Living in Gratitude


The following post is offered by Spirited Life Wellness Advocate, Lisa MacKenzie.


“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us- and He has given us everything.”  -Thomas Merton

One of my children recently gave me a book entitled Living-in-Gratitude_imageLiving in Gratitude.  We’re a family of readers and often talk about what we’re reading or what we think the other person might like.  But when I started reading this book I wondered if it was given as a secret message for Mom.  I kept hearing in my head “Are you grateful? Is gratitude part of your life”?  Then I would say back to the voice, “Of course I practice gratitude…..well, I think I do…..well, maybe I don’t all the time…. well how do you practice gratitude anyway?”

The book is a month-to-month guide for the practice of gratitude. The author, Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist, says that “practice is meant to be active, rigorous, and dynamic.  To practice is to take action that supports change and provides a discipline for incorporating and strengthening new values, skills and character qualities.”  I was especially interested in how a practice of gratitude might affect health in particular, since health and well-being are pretty important to most of us.  Our first thought may not be about gratitude as a basic health practice.

Even though it’s July, I started at the beginning of the book with January.  I worried that this was all going to be very shallow like “in January be thankful for a new year—a fresh start.”  Then I realized that the message from my daughter might be: give up on the cynicism for just a bit and read the book.  Right off the bat the author quotes Hopi Elder Thomas Banyacya who reminds us to vision and in visioning one must stop, consider, change and correct.

Arriens details this practice, which offers a way to align our vision with our choices.  This makes sense.  I was already feeling a tiny bit grateful for a new tool.  Unfolding in this January chapter are also the concepts of blessings, learnings, mercies and protections:  what they mean and the importance of paying attention to them.   As we identify blessings, learnings, mercies, and protections we have additional tools to develop a framework of intentionality, which as the author states, “helps us enter frequently and joyfully into the life changing state of being which is gratitude.”

Further into the book is another important question that addresses all areas of health and wellness.  Dr. William Stewart, author of Deep Medicine and the medical director of the Institute for Health and Healing at the California Pacific Medical Center, suggests that we ask this question:  Are the choices I am making health enhancing or health negating?  And he’s talking about all realms of health from the spiritual to the financial. Dr. Stewart and many others have demonstrated that health improves or declines according to the choices we make.

Arriens points out that it is well documented that the daily practice of gratitude increases health and well being.  Genuine expressions of gratitude reduce stress, develop positive attitudes and performance, strengthen the immune system and increase our experience of joy and happiness.

This book encourages gratitude through reflection, questioning, action and practice.  It recognizes the importance of research and intellectualism but then goes to the deeper meaning found only in the heart. I’m only up to March but I’m beginning to think that Living in Gratitude might just change the way I think about wellness.

(Book cover image from

Lisa-MacKenzie-90x120-Lisa MacKenzie

What Is Your Rope to the Barn?


a hidden wholenessI’ve been a fan of the author and teacher Parker Palmer ever since reading “The Courage to Teach” in college. In today’s blog post, excerpted from his beautiful book “A Hidden Wholeness,” he writes thoughtfully of the need for “a rope to the barn” to keep us connected when life’s “blizzards” threaten to overwhelm us.  

Reposted from his blog at the Center For Courage & Renewal. 

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The blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul.
—Leonard Cohen

There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards.

Today we live in a blizzard of another sort. It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence, and their inevitable outcome, war. It swirls within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit, and indifference to the suffering of others. We all know stories of people who have wandered off into this madness and been separated from their own souls, losing their moral bearings and even their mortal lives: they make headlines because they take so many innocents down with them.

The lost ones come from every walk of life: clergy and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and schoolchildren. Some of us fear that we, or those we love, will become lost in the storm. Some are lost at this moment and are trying to find the way home. Some are lost without knowing it. And some are using the blizzard as cover while cynically exploiting its chaos for private gain.

So it is easy to believe the poet’s claim that “the blizzard of the world” has overturned “the order of the soul,” easy to believe that the soul—that life-giving core of the human self, with its hunger for truth and justice, love and forgiveness—has lost all power to guide our lives.

But my own experience of the blizzard, which includes getting lost in it more often than I like to admit, tells me that it is not so. The soul’s order can never be destroyed. It may be obscured by the whiteout. We may forget, or deny, that its guidance is close at hand. And yet we are still in the soul’s backyard, with chance after chance to regain our bearings.

This book [and the resources of Courage & Renewal] is about tying a rope from the back door out to the barn so that we can find our way home again. When we catch sight of the soul, we can survive the blizzard without losing our hope or our way. When we catch sight of the soul, we can become healers in a wounded world—in the family, in the neighborhood, in the workplace, and in political life—as we are called back to our “hidden wholeness” amid the violence of the storm.

Excerpt from Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. Jossey-Bass, 2004

–Caren Swanson

The Canticle of The Sun


9780763613815_p0_v1_s260x420In honor of the Feast of Saint Francis, I’m sharing one of my favorite prayers, “The Canticle of the Sun.”  My daughter has a children’s book that is an adaptation of the prayer, called The Circle of Days.  One of our favorite ways to end a busy day is to curl up and read it together.  The words have been such a comfort to me through the ups and downs of the last few years.  I trust that they will be an encouragement to you on this sunny Friday.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,saint-francis-of-assisi-detail.jpg!Blogthrough whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy are those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

The Practice of Paying Attention


This is a guest post by Rev. John Bryant.

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This summer I am reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s excellent An Altar in the World with the Duke Field Education student working at Wesley Chapel. I love Taylor’s books because she crafts words and phrases in a way that always captures my imagination. An Altar in the World explores spiritual themes through simple practices. This week one of the chapters we read was on paying attention.

I like to think I am pretty good at paying attention, but I know the buzz of smartphones and social media leads me to be more distracted than I would like and probably more than I even realize. So I did my best to slow down and really digest her words, rather than scanning quickly through the chapter and moving on to the next thing.

I was reading outside on the porch and heard a buzzing sound off to my left. Assuming it was a Cicada Killer wasp or bumblebee checking out some flowers, I looked over just to make sure it was not getting too curious about me. To my surprise I saw a hummingbird hovering right off the edge of the porch. It stayed for a brief moment, then flew on.

4603495186_189549c3e1_zWhat a gift! I can’t remember the last time I saw a hummingbird not at a feeder. And to have it so close was an extra blessing.

I still can’t shake the irony of my gift also being a lesson. Had I not slowed down and paid attention, had I assumed I knew what was happening and not looked, I would have missed the gift.

Where have you paid attention and received a blessing this week?

JohnJohn Bryant is a participant in Group 2 of Spirited Life. He is the pastor at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Misenheimer, NC.  His blog can be found here:

Click for Rev. Bryant’s post, Pray without Ceasing.

Image by flickr user gainesp2003 via CC.

Summer Reading


Ahhh, summer. Kick back. Relax. Soak up some sun and sleep a few extra hours.

Ok, ok – so summer might not be quite this dreamy, but it is a cultural and seasonal reminder of our natural human need for rest. Maybe you’ll get to head to the beach or the mountains with family. Maybe you’ve tacked a few days onto the front end of Annual Conference to spend time with your family. Maybe you’re not physically leaving town this summer, but you’re looking for some sort of “vacation” from the buzz of fall, winter, and spring.

One of my favorite ways to escape, whether I’m traveling or in my own living room, involves pulling my knees up, propping my feet, and settling into a good book for awhile. Whether I’m lulled by the rhythm of beautiful poetry or fascinated by the winding and weaving of a good novel, the engagement of my imagination in a world that is completely “other” is incredibly restorative!


So, this summer, I’m challenging you to read one good book. Not a book for sermon prep. Not a book for your summer small group. Just a book for fun. You might be amazed at how fun it is to check out of your world for an hour or two and jump into your imagination.

Here are a few book lists to get you started:

  • NPR publishes an annual Summer Books list with a wide variety of categories (also available for 2012, 2011, and 2010)
  • The New York Times regularly adds book reviews of all kinds.
  • Good Reads is a social networking site for readers. Check out some users’ lists for summer reads here.
  • Oprah weighs in here.
  • Christianity Century’s book reviews might yield an idea, too!
  • Think of the last book you truly enjoyed, head to Amazon and see what other users who enjoyed that book chose next.
  • A previous blog post points to some websites that specifically review and/or sell Christian books, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you can find the information here.

Having trouble getting started? Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:

  • Call a friend and plan bi-weekly Skype dates to discuss a book over the course of the summer.
  • Go make friends with an employee at the local bookstore.
  • Schedule an hour for three days a week, just for the summer, and devote that time to reading. Or just read a few pages each night before bed!
  • Find a book you want to read with your kids.
  • Find a place at work, outside, or at home that is truly comfortable. This will make the whole experience much more enjoyable.
  • Ask a friend what book he/she has enjoyed recently (we all have those friends who are always reading good books – use the resource!)
  • Have a book you’ve been wanting to read but just haven’t gotten to it? Make it your goal of the summer to read the book.

Happy reading and bon voyage!

-Ellie Poole

Image by flickr user MorBCN, via Creative Commons.

Monday Giveaway #4: The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman


8495570358_b4e01c3fb8_cWe all know that Americans eat too much junk food. But figuring out what to do about it is complicated. Do we ban super-sized sodas? Do we all become vegetarians? Do we eat like the Italians? The Japanese? There are truly thousands of books, articles and websites out there, telling us how to eat more healthfully, but it can be hard to sort through all the conflicting information! Complicating it further: in our information age, much of what we do find seems to assume we either have an unlimited budget, multiple hours available to prepare a meal, or both.

We at the Clergy Health Initiative promote healthy eating choices because we believe that our bodies are gifts from God, which we have been charged with stewarding. We recognize that in our fast-paced culture, making these choices can be difficult, not to mention costly. Many pastors in our Spirited Life wellness program live in remote parts of North Carolina, where there is limited access to sources of fresh food. Despite these challenges, though, we continue to encourage and provide support for healthy eating, because we recognize the connection between mind, body and spirit. When our bodies feel well-nourished and cared for, we have more energy, we are able to think more clearly. Simply put, we feel better.

03-29-00_mark-bittman-the-food-matters-cookbook_originalIn this spirit of feeling better, we offer our final May giveaway — The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman. Bittman is best known for his cookbooks, How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Both are heralded for being full of recipes that are easy to follow, with affordable, down-to-earth ingredients. He also blogs for the New York Times, and his op-eds champion simple, healthful food and the pleasures of cooking — without assuming that you spend two hours making dinner every night.

The Food Matters Cookbook is one of Bittman’s newest offerings, and it draws the connection between the food choices we make and the environment. (He did an entertaining and informative TED talk on the topic, which you can find at the bottom of this post.) Bittman emphasizes that what is best for the environment is often times what is best for human health as well, and he offers 500+ recipes for “better living” that help the reader eat healthfully and sustainably. If you are looking for some inspiration for what to do with all that kale and swiss chard at the farmer’s market, or are looking for some ideas on making healthier desserts, this cookbook is for you!

As we move into the season of bounteous fresh food, let’s remember that God called all of creation GOOD, both the human body and earth that sustains us. Eating well does not have to cost a fortune, or be boring and tasteless! Let’s celebrate God’s provision for us by enjoying the good gifts of the land this season, and by tending with care the bodies in which we travel this life.

–Caren Swanson

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This week we are giving away one copy of The Food Matters Cookbook!

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway – just make sure to tell us what you did so we can count your entry!

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you e-mailed 25 friends (or tagged them in a post on Facebook) about the giveaway, and liked our Facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

And the winner is Caren Bigelow Morgan!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Caren, and let us know where to mail your copy of this book!

Thanks to all who commented here on the blog or on our facebook page, and for supporting the work of the blog and making our one year “blogiversary” a great month!  

Image by flickr user gruntzooki via Creative Commons

The Power of Habit: Keystone Habits


Don’t miss the news about the winner of this week’s giveaway on Monday’s post, and check in with us next Monday for another fun giveaway!

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On Monday, Kelli posted on The Power of Habit, a book that has been passed around our office and has generated interesting conversation. We rely on habits to help us make it through our days, so that the activities we do regularly are not as taxing to accomplish and so that we can run on autopilot when we need to.

In the book, Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits: small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives. Keystone habits have a ripple effect into other parts of life, creating positive change unexpectedly. And who doesn’t want this whole behavior change challenge to be a bit easier?

Two keystone habits that Duhigg highlights are exercise and food journaling. On exercise:

5447958713_a375185097_o“When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why…‘Exercise spills over,’ said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. ‘There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.’” (p. 109)

Once people invest time and energy in exercise, it appears that they are set up to make other beneficial changes, even without consciously doing it.

Food journaling seems a little more clear cut: if someone is focusing on weight loss, keeping track of what they eat increases the intrinsic reward of good behavior by creating an extrinsic reward, which is seeing the food consumption documented. But researchers of a large weight-loss study were surprised to see just how effective it was, and how it influenced other behaviors:

“It was hard at first [writing down everything one day per week]. The subjects forgot to carry their food journals, or would snack and not note it…Eventually, it became a habit.  Then something unexpected happened. The participant started looking at their entries and finding patterns they didn’t know existed. Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about 10 a.m., so they began keeping an apple or banana on their desks for mid-morning munchies. Others started using their journals to plan future menus, and when dinner rolled around, they ate the healthy meal they had written down, rather than junk food from the fridge.” (p. 120)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chore of recording food was difficult at first — as all new habits are.  But researchers found that six months into the study, people who kept food records daily lost twice as much weight as everyone else! And because of their heightened awareness, they were primed to make additional positive changes to their behavior.

Exercise and food journaling are just two examples of keystone habits, and they’re by no means simple to implement. But they’ve been shown to serve as catalysts for other changes.

What are the keystone habits that set you up for flourishing?

–Catherine Wilson

Top image by eccampbell, lower one by John’s Brain, both used with permission via Creative Commons.

Monday Giveaway #3: Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit


“We first make our habits, then our habits make us.”– John Dryden

habitIn The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg does not give away a secret formula for changing our deeply ingrained habits. Instead, he offers something equally intriguing — a framework for understanding them. He insists that if habits can be changed, we must first understand how they work. To that end, he delivers chapters that are with scientific research and compelling stories, building on a different aspect of why habits exist and how they function in our personal lives, our business, and our larger culture.

Duhigg describes the brain’s habit-forming process as being a three-step loop.


First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain which habit to use. Then there is the routine, the acting out of the habit itself. This routine doesn’t have to be physical; it could be mental or emotional as well. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

So do you want the good news or the bad news? Let’s rip the band-aid off first.

Unless we figure out how our bad habits work, we can’t undo them. Our brains can’t tell the difference between a good habit and a bad habit. They’re just habits. So if our habit is to eat a chocolate chip cookie every day at 3 pm, it is pretty likely that tomorrow our habit will literally pull us to the bakery.

That’s rather bleak. Now for the good news.

We can make new habits! The brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit. Habit-making is encoded into the structures of our brain. On one level, this is a huge advantage for us: habits allow the brain to perform everyday tasks without conscious thought. Without habit loops, our brains would quickly shut down, overwhelmed by the detail of daily life.

Have you ever experienced pulling into your driveway and not remembering the details of your drive home? Driving home safely has become a habit which allows you to think about your grocery list and getting dinner on the table.

To change a habit, we must learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviors, forcing bad tendencies into the background. With some help and intentional work, we can figure out our habit loops, identify the cues, the routine that occurs, and the reward we receive. In doing so, we gain power over our habits and can begin to shift our behavior.

  • What habit(s) do you struggle to change? Identify the behavior or routine.
  • What need gets met by the reward? Experiment with rewards: what’s valuable or meaningful?
  • What triggers your behavior? Isolate the cue.

Then, reframe the habit by creating a new habit plan: When I see [cue], I will do [routine], in order to get [reward].

Changing habits is really, really hard work. Biologically, it was meant to be so. But understanding more about how habits work can help us make plans of action. When we have a plan, and a lot of support from people around us, we can all develop new habits that eventually will become old habits.


Going for a walk around the block at 3 pm can replace our bakery run and become as mindless as brushing our teeth.

You do brush your teeth, don’t you?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”            -Romans 12:2

Kelli Sittser

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This week we are giving away one copy of The Power of Habit!

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway – just make sure to tell us what you did so we can count your entry!

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you e-mailed 25 friends (or tagged them in a post on Facebook) about the giveaway, and liked our Facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

A winner will be drawn at random on Friday morning, May 24, so be sure to get all your entries logged by 10 a.m. EDT Friday.

And the winner is Laura Stern!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Laura, and let us know where to mail your copy of this book!

Thanks to all who commented here on the blog or on our facebook page, and for supporting the work of the blog!  

Check back with us for details on our final May giveaway next Monday!


Monday Giveaway #1: Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul!


sanctuary-of-the-soul-2We are so pleased to bring you the first in our Mondays in May giveaway series, celebrating our one-year “blog-iversary“! We can’t think of a better resource to offer for this first giveaway than the newest book by beloved Christian writer and teacher, Richard Foster, author of the contemporary classic, Celebration of Discipline.

Foster’s newest title, Sanctuary of the Soul, focuses on meditative prayer as a practice that is both ancient and contemporary–rooted in scripture and the writings of some of the oldest voices in the Christian tradition, yet also offering spiritual depth and wisdom to the individual Christian in today’s church.

wellness wheel

Spiritual health lies at the very core of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative’s vision of holistic wellness. Many of the clergy participating in Spirited Life have expressed an interest in learning more about Christian spiritual practices, particularly ones that enable them to refill their own “wells,” as they spend so much time feeding others. One way that our staff has tried to respond to this need is by devoting time  in our fall workshops to the practice of centering prayer. We’ve written about centering prayer on the blog here and here.  So it is with this enthusiasm for contemplative prayer that we chose this book to be our first giveaway item.

For a glimpse into the book, there is a great review of it by Rev. Jason Byassee, pastor of Boone UMC in Boone, NC, first printed in Books & Culture when the book was published in late 2011. Read the full review here, or enjoy this excerpt:

This was a hard book review to write. You can only read so much elegant prose inviting you to pray before you feel guilty for not actually praying. Richard Foster notes this difficulty, quoting Thomas Merton: “You cannot learn meditation from a book. You just have to meditate.”

True enough, but good books help, and Sanctuary of the Soul is a good one. Not a sentence is misplaced, each drives you to the next with the expectation that good things will be waiting. Like all of Foster’s work since his landmark book The Celebration of Discipline, this one presents the spiritual disciplines to an evangelical audience as disciplines that are (not paradoxically) grace-filled.  If Ron Sider and Tony Campolo made it possible for evangelicals to speak of social justice, Richard Foster has done the same for spiritual disciplines.

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway:

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you told 25 friends about the giveaway, and liked our facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! We’re excited to spread the word about this gem of a book, and about the resources that this blog represents. Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

A winner will be drawn on Friday morning, May 10, so be sure to get all your entries logged by 10 a.m. EDT Friday.

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Thanks to ALL who supported the blog this week by leaving comments, “liking” the Duke Clergy Health Initiative Facebook page, and telling your friends! This week’s giveaway is now closed! And now, (drumroll, please!) the winner of Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul is Aundrea!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Aundrea, and let us know where to mail your book.

Check back next Monday for details on our next giveaway!

–Caren Swanson

“Nice guys finish…?”


Give More Than you TakeYou’re at table with a couple other pastors and your district superintendent  (or a comparable denominational leader). As you discuss and report on life and ministry, two competing impulses arise.

The first impulse: what a chance for fellowship this is! I’m meeting with my spiritual adviser, and if I can listen openly to my colleagues while sharing honestly my successes and struggles, I may finally find that support I need.

The second impulse: what a chance to get ahead this is! I’m meeting with my boss, and if I can throw my colleagues under the bus (framed as offering them prayer for their struggles) while promoting my skills and accomplishments, I may finally get that promotion I deserve.

We know we’re called to follow that first impulse, but we also know that in this world, nice guys finish last. But do they really? Wharton Professor Adam Grant begs to differ. In a recent interview about his book Give and Take, Grant makes his case with the research he’s collected.

In one of my own studies, hundreds of salespeople completed a questionnaire on their commitment to helping coworkers and customers, and I tracked their sales revenue over the course of a year. I found that the most productive salespeople were the “givers”—those who reported the strongest concern for benefiting others from the very beginning of their jobs. They earned the trust of their customers and the support of their coworkers. Similar patterns emerged in a number of other fields, and before long, I had many data points showing that the most successful people in a wide range of jobs are those who focus on contributing to others. The givers often outperform the matchers—those who seek an equal balance of giving and getting—as well as the takers, who aim to get more than they give.

Does this mean that giving guarantees success? Not exactly, says Grant. While the most successful tend to give most generously, the least successful also give generously. What makes the difference?

Ultimately, the biggest difference between the givers who rise to the top and those who sink to the bottom is the boundaries that they set. Givers who burn out consistently put the interests of others ahead of their own, sacrificing their energy and time and undermining their ability to give in the long run. Those who maintain success are careful to balance concern for others with their own interests. Instead of helping all of the people all of the time, they help many of the people much of the time. They’re careful to give in ways that are high benefit to others but not exceedingly costly to themselves.

Give WayThe most successful give generously, but they’re strategic about it. They set boundaries and look at benefits over time, which allows them to sustain their contributions.

Of course, for pastors, it’s no surprise that it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and there’s good precedent for giving so un-strategically that it’s scandalous (think of the “wasteful” beauty of the woman in Bethany lavishing expensive perfume on Jesus). But because we’re all tempted to think that in this world success only comes from self-seeking and miserly ambition, it’s nice to know that “this world’s” research supports giving–generously and strategically!

Tommy Grimm

(First picture by flickr user Your Secret General /via Creative Commons. Second picture by flickr user slimmer_jimmer /via Creative Commons.)