Serious Fun, Each Day Counts
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The benefit of “fun” is often overlooked when we consider how to build healthy stepfamily relationships. But Ron Deal’s podcast guest, Dr. Jim Burns, says it’s an important piece that can help connect relationships. Listen to their conversation about why and how intentional play can benefit your family.
Serious Fun, Each Day Counts
Jim: Cancer helped me realize that—and maybe it was the idea of thinking about death—but realize that there are two important things: a right relationship with God and a right relationship with my loved ones. And I went, “Wait; why do I need to wait until I'm about ready to die to do that?”
What's crazy is we talk about being thankful. I'm not thankful for cancer; but I'm really thankful, in that situation, because I think it woke me up to a few habits that I was really doing that weren't as healthy.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Well, if there’s one thing that defines Ann Wilson—and there isn't just one thing—there's a million things. [Laughter] I'm looking at you like, “Oh, there's only one?”
Ann: And my mind is blank, like I have no idea what you're going to say.
Dave: I think one of them would be play.
Ann: Oh, I was going to say that about you; but then, again, we're both Enneagram 7 if you’re into that. That's kind of the hallmark of the 7.
Dave: Yes; but I mean, you bring joy and play into our family, especially. It was just my birthday, and what did you do? You created all these—
Dave: —these competitive games that I lost at almost everyone of them.
Ann: Because I knew you would love it.
Dave: Yes, the grandkids loved it; it was fun. But I mean, that's you. You just bring fun and joy into our marriage. And I think we underestimate how important that is—
Ann: Me too.
Dave: —to a marriage.
Today, we get to listen to Ron Deal from the FamilyLife Blended® podcast as he sat down with Jim Burns. We know Jim—we’ve had him on FamilyLife Today—love his energy. He's a guy that he and his wife battled through cancer and wrote a book about play and how important it is in their family and in their marriage. He’s the President of HomeWord and the Executive Director of HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University, out in California.
Anyway, this is a great discussion about how play brings energy into your marriage, and we all need to learn and understand this. Here's Ron and Jim.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: So we're talking around some of the themes in your new book, Have Serious Fun. Do I understand this right?—that that was born out of your journey in cancer?
Jim: Yes; right.
Ron: How does that work?
Jim: I got a call from a doctor; and he said, “Jim, come into the office; and I want you to bring your wife,”—that's never good news when they say, “Bring your wife,”—“and I want you to be here this afternoon.”
Jim: And it was cancer. And so we went through the process of that, and I had surgery. The night before surgery is where I got up in the middle of the night, and I wrote down principles that I wanted to pass to my kids.
I think, somewhere in our life, we forget that the problem in life is that we live by this breathless pace; and we sort of quit having fun. When I wrote my PhD dissertation, it was on traits of a healthy family. One of the key ingredients was the ingredient of play and fun—that families that played together…—I know we believe that families that pray together…—I believe that.
Jim: But frankly, families that played together stayed together also. Over and over again, I just kept seeing that play builds a closeness/play reduces stress, whether it be in a marriage or with your kids.
I have a friend, who's a pastor. He was talking about his son, who's 15, who had kind of strayed away from faith. I said, “Hey, I was just talking to your son. He's great. But he plays basketball. Do you ever play basketball with him? Didn't you play basketball?” He said, “Well, I did; but I'm too busy.” I said, “Go to Walmart®, buy a hoop, get out there and start playing basketball.”
I was back at his church about six months later; he said, “You'll never believe this story. I started playing with my son basketball most every day. He's really competitive, and I'm really competitive. And he said/just recently, he said, ‘Hey, Dad, after the game, let's sit down.’ And he said, ‘I'm ready to come back to the faith. I think I want to be a youth pastor.’”
It was an early story when he saw me that first time; but today, that kid is a youth pastor at a competing church, not that churches compete. I go, “Why didn't you bring him to your church?” He goes, “Well, he actually got a better offer; and he's doing great.” Well, how cool that God used play to bring this friend of mine’s son back to the Lord.
So play is an important ingredient and the fun factor in it is key. What I wanted to say to my kids, especially—but then, now to others is—“Be intentional about having fun.” And again, when you're going through a deep grief—let's say you go through a divorce—
Jim: —it's not like you're/the first word is: “Oh, well, let's just have fun.”
But I was talking to a woman last night, who had gone through a tough time, and is now a stepparent. It was fascinating; because she said, “When I was at the worst, I rented jet skis with my kids. I, all of a sudden, realized I was smiling; and I went, ‘Whoa, I'm smiling.’” And it wasn't that she couldn't just only have fun—she had to deal with her grief and everything else—but it was healing. There's a healing process in fun and play.
Ron: I am just processing so much right now, thinking about someone, who's listening to us, who has been or is going through some sort of physical ailment. Somebody who went through a death of a spouse, and/or a divorce, or a major transition of some sort.
And you're right: you don't think of fun as being something that throws in or is relative there. But what's fascinating to me is that, in the deep part of your pain and uncertainty about the future, you start thinking about legacy and what you want to pass onto your kids: that's one of the things that immediately pops to the surface.
Jim: Right; you know, at the end of the year, you never are going, “What was the best thing about the year?” You're never saying: “It was that Zoom call, the third one of the day,” [Laughter] or “It was doing the bills; that was great.” You know what it is: is you talk about family fun, or you talk about moments, even if it's memories; because play builds happy memories.
Jim: So even in the death of a loved one, or in those struggles—and again, I'm not saying that you don't face those—but I'm saying, “Sometimes, it's the memory.” I just was involved in a funeral of a very special person, and we cried. And we also laughed; because part of the memories were some fun memories about that person, because that person was a fun person. And that's one of the reasons why they probably had such a mentor influence in my life.
Jim: Because I was drawn to his playfulness; and yet, also, his incredible, beautiful God-honoring spirit about himself too. But we/he did it with a smile. Some of those stories were great; they were fun.
Ron: Well, you know, in my world, fun is an opportunity for bonding. I think about stepfamilies—and trying to get to know each other and all that new-relationship work that they're doing—activities/building memories, as you just said, is also an opportunity to create a moment, where you and I share that in a positive way.
Jim: Yes; and you don't have to be intense about it. There's a phrase we use in our marriage conferences, where we say, “Words don't always connect, but connection causes you to have good words.”
Let's take a step-parenting situation—or you take a/in a blended family, the child who's not your blood child but is kind of drawn in—sitting down, and saying, “Let's become close.” That's not going to work as much as maybe going to a dance recital together, or shopping, or playing a game, or whatever it might be. That, then, causes them to kind of relax and have those conversations—same with the marriage—it's way too many marriages don't play enough.
Ron: Yes, let's talk about that for a minute; because “Why do we not play now?” I mean, we play when we're dating; we play on the front end. Is it just time? Is it just we get busy? Is it that?—or is it—I don't know.
Jim: Well, I don't think we're intentional enough about it; because again, life is stressful. Life gets, you know, we always have something to do. But you know, it's a learned trait; and it means we've just got to do it.
For example, date nights; I'm big on date nights. I tell people: “Spend one percent of your week on a date” [Laughter]; I mean, it's 90 minutes. You can have a great date on that; and at the date, don't talk about your kids. Don't talk—well, you’ll talk a little bit about your kids—don't talk about the bills. Court each other; enjoy each other’s company; laugh and have some fun, whatever it is.
I have to laugh because Cathy and I've had some great dates lately. We had made a list about two years ago; we brainstormed some date ideas. We live by the beach in California; so she said: “You know, paddle boarding,” and “Let's go to the tide pools, then go to breakfast.” That's a neat date-type thing for her. You don't think a date, sometimes, in the morning; but that is a good one. She had all these lists.
Well, she's forgotten it; and I found it. So I've been checking off;—
Ron: Is that right?
Jim: —and her friend, Wendy, said, “Jim, you're like killing it on the dates right now.” [Laughter] I go, “I know!”
Ron: And you're like, “I'm so creative.”
Jim: Yes; well, it’s in her writing; it’s not even my writing.
Ron: You’re stealing the ideas.
Jim: I'm stealing her ideas, but she's forgotten. If she listens to this podcast, we're in trouble.
Ron: Uh, oh.
Jim: But the point being that, sometimes, we just have to be intentional: “We are going to go and do this,”—even if we don't/our mind or our bodies are saying, “Let's don't,”—and it ends up being fun. And every date doesn't have to be something fancy either. It can just be something that you enjoy doing and that draws you together.
A great mentor of mine, Neil Clark Warren, who founded eHarmony and whatnot, he/I was in his office one time because I was doing some work with him. He said, “You know, Jim, communication is a learned trait.” That rocked me; because I thought, “Well, I'm just going to communicate like my dad did in bad ways. And, you know, Cathy is going to communicate like her mom,” or whatever. But then I realized that we could learn this.
Well, I think the same is with having fun—being intentional about it—so you just go do it. You don't have to feel it; you find things that are fun with each other. You can make a list. Even in the times, when you're not going to go do it that day, we make a list of things that might be fun for each other; and you just go do it.
Ann: We're listening to Ron Deal and Jim Burns as they have a discussion on what we’re calling “Thanks Therapy.” This is from the FamilyLife Blended podcast. As I'm listening to that, my first thought was the word, “intentional.” You're being intentional, and you may not always feel like doing it; but as you get going, that joy and the laughter can come.
Dave: And I've never considered the fun as a learned behavior.
Ann: —and as therapy.
Dave: It's like you're either good at it or you're bad at. It's like: “Wow; that's a great insight. It's like I can choose to decide to do something fun.” And here's the thing about fun—it's like other things in marriage—sometimes you choose it, not feeling it; but the feelings come later.
Ann: I'm thinking about kids, too, as we have family fun, especially teenagers. Remember them complaining, like, “What are we doing?” And I would be saying, like, “No, this is going to be awesome.”
Dave: “You're going to love this. This is going to be fun,”—mandatory fun.
Ann: And I think we've done that in our marriage, where you're starting out, as: “What are we doing?”; but then, it's really good afterwards.
Dave: Yes; so let's go back to Ron and Jim, talking about this; because they get into the whole idea of giving thanks is something we do, intentionally, as well.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: Okay, we've talked about a number of things in the book. Is there another principle—
Ron: —you'd like to share?
Jim: Well, one that I'm thinking a lot about—and I think it blends with what you and I've been talking about—is it's the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. What I mean by that is; you know, there's pain in life: we’re either going to have the pain of discipline or we're going to have some pain of regret.
So what that means is we have to be intentional. Paul said to Timothy: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” He, actually, Ron, used an athletic term; because there's different terms you could use for discipline. And in that phrase, it was more of like athletic training, if you would. I think a lot of the decisions we make, if we really want to have a healthy life, and we really want to make a difference, then we’ve got to be intentional about the discipline. Some people are super-disciplined, but others aren't.
But you know, I had this funny experience last night or two/couple nights ago. Cathy and I were lying in bed in New York, at this wedding of my daughter’s. I said to her, “My chest hurts”; and she's like all panicky, like, “Is he getting a/did you have a heart attack? Are you okay?”
I go, “Oh, no, no. I'd been working out on weights.” And I'd done something in the gym at the hotel, the morning before, and my chest hurt because I was working out. That was the pain of discipline; okay? Not that you were saying: “Wow, Jim, you're looking buff” [Laughter]; but then, I kind of would grab my stomach and go—the little potbelly that I have—and I go, “That's the pain of regret.” [Laughter] You see what I'm saying?
Well, that's how it is with life—that we know what to do—we just, sometimes, don't do it.
Jim: So we take/it really is a good idea to take baby steps—but it is about discipline—and so it's about mindset and discipline.
In 1983, I made a decision to go through the one-year Bible and spend 20 minutes a day with God. Well, I'm like your adult ADD guy, who was/I had my devotions on and off. In 1983, I got serious about that; and it's only 20 minutes. Some people think that's wimpy; but I'm telling you, I think a lot of the anointing—I think a relationship with Cathy/relationship with my kids—I think it comes from my 20-minute thing.
Jim: But it's the discipline of doing that, day in and day out; and it's what ministers to me. Some people, my wife included, would say, “You read the same one-year Bible?” Well, I actually change it from New Living, to/and then NIV; but I don't change much. But it's really good for me to do that.
That discipline, at first, was really hard; I mean, there were some Decembers, where I had to read a lot at the very end, or struggling always through Leviticus, or whatever. But you know, today, I was on the day today. I just opened it up and I go, “Okay, well, today's the day; that's what I'm going to do,”—just like you would brush your teeth, and that kind of thing, has been helpful.
I wanted to share that with my kids, especially—that you have pain—so you're just going to have to decide if it's going to be the pain of regret or the pain of discipline. That works with family; it works with marriage; it works with struggles with relationships at work; it works with your kids: that we add that discipline side. That was a meaningful one for me, and not always easy; and sometimes, it's just grit.
I don't know if you read the book by Angela Duckworth.
Ron: I’ve not.
Jim: It was the bestselling book; it's a secular book. She also has like one of the best-known Ted talks, but she talks about grit. She studied people, who were in education or business. She said these weren't the smartest people; they were the people who had grit.
The Bible talks about endurance and perseverance; and so when people endure, or they persevere, that means they have grit. That means they discipline themselves. Even one of the latest studies that show, for troubled marriages: if people will stay in the marriage for five years,—
Jim: —that 75 percent say that it's better. Well, that's perseverance; that's grit; that's discipline. They discipline themselves instead of thinking the grass was going to get greener. And they're so grateful they did it after those five years.
Ron: Okay, I want to get back to cancer a little bit. You say that your life changed dramatically in having gone through this. I imagine that's an understatement. I know, as somebody, who has had great loss—
Ron: —in my life, we get recalibrated by loss; a lot of things change in us. Talk about something you do, that's tactical that you do different, as a result.
Jim: I actually think what mattered a lot in some ways before cancer doesn't matter as much and kind of vice versa.
Jim: And I would say one of the things—there are many—but I found that family is more important than vocation. I think a lot of us, who love what we do—I love what I do—sometimes, I'll give my family my emotional scraps, but I don't give my work my emotional scraps.
I think, after cancer, I went: “You know what? I don't need to work that extra hour. I can actually come home. I mean, what am I doing this for?” It's not like I have a boss, who says you’ve got to be here extra hours. I work enough hours/too many hours. I found that I had to ask the question: “Am I giving Cathy/am I giving my kids my emotional scraps?” Cancer helped me spend less time at work; it helped me not be as busy.
That's another principle: “If the devil can't make you bad, he'll make you busy.” I needed to learn that I had to schedule my priorities instead of let my priorities just kind of go to the wayside because of my—I have a great schedule; I work a schedule: I mean, I have this appointment and that appointment—but I'm not scheduling in my family time, especially when I needed my most efficient time. Cancer helped me realize that—and maybe it was the idea of thinking about death—but realize that there are two important things: a right relationship with God and a right relationship with my loved ones.
And fascinating enough, a woman named Elizabeth Cooper Ross, who wasn't coming from a Christian perspective, studied death and dying, and said, “When people are getting ready to die, they have two things: a right relationship with God and a right relationship with their loved ones.” I went, “Wait; why do I need to wait until I'm about ready to die to do that?”
But cancer caused me, Ron/honestly, it caused me to really recalibrate my energy toward Cathy and my energy toward my kids. And I don't think I was like the worst dad in the century, and I don't think I was the worst husband; but what it did was it caused me to rethink what I wanted to be known for: what I wanted my grave site to say or what they would say at my funeral. I didn't want them to recite my academic career or my work career. I wanted them to talk about the kind of dad I am or the kind of husband I am to Cathy. Cancer did that for me.
Jim: So what's crazy is we talk about being thankful—back to thankful—I'm not thankful for cancer; but I'm really thankful, in that situation, because I think it woke me up to a few habits that I was really doing that weren't as healthy.
Ron: I'm curious what one of those habits might be. I'm just sitting here, reflecting on what's tactical for me, is putting it on my calendar. Because if it's on my calendar, then that space cannot be taken out by something else/—
Ron: —some activity. It is a priority to me to spend time with my family, but it so easily slips away.
Ron: If I put it on there, then it's more likely to happen.
Jim: Yes; for me, there were two things that I can really specifically say—and every person asked will have a different one—but for me, I'm a hard worker. My dad was an alcoholic, so my workaholism could get in the way. And so I go into the office early and I stay late. All of a sudden, I realized I don't need to be the last person in this office; I don't need to leave at 6:30. I honestly could leave when this office closes at 5 many nights, and nobody's going to be all bugged about it. That meant I was fresher for Cathy.
And then there were other things, where I realized that I'm a people pleaser like crazy. And so, when people would ask me to speak, I'd go, “Sure.” Now, Cathy and I do that together. We talk about that; I would never take a speaking engagement without her, but she likes that I get to speak and whatnot, too. I just realized there were some times I had to say, “No, I can't do it. Love you, but I just simply can't do it. Maybe another time, or maybe on the back of something else.”
And you know, it's funny—I didn't get less speaking engagements—I probably get requests/more requests today. But I just have a better handle on saying, “No, I’ve got something going on this week.” They're probably thinking, “Oh, he’s doing some great glorious ministry.” “No, our family's having a barbeque.” [Laughter]
Ron: There you go.
Dave: We've been listening to Ron Deal from the FamilyLife Blended podcast as he talked to Jim Burns about what they called “Practicing Thanks Therapy.” We just actually got a little clip of that; there's more that you can go listen to. But I'll tell you what: that last little part was for me.
Ann: Oh, I was going to say: “Did you hear that? Did you hear the last part?”
Dave: ‘Did you hear it?!” It isn’t just for me; it's for you too. Is that all you thought is: “It's for Dave.” [Laughter] That's what you thought; isn't it?—like I'm the only one that needs to hear this, not you.
Ann: —of saying “No,” to things?
Dave: You're perfect; I'm not.
Ann: No! Here's what we're both wrong in: you say, “Yes,”—
Dave: Did you say “both”? You don't really/you don't even believe this; you only believe it's me. Go ahead.
Ann: You say, “Yes,” to ministry opportunities more than I would; but I'm saying, “Yes,” to probably friends and ministry, and family things more than you would.
Dave: Either way, I mean, what I heard is: “Your family needs to be a priority. You're going to cheat something; cheat the other things. Don't cheat your family. Don't cheat your marriage. You'll reap what you sow.” We've seen that in our own marriage. So when Jim was talking about that, I could/I know you were thinking me.
Ann: Isn't it so fun to listen to these?
Dave: I could so relate, because I've done it—literally, the speaking engagement thing—and God sort of said to both of us—well, I guess He said to me, not you, just me, “Slow down. You say your family and your marriage is priority; live it out.”
And I'm guessing He's speaking to somebody else today as well. It's one thing to be a hearer; it's another thing to be a doer of what God's Word says. I encourage you to join me: “Let's be doers.”
Shelby: You've been listening to FamilyLife Today. You can hear the rest of Ron's conversation with Dr. Jim Burns by searching for FamilyLife Blended podcast Episode 71; or you can get the link in today's show notes.
Jim and Ron talked about intentionality in your family relationships, and this is also important for those of you in ministry. If you want to learn how to be intentional in one of the ways you can support and encourage, specifically stepfamilies, you'll want to know about The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry®. It’s a two-day event to equip ministry leaders to serve blended families in their churches and communities. It's happening in October in the Phoenix area for anyone interested in serving stepfamilies.
I just learned this today: that 40 percent of couples, with children, in churches and your community, are blended families; so this is super important. I'm personally from a blended family myself and thankful for God's grace of that fact in my life. You can find out more about The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry at FamilyLifeToday.com.
I also wanted to let you know about how you, as one family, can make a difference. There is a community of heroes called FamilyLife Partners who believe in our mission and give financially every month. And thanks to some generous, really champions, who have come alongside us as a ministry, right now, if you sign up to give monthly, you not only will receive all the benefits of the partnership program, but your donation will be matched, dollar for dollar, for the next 12 months to help reach families and strengthen their relationships with both God and each other. You can give right now at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 1-800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann are going to be talking with Liz Wann about the feelings she had of being numb and disconnected when she had her kids. That will be tomorrow—honest conversation—we hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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