Does the beast of busyness lurk in your home? Is your family enslaved by the demands of the calendar? Do you want to slow down but don’t know how? If so, then Randy Frazee, the author of Making Room for Life, may be able to help. Back when I hosted the Parenting Teenagers radio program, I talked with him all about this, and here’s the transcript of our conversation…
In the book, you don’t waste any time getting to the heart of the problem. You say first off that many of us have squeezed living out of life. What do you mean by this?
This is an epidemic in our society today, particularly in any place where a person is in and out of the car a lot. In the very first chapter, we talk about something called “crowded loneliness,” and here’s what that is. If you were to take an individual and draw a picture of them in the center of the page and then have that person identify every relational world that they must manage, the average person and family would have thirty five to forty distinct separate circles that they have to manage. This ends up creating crowded loneliness where we are overexposed to a lot of people, but we don’t have a deep connection with anyone.
This is creating one of the major disconnections with our families. What happens is the family is going in multiple and different directions, so they not only don’t connect with anyone outside of the family, but this way of life that we have created for ourselves has really squeezed the living out of life for the family.
You paint a pretty bleak picture of the American daily schedule in the book…one that unfortunately many of us are all too familiar with. Do you believe that it is really possible for us to break out of this break-neck speed lifestyle?
It really is possible, but it’s going to take two things. Number one, it’s going to take vision. We’re going to have to teach and disciple people what it means to be in a family and how to live life again with all the choices we have.
Number two, it might take a crisis. In my personal life, I ran up against a crisis about seven years ago related to insomnia that really exposed how out of balance my life was as a pastor, a father, and a husband. Typically, it takes those two things to make a difference. I don’t know if it’s going to happen societally, but I do know that it can take place for the individual. We don’t have to wait for society to catch up.
Give us an idea of what this break-neck speed does to us.
There are health problems mentally, physically, and emotionally as well as spiritual and financial problems that are devastating the family. For me, I developed insomnia. Basically, I lived my life so imbalanced as a pastor for so long that eventually I couldn’t sleep anymore. That kind of insomnia leads to irritability, low productivity, and a sense of fear that really shut my life down. In addition to that, I wasn’t connecting with my kids the way I needed to. I had them involved in lots of activities in the evenings, and it was really hurting us physically. It wasn’t what God intended.
I’m the a pastor of a large church, and there are lots of expectations on me. I have four children; one in college, one in high school, one in junior high, and one in elementary school. I’ve been married for 22 years. In addition to my main job, I also write books.
There are some solutions that we have within our reach that we can choose incrementally that will help us to get our life back. Because of these, I’m able to engage in my hobbies, I’m able to spend time with my kids, and I’m sleeping like a baby!
And you didn’t expand the week to eight days!
No, I did not! I probably would have chosen that first if I could have, but it wasn’t available.
Part of your solution for this breakneck lifestyle is to restructure our relationships. As a matter of fact, you say that if we are not connected with people, we will die. I’m sure many people would say that their busyness is a direct result of relationships, so obviously you’re talking about something a little different and deeper.
That’s why we called it “crowded loneliness.” Crowded loneliness is very deceptive as a type of loneliness because it gives you the feeling as though you’re over-exposed to relationships when in reality, you’re not really in a deep connection with anyone. When you look at Genesis 2, it says that it’s not good for people to be alone. God wasn’t kidding!
We are living in a time of the greatest human disconnection that any place in human history has ever experienced. The studies are coming in and showing that if we do not have the right kind of connections, then it will literally kill us.
There’s a book by a guy named Will Miller called Refrigerator Rights. He points out that we have a lot of relationships, but asks how many people in our lives have been granted refrigerator rights by us – that is, people who come into our home and feel free to get into our refrigerator without permission. That’s the kind of relationships we need. People need to understand that when it comes to community and connection, most people now have linear friendships with lots of exposure but not a deep connection with a circle of people.
How does one begin to foster and develop relationships like that? What are some key things we can do?
Number one, you’re looking to develop a circle of people who not only know you, but who know each other.
Number two, this includes people who live around you so you can actually get at each other’s life in a more frequent and spontaneous way.
Number three, include your family. This is the biggest challenge in the church of the twenty-first century; we continue to model the world by separating our kids from us even at church. Community must include our children.
Number four, you have to stay out of the car. You have to park the car and spend more time sitting in the front yard hanging out. This means you have to decrease the number of evening activities that you’re involved in including organized children’s sports. I know I just became a bad guy, but organized children’s sports really hurts us as a society.
Number five, start experiencing meals again. The meal is the center place of community.
Restructuring our time via what you call The Hebrew Day Planner is a key concept in your book. Talk to us a bit about this.
This is a radical idea, but it’s an old and ancient idea. The basic structure is out of Genesis. The Hebrew day begins at 6:00 p.m. the day before. One of the things that hurts us as a people is that we think of the day as morning to morning, where the Hebrews thought of the day as evening to evening.
The evening hours from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. are the time of day that we were created for. This is the relational season of the day where we share a meal and conversation together. All the work is done and this is what we look forward to all day.
From 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. is the season of sleep. The National Institute of Health tells us that the average person right now needs 8.5 hours of sleep per night in order to be healthy. If you don’t get the full eight hours of sleep per night, your alertness will be reduced by 1/3 during the work hours of the day.
From 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. is the time available for work during the time of the sun. This doesn’t mean you have to work 12 hours; it just means this is the season by which you should get all your work done. Ideally, every member of the family seeks to get all their work done in 12 hours and then from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., there is the relational season of the day.
Our bodies need a sense of pattern and rhythm in order for us to get a full night’s sleep. We should try to go to bed as often as we can at the same time every night so that we can get a full night’s sleep.
It sounds like we need a little more discipline in our lives.
We need boundaries, and we need margins. The average person will say there is no way, but there definitely is. Youth workers will especially say this because they tend to do most of their work in the evenings. I would encourage them to pick up the book The Connecting Church. This is a book I wrote as a companion to Making Room For Life that talks about how we have moved our church over the last eight years to a model where it really promotes family and community over evening programs. As a result, we have deepened the family experience in terms of discipleship and time together, and we have actually increased people’s productivity because they have created boundaries.
When you start to put boundaries on work, then you have a tendency to get more done. As a pastor, that’s how I’m able to get more work done, write books, still enjoy the evenings with my family, and get a full night’s sleep.
Explain what you mean by “leisure sickness,” and tell families what they can do about it.
People actually do need more leisure, but there are two problems that people have by not having boundaries on their time. Number one, they never actually set the work aside. They’re waiting until the weekend to get it done. Number two, the members of the family are not on the same page, so they aren’t doing it as a family.
Leisure sickness is basically a common thing that’s emerging in America where people work so hard during the week without any boundaries that they are worn out. Then on the weekend, they are looking so forward to spending some leisure time, but then their body starts to shut down. Medical specialists say that leisure sickness is essentially where the body starts to create flu-like symptoms so it can crash. This often happens when you are looking forward to actually getting some leisure. Your body is saying that you have pushed it too hard, so now it’s going to shut down.
You have a whole section in your book about bad habits and myths about raising children. What are some of these bad habits and myths that knock our homes out of balance?
One of the major ones took place in the 1980’s. As society was moving to a more mobile society, the idea was to get your children involved in as many adult sponsored evening activities as you can to 1) keep your kids off the street and off of drugs and 2) to give them the advantage later on in life – whether it be with scholarships or success in life. This turned out to be a good idea but overstated.
As parents today, these habits reduce parenting to looking at our children through a chain link fence as we sit on an aluminum bench. As a result, kids want more hang time, more meal time, and more time to just be with their parents and their extended family.
I think one of the things that is going to have to happen is we’re going to have to let our kids play sports, but we’re going to have to put boundaries on them and understand that it was a myth that you do the best for your kid by getting them involved in all these things.
What are you suggesting when you tell parents to put boundaries on sports when everything takes place in the evenings, on Saturdays, and even sometimes on Sundays?
It’s hard! Number one, I would not highly encourage organized sports for children that are 6th grade and under. I would really let sports become a part of their life when it’s a part of the school system in the middle-school and high school years for a couple of reasons. Developmentally, they’re really not ready for sports at the level we’re introducing them to when they’re five years old. Because it’s with the school system – and they have their coaches and their own fields – there’s a tendency for the sports to be right after school, and therefore, the kids are able to get home for the mealtime. I would not do sports aggressively until they are in 7th grade.
Secondly, I would encourage people to pick sports that are predominantly on Saturday mornings. I think we were designed for that 6th day of activity, and we need to prevent the evening hours from being occupied with sports.
The third thing I would suggest is to select sports that do not pull your child out of your community (church, neighborhood, etc.). Try to stay away from specialized sports in a major way. If your children are going to do sports, have them do it with people that live around you so that you can share the experience together.
You also spend some time talking to parents about homework…something that can absolutely threaten to zap the time and energy out of a home. What are you telling parents here?
That’s a huge issue that we have had to address in our own family. One of the things that I would say is that you have to provide incentives for your kids to get their homework done during the school hour. They aren’t going to be motivated because they’re social beings, but you have to find ways to do that.
Number two, reset where the bar needs to be. It may not need to be straight A’s. You might need to reconsider that.
Number three, use Saturday mornings to do projects with them so they can get ahead in school. This will help lighten the load during the weekday evening hours.
A more radical suggestion is to homeschool them. Basically, my kids have doubled up on their schoolwork and are done by noon, and there isn’t any homework. This puts the parents back in control of the situation again.
One of the key ways that parents can de-compartmentalize the life of their family is by bringing church home so that faith oozes into every aspect of family life. How can parents of teens pull this off?
That is the heart and soul of what is driving me and my church. As a church, this is the goal because at the end of the day what ultimately connects our children spiritually is their relationship with their family and their extended spiritual family. We have taken all of our small groups – which include the entire family – and have placed them in neighborhoods. We do church as family. When we do work projects, they are with the family. We try to encourage the family to experience these things together. This is the big need of the day; it is the need for the family to be together as a family and to do life together as a family.