Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job in a timber merchant and he got it. The pay was really good and so was the work condition. For those reasons, the woodcutter was determined to do his best.
His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he supposed to work.
The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees.
“Congratulations,” the boss said. “Go on that way!”
Very motivated by the boss words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could only bring 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but he could only bring 10 trees. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees.
“I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought. He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on.
“When was the last time you sharpened your axe?” the boss asked.
“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been very busy trying to cut trees…”
This is a story that Stephen Covey tells in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and though simplistic, it hits at the heart of what more of us as leaders need to think about – keeping ourselves sharp to be able to lead others.
This past week was just such one of those intentional times for me. This is my third year of being involved with the Wilderness Institute for Leadership Development (W.I.L.D.). This is a 5-day canoeing/backpacking trip in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, designed to sharpen its participants for greater spiritual, mental, and physical growth.
And what a week it was for me.
Algonquin is an approximately 3,500 square mile “lab” that God has used in my life to bring me back to fuller pursuit of God and greater understanding of who I am in Jesus Christ. Plus it gives me an excuse to savor some time in the outdoors.
This year I was able to lead a group of six who all worked together for Camp Patmos. The group included the camp director, 3 college program directors, and 2 staffers who were sons of the camp director. They were a blast to be with and fun to serve.
God used this past week in each of our lives – for them as having a clearer sense of purpose and unity going into their summer camp program – for me in God ridding me of some poor views of Him in certain areas of my life and replacing them with His truth.
We saw some beautiful landscape, laughed a lot, had many canoe-talks, enjoyed some amazing around-the-fire camp meals and discussion, and paddled several miles. In addition, the team learned a new meaning of “pain is gain” through carrying a 40-pound backpack on their backs and a 55-pound canoe on their shoulders as we portaged up to one-half of a mile from one lake to the next.
There is something about the wilderness for me that strips away distractions and leaves me with the essence of what I am truly thinking about instead of forces that compete for my attention.
And I need that. And at different times more than others.
C.S. Lewis made a great observation:
We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
There is much wisdom that statement. I love my life, but there are times when I feel the quantity and direction of thoughts comes at me more than I can successfully handle and so I need a time of recalibration, a time to set my compass back to true north.
Though my post today is to journal the exciting things of this past week, my post is also to cause you to think about taking your own time away for reflection and recalibration.
I know the excuses, so I resonate with yours:
“I don’t have time.”
“I cannot get away.”
“I would like to but it is just too busy right now.”
Right. I get it. And in the meantime, you are chopping down 15 trees per day, then 10, then 5…
It does not have to be a week. It can be a weekend, a day, or an afternoon.
My point is…do something.
In reflecting over this past week or ones like it and why they were so effective, there are six defining features that I wish to share with you today for what makes for a time of mental, spiritual, or physical renewal in your own life.
There needs to be intentionality
These times are not just going to happen in the midst of our busy lives – they need to be built in. My good intentions have never gotten me very far. For me, W.I.L.D. is something I have planned for some months now. I spoke with my family and my employer and made sure responsibilities were taken care of on the front end.
There needs to be some spontaneity
What in part made this past week unique and special for me was that though there was structure, there were plenty of spontaneous moments to keep me off balance. What group would I lead? What was God wanting to do on the trip? What weather would we encounter? Would there be any “misinterpretations of the map” (i.e. getting lost) and losing time? These are all good tensions and they are just that: tensions – spontaneous opportunities for stretching that were not planned into the week.
There needs to be a different context
I admit I like my daily ruts. And I like them because I do not have to think so hard – much is just automatic. Getting away to a new venue in a new context forces me to wrestle with what is around me and to think in different paths than I am used to thinking.
There needs to be new ideas
Many times mental or spiritual rejuvenation comes about because of a fresh or new idea. Something that I was not thinking about before and because it is new, then fresh outcomes are right around the corner. This many times comes from a new environment in which I am not familiar.
There needs to be new people
Part of the benefit of W.I.L.D. for me is being around guys that just flat out sharpen me. I get to see my boy Ben Wilhite about once a year, and it is usually tied to this trip. I always know I will come away with a conversation with him with newfound clarity in my thinking and new spiritual insights. And guys like Dennis Wilhite and Dwight Peterson always send me away with tools for my life tool belt that I did not have before.
There needs to be new reading
Sorry, I had to sneak this one in. Part of keeping my saw sharp is reading – articles, books, blogs, whatever. And I try to particularly read those who present concepts or thoughts in original and compelling ways, ways that bridge thought-gaps for me and take me to new habits or patterns of thinking.
Though it was a tiring week, it was a restful week. Restful for my soul. Renewing for my spirit. And I was reminded just how much I periodically need these times in my life so that I can be more for those around me who look to me for leadership.
My countdown is already starting for the next time out. When will yours begin?