3 Marks of Spiritual Maturity

It’s been said spiritual maturity is not just what you believe, but evident in how you behave.

But let’s be honest: marrying the two in every situation isn’t always easy.

While we have this side of heaven to learn, grow and discover, if you’re like me in the sense you’re looking to embrace spiritual maturity without despising the growing pains, here are three marks of spiritual maturity to aim for…

1. Dying to offense

Have you ever dealt with someone who lacked the same care you had for an ideal outcome?

Probably multiple times, right? I know when I was younger, anytime I found myself in a similar boat, I would withdraw into discouragement, ignorant to the offense I was taking; however, as I now know, not only is this a recipe for cynicism, it is a contradiction to our call to love at all costs.

Granted, offense is a tricky stronghold. On one hand, it tangles with unmet expectations; on the other, it can linger into perceived indifference.

Still, if everyday presents a temptation to be offended…why not die to our offense in the moments we catch ourselves alive in it?

‘Cause truth is: while we’re all hardwired to passionately pursue people with the passions we pursue, that doesn’t guarantee mutual understanding or aligned priorities. Obviously what matters most to me won’t always matter as much to you or someone else, but this doesn’t mean we have to take it personally.

Rather, whenever we feel others aren’t heeding what we value, let’s consider confronting offense in the moment with the intent to make truth known at the right time (using the in-between time to process, pray, talk to mentors/confidants, etc.)

Bottom line: If we want to mature as believers, let’s start by viewing every day as an opportunity to love heart to heart (accept people as they are) even when we don’t see eye to eye.

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2. Praying in detail

 If you’re reading this, chances are you know the idiom, ‘the devil is in the details’ is often used to imply an effort that seems simple at first, but takes longer than expected. What you may not know is the phrase actually derives from ‘God is in the details’, expressing the idea whatever one does should be done thoroughly (see 2 Timothy 3:17).

What does this have to do with prayer, you say?

Again, note the origin of the idiom. Sometimes when we pray, it’s based on condition, setting…a criteria of life surrounding us; however, when we pray in the Spirit, we’re praying in detail…we’re praying on terms outside our own. And that, to me, is what prayer is all about: delighting in His nearness and inquiring the specifics of God to better know His will.

Bottom line: Don’t just be intentional in prayer, be aggressive. Have Word exposure (Side note: you can’t mature without it), have a list of requests in front you, have people in mind you can speak out by name, and know what you want to take captive/what you want to take their place. You’ll find the more you pray in detail, the more you’ll discover fresh perspectives you couldn’t have known otherwise.

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3. Growing fruit in fullness

If you know me, you know one of my favorite topics centers on an issue I haven’t always been great at: living fully/unconditionally; however, to be fair, this is a life-long tug-and-pull for all of us.

As I’ve been teaching my students the past few months in our ‘Fruits in Fullness’ series, fullness and spiritual maturity go hand in hand. The more we pursue fullness with the spiritual fruit we carry, the more others are able to taste and see that it’s good.

That said, we must understand one of the ways the devil prowls after us, especially in a compartmentalizing world, is conditioning our fruit to be conditional.

Check out Genesis 2:16 (AMP): “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely (unconditionally) eat [the fruit] from every tree of the garden.

Note the freely/unconditionally correlation and how this ties into fruit (albeit, the edible kind), God’s original design for man’s function…not to mention our place in Ephesians 3:19: “and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself].”

Again, how awesome is it whatever talk about on here…it all comes back to God’s surpassing love and desire for our highest…our best with Him through Him by Him.

Mufasa tingles, anyone? 😉

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Bottom line: Staying with the Ephesians theme…

“…until we all reach oneness in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, [growing spiritually] to become a mature believer, reaching to the measure of the fullness of Christ [manifesting His spiritual completeness and exercising our spiritual gifts in unity]. ~ Ephesians 4:13

Selah.

Cover photos creds: http://julielopes.com/category/spiritual-maturity

3 Ways to Better Love Your Enemies

Here’s a riddle for you: What’s something everyone has, is the evidence of having stood up for something…yet also a byproduct of brokenness?

Give up? The answer…our enemies.

You know those people who curse you yet you’re supposed to bless…who hate you yet you’re supposed to love…

In many ways, we love to hate our enemies…to exact sweet revenge without the calories. But what if I told you while revenge is sweet, forgiveness is sweeter? What if I told you while enemies hurt, not loving them hurts even more?

Whatever the case, wherever you find yourself…if you want to better love your enemies, here are three truths to remember…

1. Understand who they are

When it comes to our enemies, it’s easy to hide behind the labels we place on them. Seriously, how many of you at one point had a sinking relationship you wanted to write off? Like mileage on taxes…or interest on a mortgage?

Granted, enemies come in many forms and yield to subjective definitions; still, if you’re like me, then chances are you know what it’s like standing on the mast of a shipwrecked relationship capsized by offense and insecurity. Perhaps now you’re drinking the bitter dregs of an expired friendship, a partner turned rival, or a severed family tie.

If so, I want to offer some hope: you don’t have to see your broken relationships as enemies!

But Cam, how is this even possible?

To be honest, I can’t say entirely. All I know is when it comes to better loving our enemies, the best place to start is choosing to see them how God sees them.

Now I know this is a sticky, tricky subject for some so with that, I want to tread this topic carefully. At the same time, I want to emphasize the importance of perceiving enemies as broken yet redeemable brothers and sisters in Christ.

‘Cause truth is: when we do this, we ultimately redirect ‘enemy’ off a person’s identity and onto the principalities in between (see Ephesians 6:12)

Therefore, if you want to better love your enemies, the first step is to accept the fact who you think they are isn’t who they are…and instead reframe ‘enemy’ as lovable people who you’ve hurt, who’ve hurt you, who’ve cut you out, who’ve accused or slandered you, etc.

Bottom line: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

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2. Consider your ways

Now that we’ve framed who our enemies are, we can better discuss how to bridge our divides with them.

But before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight: not all reconciliation stories are going to have happy endings. After all, when the lock is on the other side, obviously you’re not going to be able to unlock it.

That said, there’s no reason why you can’t knock at least once. The question is: How do we knock the right way at the right time?

For starters, it’s always best to take inventory of vain vs. actual misunderstandings before dashing to the doorstep. Ask yourself what is being assumed, what is the reason behind my suspicion, what signals and vibes am I giving off? Give yourself permission to self-examine.

Then after careful consideration, begin to rejoice and repent…

  • Ask the Lord to illuminate outstanding resentments, bitterness, and grudges.
  • Release to Him the burden of having to be the one to make things right.
  • Request of God a removal of fear, a prescription of peace, a path to follow, and a heart of humility.
  • Pray into what needs to be said and how it’s to be communicated.
  • Thank the Lord for all He’s done and what He’s going to do.

Remember these steps don’t entitle you to action, but rather position you to better know how to bridge the gap once given the green light. From there, it’s all downhill (i.e. embracing courage, walking in grace; see next point).

Bottom line: Before rushing to resolution, “humble yourselves…under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:6

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3. Make love known

For this point, we’re going to assume you have the peace to confront…or as I like to say…make love known (not an agenda).

While intentional, demonstrative love involving ‘enemies’ can be intimidating, it can be all the more freeing when we commit; however, to do this, we must recognize…

    • Love starts with courage. No question, loving in a contradicting environment requires boldness, but consider this: the fact you’re here reading this/at the point is already indicative of the faith you carry. Thus, I submit if you have faith in love (i.e. God) and its message (i.e. the kingdom of God), then you have access with confidence and without hindrance into the places they’re needed the most (see Acts 28:31, Ephesians 3:12). Keep in mind you have what it takes…so don’t be discouraged if it takes everything you’ve got.
    • Love continues by faith. If you’re decision to love is motivated by results, then newsflash: it’s not love…since love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5). For genuine love to continue by faith, then you must die to your need of a favorable outcome/progress. That way, when your effort is refuted or ignored, your desire to ‘try again’ will be renewed and you won’t take the rejection personally.
    • Love ends with an invitation. When we boil it down, loving your enemies is God’s ministry of reconciliation in motion (see 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Still, how we reconcile is worth discussion since if we’re to be “out of our mind”, when must do so in way that tells our adversaries “it is for you” (2 Corinthians 5:13).

In my experiences with adversaries/frenemies, I’ve learned the best way to mend fences is to be sensitive to what they’re going through and how they’re processing it. ‘Cause I know if I can capitalize on an opportunity to offer hope in the moment, I can further extend it through invitations to connect after the fact. Even if it’s just a short e-mail or text, never underestimate the impact those ‘little’ things can have in stitching reconciliation.

However you feel called to make love known, know the same Christ who is in you is in your midst working with you on your behalf. Remember there’s no need to fear when you have nothing to lose.

Bottom line: “Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life. Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (MSG)

Cover photo creds: Wallpaper Cave

3 Ways to Better Date Your Wife

Guys…let’s be real: you love the lady in your life. You love her smile, the way she moves, how she wears it, makes it…I’m sure I could go on.

But let’s be honest: how well do you actually show it? Perhaps not as much as you’re capable of, right?

Well, fear not. If you’re here hoping to spice up your marital dating relationship or simply mature as a pursuer, I got you covered. Granted, I can only give you a head start in your quest for better connection, but hey…a boost is a boost and that’s, in part, why HGF exists.

That said, let’s dive in and discuss three ways we, as husbands, can better date our wives…

  1. Date her, not the moment

As an adventure aficionado, I love a good time. Whether dinner and a movie, pizza in the park, or a concert on the green, it’s hard to top a night out with the ‘better half’.

Still, if you’re like me in the sense you take pride in being a skilled date night architect, then heed the reminder: a date is about the person you’re with, not the setting or seconds it happens in.

Not to suggest the man shouldn’t effort in laying down the proverbial red carpet. After all, dating and wooing should never be mutually exclusive; however, if you’re a guy who tends to pursue the moment more than the ‘so’ (significant other), it’s fair to question not only where your heart is anchored, but also who (or what) you’re actually dating.

My advice? Always remember while framing the moment is key, at the end of the day a) the woman is why you’re on the date in the first place, b) intimacy trumps entertainment, and c) it’s not about you.

Apply this formula in unison and I guarantee the moment will be where it needs to (i.e. secondary to the relationship).

Bottom line: 1) What makes a date is your date, not the date. 2) Don’t pursue what can’t pursue you back; instead, dare to align your focus and priorities on what ultimately lasts.

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  1. Make love a present rhythm

No question, time is a valuable commodity; hence, the reason ‘date’ (the engagement) shares the same word as ‘date’ (the occasion); however, have you ever wondered what would happen if the two dates became less synonymous?

For instance, if you’re on date wanting to ignite nostalgia into the moment, can you honestly say what you’re on is a ‘date’?  Or are you simply trying to regurgitate a throwback to feel closer to ‘first love’?

And hear me, men: I’m not trying to gut punch your moxy here. I’m just sayin’ for those who may be in the routine of dating as opposed to the rhythm, it’s worth exercising caution when comparing the current edition of your ‘better half’ to the edition you first met. ‘Cause truth is: your wife isn’t who she used to be…and the love you’ve built isn’t what it used to be. Rather, both are continually upgrading  on account of precious time and energy being invested into a deeper connection fermenting with time.

Therefore, if you can resist the comparisons, then chances are you’ll be in much better position to revive love in the present, not an outdated version from years past.

Bottom line: 1) The best way to ‘carpe diem’ your date starts with sparking love where it’s at, not where it’s been. 2) Be in the rhythm, not routine, of dating your wife.

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  1. Make her the center of attention

While I may seem like a ‘hitch’ for dating, I admit there are times I [almost] take the opportunity for granted.

Yet, whenever I’m lucky fortunate enough to catch myself, I’ve learned the best adjustment is to find my wife within my attention and make her the center.

To do this, I subscribe to the following formula…

  1. Turn off your cell phone. Note: If you’re more controlled than I am, you can get away with silencing, but as one who likes to check scores, fantasy teams, social media post-‘post’, etc…I’ve learned it’s better/safer to go the extra yard here).
  2. Sit back turned to screens. Exception: Your wife has agreed to join you on a Buffalo Wild Wings date to watch the Predators, Titans (or the team of your choice) dominate.
  3. Seek a new compliment and/or question. Guys, if you can relate to point #2, then you’re going to want to deviate from distraction in a way that blends creativity with challenge. For me, this comes in the form of asking, ‘What’s new’ without actually saying ‘what’s new’.

Examples:

a) ‘I noticed you talking with ____ on the phone earlier? How did your conservation go? What did you talk about?’ (Note: Don’t EVER stop a thread after one question. See how the second question gives dialogue more trail options?)

b) ‘I noticed the casserole tasted different. What extra ingredient did you use? Whatever it was, I liked it!’ (Note: Some may consider ‘different’ to be a dangerous word; however, if you use it, make sure the connotation is positive. Yes, you could say ‘better’, but in case her reply is, ‘What was wrong with it before?’…make sure you have an answer ready).

c) ‘How was your admin tech meeting?’ What did your team talk about?

d) ‘If I remember correctly, you had a lunch date today with _____’ (repeat ‘a’ in follow-up)

e) Plan a future getaway and inquire bucket-list activities while also linking them to adventures of old (i.e. did you ever do this as a family back in the day; great way to blend past, present, and future together).

Bottom line: Regardless of what route you choose, remember a) whenever you give authentic inquisition and humility permission to dig, you ultimately discover places within your spouse you didn’t realize were there, b) your wife is a tome, not a spark note…thus why not read every word of every page as opposed to just skimming, and c) as husbands, we were made to reflect perfect love in perfecting fashion…which can’t happen unless we make it known.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s show our wives what they were made to be shown…and relish the time we have to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Assurance

Stay tuned next time for Lyssah‘s installment on how wives can better relate and connect to their husbands.

Cover photo creds: Mental Floss

3 Ways to Handle Unfair Criticism

If you’ve worked a job long enough, chances are you know what it’s like to be falsely accused. After all, rumors, gossip, backstabbing = just another day in the workplace, right?

Yet, while we can all agree condemnation is never fun, not all may agree on how to overcome; still, as an advocate of reconciliation, I submit even on the darkest of days, there’s always a roadmap to resolve.

To get us there, here are three basic truths we can rely on when coping with unfair rebuke…

1. Don’t take it personally

Let’s be honest: when we receive unfair rebuke, it’s easy to lock into defense mode (i.e. shutting down, walling up, and basing every thought/action around hurt prevention). Sure, we may take the punches, turn the other cheek, heck, we may even get back up again…but at the end of the day, we’re often far too content remaining frozen in cynicism and analysis paralysis (i.e. over-thinking a situation towards indifference).

Perhaps you can relate to a colleague dishing out unnecessary criticism or a supervisor unwilling to hear your side of the story. Maybe you once wanted to rightfully confront an issue, but fearing job security, kept quiet in hope ‘this too shall pass’.

If so, then it’s important no matter what situation you’re in to not take it personally.

‘Cause while offense may feel good in the moment, truth is: it’s never the answer to reproach or resolution.

But Cam…all I want is to be heard and understood. What’s so wrong about that?

Technically, nothing; however, if offense is your default reaction whenever a finger is pointed at you, are you not doing unto the ‘offender’ what you don’t want them doing unto you?

Bottom line: Rather than stack shoulder chips, dare to defend against offense rather than with it. That way you deactivate pride and open the door for humility1 to enter, which as I’ll explain in my next point, makes taking offense a lot harder.

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2. Respond with class

As mentioned in point #1, when unwarranted criticism strikes, human nature often gravitates towards silence. For some of us, this can be a good thing initially (key word) as ‘quiet time’ allows us to process and collect our thoughts; however, at some point, it’s important we respond to critique rather than sweep it under the carpet pretending it didn’t happen.

Case and point: A few years back I had a supervisor who called me out in front of some colleagues before apologizing on my behalf without my consent. At first I was offended.  Not only did I have no idea what I’d done wrong, but also why my supervisor would jump the gun without discussing the matter with me one-on-one.

With the wind knocked out of me, I sank in discouragement…disguising hurt as focus. Yet, after realizing my processing was teetering on pouting, I decided if I didn’t want a repeat, I had to confront the issue head on in humility.

To do this, I first acknowledged what I could have done better to diffuse defensiveness and establish submission. Then, I addressed the misunderstandings in a way where context could be delivered and exchanged. Granted, I could have started the dialogue here and the conversation turn out okay; however, I knew if wanted to better learn where my boss was coming from, I had to lay down my walls first.

Thus, if you’re like me in the sense you crave context, always ensure it’s both deliverable and receivable when discussing difficult subject matter. That way you come across as understanding, not withstanding.

Bottom line: In the wake of reproach, keep your responses discernably demonstrative, not irrationally remonstrative.

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3. Follow through

As a basketball connoisseur, I’ve always been fascinated with jump shooting. I remember as a little kid riding my bike to the library each summer, picking up some VHS tutorials of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen, and watching them over and over until I mastered that elegant, fluid release (i.e. ‘follow-through’; see definition/instruction/animation below).

How to follow-through (basketball)

  1. Your wrists should be floppy (relaxed).
  2. Fingers should be pointed at the target (rim).
  3. Finish high. You should see your fingers at the top square of the back board.
  4. Hold your follow through position until the ball hits the rim.

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What does this have to do with handling wrongful accusation, you say?

Well, in the same way the follow-through allows the hand to maintain motion and guides the ball’s trajectory closer to the basket, focusing on smaller wins2 (i.e. baby steps/progress points on your way to recovery/restoration; see examples below) can maintain confidence and guide selflessness after a bruising experience.

Remember who you are is loved and what you’re called to is love. So if you want to ‘peace’ yourself together, why not give yourself an outlet to express that? Yeah, I know it can be overwhelming at first to reach out, especially when you’re trying to mask pain, but as I’ve learned in recent years, when you invest in those small wins, it’s amazing what can result.

Bottom line: If you’re unjustly critiqued, don’t stay low, finish highand follow-through.

Footnotes

  1. Humility = the pathway to ‘nowhere but up’
  2. ‘Small win’ examples = initiating conversation with colleague, seeking advice from mentor, reading the Word/referencing God, praying, taking ungodly thoughts captive, random acts of kindness, re-focusing energy and attention away from pain, etc.)

Cover image creds: Psychology Today (edited by Cameron Fry)

4 Ways to Level Up Your Lock-in

It’s the bane of all youth leaders.

Lock-ins. A time when youth gather to chill, leaders long to chill out, and parents rejoice ‘cause they can chillax’. A time when sugar rushes increase, pizza slices decrease…and, of course, a time when the whole world starts to smell like Mountain Dew and corn chips.

No question, if you’ve ever served in youth ministry, you know what it’s like to love and hate lock-ins; yet, regardless how you feel about them, one thing is for sure: youth show up! Thus, how we approach and frame the event is worth discussion.

Quick note before I continue: while future resources will break down lock-in strategy accordingly to group size, location, and infrastructure, for now, I’m going to focus on four practical points that can help you in your lock-in prep and leading.

Let’s dive in, shall we…

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1. Don’t just plan in advance; pray in advance.

As an architect of nine lock-ins, I’ve found two of the biggest mistakes youth leaders make is overvaluing entertainment and forgetting to pray before planning. I know for me, there have been many times when I started brainstorming connection strategies (i.e. youth to God, youth to youth) only to get sucked into the “this can’t happen apart from engaging activities” undertow.

Granted, dance-offs, Wii/Guitar Hero tournaments and ice cream sundae bars all have a place; however, it’s only when their ‘place’ becomes defined in the context of ‘primary objective’ that the event they happen in can reach its full potential.

So while it’s true the key to quality prep is developing a game-plan from rightfully aligned priorities, when you pray before you plan, not only do you surrender yourselves to God’s agenda, but you free yourself from prematurely tackling your own.

Bottom line: If you want your lock-in to be all it can be, don’t rely on what’s worked in the past or for ‘x’ group; rather reset the slate and pray before you plan.

2. Don’t ‘dele-hate’; delegate.

Lock-ins provide a great opportunity for youth leaders and/or youth parents to step up. I remember a few years back during one particular lock-in, I had youth serve neighboring communities through random acts of kindness before returning to church. The problem was since we didn’t have a church bus at our disposal, I couldn’t transport all our youth at once. Thus, I had no choice but to call a few parents and request assistance.

Now, I admit: as an independent introvert, I wasn’t too excited making my needs known at first; however, as it turned out, talking to parents proved to be liberating in the sense it allowed me to shed light not only on event vision but group vision.

As for my youth team, I gave each leader a different contact sheet with instructions on inviting their list of youth reminding them it wasn’t about numbers or outcomes, but making as many youth aware they were welcome.

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Bottom line: Never hesitate to delegate. When you invite parents and youth leaders to get involved, you spread the word more effectively.

3. No free admission.

I know many believe lock-ins should be zero-dollar events, but to be honest, I’m not one of them. Yeah, I respect the approach; at the same time, I’ve found ditching the free admission concept to be more beneficial since it gives youth the chance to turn cash into something they can contribute.

For example, with our lock-ins, I remind the youth each year to bring an ice cream sundae bar topping (along with their belongings/consent form) instead of an admission fee. In this way, each attendee has an opportunity to provide something that makes the lock-in better.

Bottom line: Convert admission into provision. After all, it’s not about the money; it’s about the giving.

4. Turn out the lights.

Not to sound contrarian, but lock-ins and all-nighters don’t have to be synonymous.

Yeah, I know there’s this notion that says staying up just for the sake of staying up is cool, but as many a youth leader will tell ya, a cat nap at a lock-in is often a wise move.

Case and point: a few years back, my wife and I hosted a “Minute to Win It” lock-in with feature games at the top of every hour. While the theme proved to be a huge hit, perhaps the smartest move for that event was establishing the grand finale game at 2:00 am and using it as ‘halftime’ dividing high-energy activity from wind-down time.

Now, for all you lock-in leaders out there, is it ideal to have every fifteen minute segment blocked? Technically, yes; however, the way I see it, with any lock-in, the second half should be the most customizable. Personally, I prefer designating the 2:00-6:00 am time frame for watching movies, playing cards/board games or contained group activities conducive to dimmed lighting. That way youth who need rest can find it and those who don’t need it can continue on with slightly quieter forms of fun.

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Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to encourage rest during a lock-in (i.e. say ‘no’ to non-alcoholic hangovers 😉 Yeah, it may not be ideal for your nocturnal/extroverted youth; however, as long as you frame quiet[er] time with engaging opportunities, you have nothing to lose.

Footnotes

  1. Under discretion, of course 😉

Cover photo creds: themocracy.com