Skimming

In life, there are going to be seasons of feasts, seasons of regular meals, and seasons of snacks.

It sounds simple but this insight from John Caplin, an organizational coach who has encouraged us greatly, has shaped much of our thinking in recent years. We’ve used this lens in how we parent, how we engage our work, and how we invest in our marriage.

Before having children, our marriage was in a season of feasts. Life was like dinning at The Mandarin. We had all the time together that we wanted. We adventured. We talked. We stayed up late by choice. We slept-in. Then toss a newborn baby grenade into that life and watch it all go boom! Suddenly your time, your sleep schedule, and even your budget, are no longer your own. We very quickly went from feasting to snacking. Oh that’s right, we weren’t going to starve, but snacks don’t keep you fueled for the long-haul.

Through work transitions, global moves, and now being outnumbered by our children (3 of them and 2 of us), we have seen seasons of snacking move into times of regular meals within our marriage and individual lives – we’ve even had a few feasting moments along the way.

Between life in Poland and life in Thailand, we had a couple of years in Canada that were busy for us in a different way. Since before we were married, we had always worked together. We like working together. We do well working together. Though almost 10 years into marriage, we took separate jobs and were confronted with the reality of not being present with one another nearly 24/7. We had different jobs with separate schedules and separate coworkers who became characters in stories we would tell each other at the end of the day. At one point M had 5 part-time jobs on the go and A’s dream job, at times, required a lot of emotional energy. We dismissed it as being a snacking season – even if it was by our own design.

After living in this space for too long, we began to see the signs of strain (and by that, we mean we saw them and kept on trucking with cosmetic changes and cyclical conversations and gobs of good intentions). We experienced relational hunger, so to speak. As we prepared to move to Thailand we went to a counselor and asked him to stress-test our relationship. We told him to think of us like a chubby person on a treadmill with the doctors trying to see if their heart will explode. It was through those conversations that we wrapped our minds around the concept of skimming.

SKIMMING IS TAKING A LITTLE FROM THE CONSTANTS IN YOUR LIFE TO GIVE TO THE IMMEDIATES. SKIMMING LIES TO US AND SAYS THAT THE CONSTANTS WILL ALWAYS BE THERE AND SO IT IS JUST FINE TO TAKE FROM THEM.

Skimming is engaging just one more work issue and then heading home emotionally drained because of course your spouse will understand it was a hard day at the office. Skimming is staying up late to work and being just a little too tired for your kid’s soccer game the next day. Skimming is giving the best of yourself to things that may genuinely feel critical, but are in reality not vital. We can live with skimming because we tell ourselves that it is with good reason or only for a season. After all, just a little off the top never hurt anyone…

Snacks and skimming are not the same. Snacking is often situational and is a last resort to see you through. Skimming is a choice. It is a dangerous assumption. It is founded on the lie that the big things in your life will always be there because they are big things. It’s okay to not give your best to your marriage / children / yourself right now, we tell ourselves, because of course my spouse / children / mental health understands and they’ll be there when I come back around. Skimming happens when we lose sight of what is foundational and we get lost in what is at eye-level.

Last month we made a major change in our work life. The word we keep using is “bittersweet”. It was hard to leave (still is in someways), but we found ourselves skimming again. Our marriage and our family are foundational – we’re talking bedrock. With so many things pulling on our attention and energies, we had lost ourselves in the immediate. Clearly, we’re still learning this no-skimming principle. And so we decided to not skim and to keep our gaze locked on to the forever things. The big things.

As we shared about our transition, one person shared a proverb about concentration that they heard from a Buddhist monk:

When you throw a ball to a dog, it chases the ball. But when you throw a ball to a lion, it keeps it’s gaze on you.

We’re still working it all out, but going forward we want less skimming and more lion’s gaze!

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