, a plan, that’s why it is set apart.

Dearly loved is exactly what it sounds like. Many of us, though read that and wonder. You are dearly loved. Not just loved, dearly loved.

This is the basis for the Christian life, God’s love for you. Not what you do, not what you can do, but what God has done for you.

The most important thing about you is that God loves you.

David Benner said, “Some Christians base their identity on being a sinner. I think they have it wrong – or only half right. You are not simply a sinner; you are a deeply loved sinner. And there is all the difference in the world between the two.”

14 Things I’d Tell my 25 Year Old Self about Marriage

Over the last month, I’ve been sharing things I wish I could tell my 25-year-old self. I’ve already shared what I’d say to myself about leadership and life, so I thought I’d share some thoughts about marriage.

At 25, I had been married for three years, had just graduated from seminary, had already been fired from a job, and had a child.

So a lot had happened, and I still had no idea what I was doing when it came to marriage.

1. Your spouse has hopes and dreams too. I realized in my mid-30’s that our entire marriage and life had become about my dreams and goals. When we first got married, I finished up my masters, we moved for my jobs and kept things moving for my career. This isn’t necessarily wrong; in fact, you have to decide whose career will be the one that provides for your family. What quickly happened was I lost track of Katie’s hopes and dreams. I didn’t ask, and she stopped talking about them.

One day, I realized, I don’t know what Katie’s dreams are for the future. Sure, she probably shared mine (that’s what everyone husband says), but the reality is, she has her own because she is her person.

After apologizing to her, I asked what they were. I always tell people you don’t know the answer to this, even if you think you do.

2. You will hurt your spouse deeply (and they’ll hurt you). I guess I was surprised by how much I could hurt a person. While I had experienced hurt before, there is something different and deeper in marriage. Mainly because of the proximity and how much your spouse knows about you. But there is something else to this; there is a longing of acceptance that I had that I was only mildly aware of when we got married.

3. Getting through things will feel like it is taking all of your efforts, and it will often feel hopeless before it feels better. The high’s in marriage is incredible, but the low’s are lower than I expected. There are moments in a marriage where it feels like getting through the day will take more energy, effort, and grace than you have. This is where our faith has been crucial for us. I’m not sure we would’ve survived otherwise.

Often, what is hard in life and marriage is that when you move towards health and make changes, it gets harder before it gets easier. It is easy to think that because you’ve decided to change something that it should just start working, but it doesn’t. Sometimes it takes years to undo bad habits.

4. Get a counselor. I’ve said this in every post of lessons I’ve learned, but I’ll repeat it. Underneath almost all of your marriage problems are one of three things, and a counselor can help you to navigate those things and figure them out. For Katie and I, seeing a counselor, has helped us to have a wise voice interject to help us navigate different issues and have a common language with which to move forward.

5. Have a weekly date night and get away once a year. No matter what. We are big proponents of this and are blown away by the pushback we get from people on it. Protect your marriage and time together.

Here’s one thing I’ve never heard someone say, “We had too many date nights and getaways as a couple.” Have you heard someone say that? You haven’t, and you won’t.

These moments are invaluable to a healthy marriage. When Katie and I miss date nights, we feel it, and our marriage suffers because of it. These moments communicate with each other, “you matter, I’m thinking of you.”

At 25, we weren’t in this habit at all. Why? You don’t think you need to be because you’re in love and you have more time. Start as soon as you can as a couple.

6. Tell your kids they come after your spouse. This goes with #5 and something I’ve written on before, but make sure your schedule and life reflect that your spouse comes before your kids. You don’t neglect your kids, but your actions should communicate, marriage matters more than parenting.

Why?

The goal is for your kids to leave, not your spouse.

7. Understand the impact of your energy level, seasons in life, and know they are essential. In your 20’s, you think you have all the energy in the world. And you do in a way. But slowly, it dissipates. Work, age, health, aging parents, kids, lack of sleep, hormones. And the energy you had for work, life, hobbies, and relationships is lower.

If you aren’t prepared for this, it will run over you like a freight train.

This is why so many men in their late 30’s implode, burnout, cheat, and make terrible decisions. They think they are 23 still.

Couples do this with kids too. They think they have to sign up for everything, run after everything and they get tired.

Take stock regularly about the season of life, parenting, work, and marriage you are in. Understand that what you did in your 20’s isn’t what you’ll do in your 40’s.

Right now, parenting for us takes more energy and time than it did before, and I’ve had to say no to more outside opportunities. One day I might get to say yes to those things.

8. Prioritize friendships as an individual and a couple. I’m an introvert, and so I have to work hard at relationships. Thankfully, I have.

Most men, as they age, have less and fewer friendships.

Don’t do that.

If I sat down with my 25-year-old self, I would tell him, “cherish your friends and build into them.”

9. Help to make your spouse better. When you get married, you think your spouse will fulfill all your dreams and help you reach all your goals by making you better. Most of us don’t believe that we will do that for our spouse.

It’s sad because one of the things that makes a marriage great is seeing your spouse grow, become better, and reach milestones. I love being able to celebrate Katie and see her get better. Selfishly in the early years of our marriage, I didn’t think that way. I wanted her to help me grow, not the other way around.

I hope, when we are old and gray, Katie will be able to say that she is a better person because she spent her life with me. I know I’ll be able to say that of her.

10. Laugh a lot and enjoy each other and your life together. Notice, I didn’t say laugh at each other, but to laugh with each other.

To this day, I’d rather be with Katie than anyone else. I love traveling with her, eating with her, sitting silently with her and listening to her talk.

Find things you both enjoy doing and do those together, but also give space for each other to have hobbies they do without you.

11. Fight for oneness. We tell couples when you fight, and you will fight, fight for oneness. Always push towards being more and more one flesh than two.

12. Be your spouse’s biggest cheerleader. I’ll admit, I was pretty selfish (and still battle it) when we got married, so this has been hard for me sad because I missed some great opportunities to cheer for Katie and lift her.

Cheering for your spouse sometimes will mean that you lose out on your dream simply because of space and capacity. That is okay. Sacrifice is one of the beautiful things about marriage.

13. Never make fun of each other. From the beginning of our marriage, we created rules.

One of them was to never make fun of each other. Ever.

Have you ever watched a couple who nagged at each other or poked fun? The one being made fun of dies a little bit in front of everyone. For us, we strive not to tell stories that make the other person look stupid or silly.

This rule has been a life saver for us.

14. Stay pure and do all you can to have a great sex life. Porn almost destroyed us at the beginning of our marriage, and we’ve watched it destroy countless others. Part of being a student of your spouse as you get older understands their sexuality and what turns them on.

I remember an older guy telling me in my 20’s that if you worked at it, sex only got better in marriage. At 25 I thought he was crazy, but he’s right.

The Story You Tell Yourself [in Christ]

If I were to ask you, how do you see your life? How do you define it?

The answer would be about other people, jobs, finances, hurts, scars, joys, missed opportunities and ones you hit home runs on.

And if we’re honest, most of what we would say would be negative. We would focus on our failures at work how we missed that promotion. We would concentrate on regrets we carry around how we weren’t there for that friend, that child. We would talk about the hurts we carry. The relationship with a father we longed for but never had.

The funny thing about how we define our lives is that we identify them through a negative focus.

I came across this prayer this week, and it jumped off the page at me: O God, help me to believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is.

Slowly, over time, we begin to believe the stories we tell ourselves.

The story that says you aren’t worthwhile, you aren’t loveable, you’ll never measure up, you won’t be enough, you won’t be tall enough, strong enough or smart enough. You won’t make enough; you won’t produce enough.

The story goes on and on.

I think this is why one of the most used phrases in the New Testament is so important.

When you think of church people or Christian speak, you think of the word Christian.

That word is used only three times in the New Testament, but the phrase In Christ is used 165 times.

Rankin Wilbourne said: In Christ tells you a new story about who you are. In Christ means you have been given a new identity. God has called you into a new life, rooted in a history that predates you, anchored in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Here’s why this matters.

We spend our whole lives trying to prove ourselves, trying to find ourselves. In school, we try to find the right crowd to fit into, and that continues as we get through high school, college and into adult life.

Many of us have been abandoned and left by someone, and we wonder if we were worth loving. We wonder if anyone will care for us, not for what we can give them or do for them.

Many of us, in the darkness of the night, would admit that we feel inadequate, we feel like we don’t measure up, we don’t have what it takes. According to many doctors, this is the leading cause of anxiety and depression in our world today: not being enough.

This is why Our focus determines our lives. 

For good and bad. What we focus on determines where we end up. It determines what our lives become. How our relationships go. But, as one person said, what we focus on also determines what we miss.

So, if you focus on negative things all the time. Call yourself a realist, and you miss joy. You miss beauty.

If we focus only on our feelings, we might miss what is happening.

Many of us don’t pay attention to what is going on in our bodies, the feelings, sensations, the pits in our stomach and because of this, we miss some important things that God is telling us.

Being in Christ means we are given a new story, a new path to move forward in.

A few weeks ago, I was at a pastors lunch where they were talking about worship songs. One of the pastors said we needed fewer songs about God’s love for us and more songs about how God is holy, worthy of worship, the justice of God, etc.

Because this was my first time at this lunch, I didn’t say anything, but inside I was falling apart.

No matter what you think about God if I were to ask you, do you believe God is holy? Do you believe God is different from you? Almost everyone I know would say, “if there’s a God, he’s different form me. I might say holy.”

Right?

But, if I asked that same person, do you believe God loves you? That God could forgive you for the things you struggle to forgive yourself for? that God likes you and is pursuing you to have a relationship with you so you can be made whole? Almost all of us would say, “I don’t believe that. I might want to believe that, but I struggle to believe that.”

12 Things I’d Tell my 25 Year Old Self about Life

I turned 40 this month, and as I got closer to my birthday, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my life. A lot has happened in my 40 years. I moved across the country, got married, and now have five kids, and we are full on into the teenage years.

In light of turning 40, I wanted to share some things that I would tell my 25-year-old self. The reason? Most of us at 25 think we’re smarter than we are. Thankfully, I had some great people in my life along the way who told me hard things. I have a great wife who has stuck by me through some dark seasons, and I lead a church with a lot of people younger than me that I’d like to help learn from my mistakes instead of repeating them. I’ve already shared what I would tell myself about leadership and will add one on marriage soon.

So, here are 12 things I’d tell my 25-year-old self about life:

1. Prioritize relationships. I’m going to say this in all the posts, but as a man, this is something that gets overlooked. At 25, all I could think about was the goals that I had for my career, finances, and what my future climbing of the ladder would be like.

Because of that, people were more useful for helping me in that climb than actually investing in them as friends with desires and dreams. That’s hard for me to write, but at 25, that’s what I thought.

A switch happened to me in my 30’s, and the richness of my friendships now are evidence of that. I have people in my life who I have been incredibly close with for almost a decade, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

2. Get a counselor. This is a big theme for me because in my mid 30’s I did something that in my church growing up would’ve been frowned on, I went to a counselor. I can’t say how life changing this decision was. To have someone ask probing questions, to push, give advice, to listen. For Katie and I, to learn more about each other on a deeper soul level.

3. Eat healthy, move, and get enough sleep. When I was 25, I was in the worst shape of my life (click here to see all 300 pounds of me at 25) and I was miserable. Sleep was difficult, my self-esteem was at rock bottom, and it had profound adverse effects on my relationships, marriage, and career.

I decided at 28 and that all changed. I lost 130 pounds in 18 months and have never looked back. This year, my goal is to deadlift 500 pounds, squat 400, and bench 300. And I have a great shot at all three of them.

I remember sitting across the table from my brother-in-law at my heaviest, and he asked me, “Josh, how do you talk to others about self-control when you don’t have any in this area?” He was right. I believe a lack of self-control in one area shows a lack of self-control is in other areas. For me, losing that weight was not just life-changing for my body and health, but I became organized and disciplined in every other area of my life.

Don’t wait. It only gets harder.

Men, decide today to start moving, eat well to fuel your body, and get sleep.

At 25, I would stay up late watching movies and playing video games. I would run on 4-6 hours of sleep, and every part of my life was affected negatively. Today, according to my sleep app, I average 8 hours of sleep a night.

4. Know what it’s like to be on the other side of me. I’m a big fan of self-awareness as any reader of this blog knows. If it’s a personality test, I am all over it.

What I failed to understand though was the power of my personality. It is essential to know what you are like, how you are wired, what jobs fit you, etc. What many of us fail to know and understand is what we are like in relationships.

For many people, this one piece of information will help you immensely to move forward and not limit your influence in life and leadership.

5. Energy management is more important than time management. There is a lot of focus on time management, and we think a lot about it. Rightly so. We only have a limited amount of time. The reality as you get older though is that energy management is more critical.

In this way, by the time you hit 40, you will wonder if what you are spending your time and life on is worth spending your time and, life on. You begin to wonder if the things you do are worth doing.

There is nothing worse than feeling like you are wasting your life. It is essential to understand what recharges you, what lights in a fire in you, and what drains you. The longer it takes you to figure this out, the harder it will become later in life.

6. What matters today might not matter tomorrow (or in 10 years). I talked about this in the leadership post, but it applies here as well.

Things in your life that are important right now won’t be in 10 years. The people whose opinion matters so much to you right now, it might not matter in 10 years.

7. Read every day. I began this practice at 22 and have never regretted it.

When I was in seminary, I had to read a book every six days for three years and have tried to keep that pace (although I’ve slowed down for sure).

There is a lot of truth that the person you become in 5 years is determined by the books you read. 

8. Find people further along than you are. Many men struggle to find mentors. They don’t want to be a bother to someone or waste someone’s time. Men also struggle to get something from someone if they feel like they are getting it for free. But to move forward in life, it is better to do so off the wisdom of people who have walked before you.

9. Don’t take yourself so seriously. In your 20’s there is a lot of pressure to grow up and prove yourself. For me, this came out of my story and family narrative. I always had this feeling of not being enough, smart enough, or missing out on things in life. I felt this enormous pressure to prove myself to everyone. The problem is, everyone isn’t paying attention to you as much as you think they are.

And most people aren’t against you and your success, although we focus on the ones who are and give them a louder voice.

10. You won’t be able to outrun your story for much longer. The counselor we go to told me this more than five years ago, and it has stuck with me. He said, “Josh, in your 20’s and 30’s you have the energy to outrun your story. You’re building, driving, accomplishing, starting things. At 40, you won’t have the energy to outrun it anymore.” When he told me that, my first thought was, “I’m not running from anything.” But the more I’ve dug in, I was. We all are. Whether it is a switch of priorities or energy, it is true.

If I were sitting with my 25-year-old self, here’s what I’d want him to know: your 40’s are simply a continuation of your 20’s and 30’s. Whatever work you have done in those decades, you will reap the benefits of your choices financially, career, family, and health. The choices you make in those decades determine what the next few decades are like. I have sat across the table from incredibly successful men who are running from so many things, and they are miserable. I have sat across from men working multiple jobs, not making a lot of money who are filled with such joy. Why? It all goes back to their choices.

For men, your life becomes the sum of your choices. 

We don’t want to admit that, especially when it doesn’t go well or because we don’t want the pressure of it resting on our shoulders, but it is true. And the sooner you realize that, the better.

11. Prioritize your wife. I’ll talk about this more in my post on marriage, but too many husbands don’t prioritize their wife. Notice, I didn’t say your marriage, I said your wife.

I realized early in my 30’s that I had made my marriage all about my dreams and my goals. There was no space for Katie’s hopes and dreams. I had to apologize to her and make some corrections for that to happen. It is easy to make your marriage about one person’s hopes and dreams, but that isn’t what it’s supposed to be.

12. There are things you won’t be able to skip or go around; you will have to go through them. When I turned 25, what I didn’t know at the time was that I was about to move into the hardest two years of my life. That was the season Katie, and I refer to as our desert. I was betrayed by a close friend who was also my boss that led to me losing my job, we had our first child (consequently, the timing of all of our kids has never been ideal), and I found myself filled with a lot of self-doubts as it relates to my gifts and leadership and wondered if I was done being a pastor. At 25!

The reality of life is that you can’t avoid the pain and suffering and trials that come with life. You can run, pretend they aren’t happening as many people do, or you can engage them and walk through them. At our lowest point, Katie looked at me and said, “Will you just learn whatever God is trying to teach you so we can move forward.” God was dealing with my pride, self-sufficiency, and stubbornness.

There is a temptation in life to skip the hard parts. Don’t. There is a temptation to ask God why something is happening, and I understand this, but God wants to develop something in you and to learn to pray in those hard places, “What are you trying to show me” moves us to where God wants us faster than asking why.