Sharpen the Saw!

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   “Sharpen the Saw."  It is the seventh habit identified by Stephen Covey in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” What does it mean, and how is this concept applicable in our lives? Is there any Biblical correlation? 

   To begin, let me set the stage by telling a parable…

   You and I are going to go out to the woods and compete in a contest to see who can saw down the most trees in one hour. We lace up our boots, put on our best lumberjack outfits, and trek out to the heart of the woods. 

   Now, for the sake of the parable, let us assume that all aspects are equal as we begin the competition. We have the exact same physical strength and stamina, the same sawing technique and tools, even the size of the trees that we will be sawing down will all be exactly the same.
   The referee stands in-between us and counts down, “ready…three, two, one…begin!”. As the whistle sounds the clock starts ticking. We have one hour to see who can saw down the most trees. 

   We both start working as fast as we can, and after 20 minutes the referee observes that we have each sawed down five trees.  But stay tuned, as we will soon deviate in our strategies as we move forward. 

   You continue working as quickly as you can, sawing down trees at a feverish pace for the final 40 minutes of the competition.

   Meanwhile, I saw down three more trees. But then, instead of continuing as quickly as I can, I put down my saw and take a break. I enjoy a glass of water and a granola bar while I catch my breath and stretch. I then pick up the necessary tools and sharpen the blade on my saw, returning it to its original level of sharpness. After taking this short break I then resume sawing, returning to the pace that I was at when the competition began, having received a “second wind” from a renewed sense of energy and a revitalized saw blade. The break allowed me to “sharpen the saw”, both the literal saw that I used to cut the trees, as well as metaphorically “sharpening” myself -- my physical, mental, and spiritual “saw.”

   As the scoreboard illustrates, your pace consistently waned over the course of the competition as physical fatigue set in, and as your saw blade dulled.  At the conclusion of the one hour time limit we see that you have sawed down 12 total trees. We were on the same pace for the first half of the competition, but then I took that fateful break. 

   My output did slow down during the 20 minute segment that I took the break.  During that middle 20 minutes of the competition I only sawed down three trees.  But I was able to make up for lost time at the end of the competition as, when I emerged from the break having “sharpened” my saw, I was able to close the gap -- and ultimately surpassed your total output.  Over the final 20 minutes I performed at the same level of efficiency as I had at the beginning of the competition. 

   Do you understand the parable?  Taking the time to pause and “sharpen the saw” in our lives is crucial in order for us to be able to function at our best. I understand the pull to keep grinding, and the thought that slowing down or taking a break would be shortchanging your task, your employer, or your family.  But as the parable, and Mr. Covey’s seventh habit, demonstrates, there is a real tangible value associated with taking appropriate breaks to pause and sharpen our saws in life. Sometimes we might take one step back, in order to then take two steps forward. 

   Scripture also supports the value of rest, particularly encouraging us to rest in the Lord:

   “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He resorts my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3).
   “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
   “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). 
   “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31). 
   “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14). 
   Psalm 62 tells us, “My soul finds rest in God alone.” (62:1), and “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.” (62:5). 
   “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:9-10). 

   Taking a break to refresh our batteries, and “sharpen the saw,” should be an essential part of our overall health strategy.  We must be willing to commit to carving out the necessary time in our busy schedules to get the breaks that we need, which will ultimately allow us to be our best selves. The pulls are there; spouse, children, friends, work, etc. We want to be there for everyone, all of the time, and it is difficult to say “no."  But, if we want to thrive in our lives, and for those people (as opposed to just surviving through the hectic rush), then we need to be sure that we are taking care of ourselves.

   Friends, do not feel guilty when you schedule time to take care of yourself. Doing so will allow you to feel renewed/refreshed, and to then return to the task at hand as your “sharpest” self.

Coach Shane is an International Coach Federation (ICF) trained life coach and graduate of the Certified Professional Life Coach (CPLC) program from the Christian Coach Institute (Charlotte, NC). He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree (BA) and Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA). 
PHONE: (920) 428-1564
FACEBOOK: Shane Hansen, Christian Life Coach, LLC

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