Episode 253 (Justin Earley)
Podcast Intro: [00:00:01] Being a great father takes a massive amount of courage. Instead of being an amazing leader and a decent dad, I want to be an amazing dad and a decent leader. The oldest dad in the world gave you this assignment, which means you must be ready for it. As a dad, I get on my knees and I fight for my kids. Let us be those dads who stop the generational pass down of trauma. I want encounters with God where He teaches me what to do with my kids. I know I’m going to be an awesome dad because I’m gonna give it my all.
Zaugg girls: [00:00:39] Welcome to dadAWESOME.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:00:42] Hey guys. Welcome back to dadAWESOME. Today’s episode is number 253 and I’ve got my co-host with me in the studio recording the intro. Do you know what the name of the book is that our guest wrote?
Zaugg girls: [00:00:55] This week’s guest is Justin Earley. He wrote a book called Habits of the Household, Habits of the Household.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:01:03] Justin Earley, joined us, he is the author of the book we just mentioned and this is a fun conversation. Enjoy dadAWESOME, episode number 253.
Justin Earley: [00:01:23] I am a father of four boys, a husband to Lauren. My boys are aged, at the time of this recording, ten, eight, five and four. I’m a corporate business lawyer, by day, so to speak, that’s where most of my time goes. But about maybe like 10 or 20% of my time now is on writing and speaking or this kind of stuff really about habits in general. But this last book is about Habits of the Household and parenting, which, needless to say, with my four boys right now between four and ten, is just an enormous topic and an area for us. I mean, I think I used to be a missionary in China. I’ve learned Mandarin Chinese, you know, I guess the bar exam. I’m a corporate lawyer. Clients ask a lot of things of me, but I think parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, probably because it’s the most important thing I’ll ever do. So I can’t get enough of talking about habits in the light of parenting and how habits can help us bring what I like to call gospel liturgy to our home life with our children.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:02:26] I have so many follow up questions and just what you said in the last 10 seconds there. But let’s get this pan out to an introduction from your boys perspective. So if I just asked them for a word or phrase, what, describe your dad, who’s your dad? Tell me about your dad. What are some of the things they would say introducing you?
Justin Earley: [00:02:45] I would love to know that, honestly. I think at best they would say I’m fun, I play, I wrestle. They probably could describe that I’m a lawyer and author. I think at worse, they would say he’s that grouchy guy that snaps at us a lot. I would love to know, Jeff I’m going to have you call them an ask, describe your dad, because that would tell me so much about parenting. Right.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:03:14] Well and pulling out, trying to pull out information my my girls age. Your boys are a tad older than my girls, but like just the conversation, I think I could you write like you said pull out a few things but it a lot I think it’s is wait and see, give time to marinate, let them answer that question another five years from now you’ll have a better framework. And we don’t know. It’s all untested. Like it’s untested for me. In some ways what you’re doing is untested. Because we haven’t seen the write the next chapter, but we’re pressing in even though we don’t have all the answers. And this area of habits, rhythms is an area that I would say my wife would give me like a and a 1 to 10. She’d be like, oh, you’re, you’re a solid two or three in this area. Like, that’s not it’s a swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. So maybe, you know, so so that’s why I really want and desire to like ask you so many questions around this because I’m like, how can I be a dad who brings rhythm’s, who brings habits, who brings consistency, who brings intentionality? And and because I often, I think I press in to an area of let’s let’s use the dinner table and conversations and sitting down and pausing versus just eating and hustling off. I’ll try and then it won’t go very well. And you know, the next week I won’t hardly try at all and so, the truth, in and out and it so maybe we go go into before we talk about what a liturgy is and before we go at depth, what even brought you to intentionality around habits?
Justin Earley: [00:04:44] The intentionality came a lot from the swing and the misses, just like you’re describing. So I early on in my law career, which was about eight years ago, had a complete anxiety meltdown. And I was moving from being a missionary in China to being a lawyer. And it was in that transition that, you know, I was hustling. I did really well at law school. I had my first two kids, my first two sons to law school. And I would have said, you know, my my calling, my worldview, everything I thought about God and faith was like right on track. But I unconsciously assimilated to all of the usual rhythms of law school and, you know, sort of high powered lawyering, quote unquote. And I completely collapsed into anxiety, insomnia and some really bad mental health issues. And this could be a longer story. We could easily spend a whole podcast talking about that meltdown and how that failure brought me nearer to the Lord. But one of the things, probably the most important thing that I learned from that, was that I had been converted to the nervous medicating lawyer by habit, by acting like a man in crisis all the time. I became a heart in crisis, and I had never really considered before how spiritually important the realm of habit was. And that was the time in my life where I started to realize, Oh my gosh, your head can go this way. And your habit can go the other way, and your heart’s going to follow the habit every time. So that’s I started to think about habits in terms of guiding liturgy every day, you know, the way you use your smartphone, the way you set up your schedule, the unconscious things that you do around life and work and busyness as real spiritual discipleship issues. And it was only a matter of time before I realized this is true in the house to not just at work and not just on my iPhone. So that’s how I kind of got into this area of the spirituality of habit through crisis.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:06:43] When you say a guiding liturgy, could you explain what you mean behind a guiding liturgy?
Justin Earley: [00:06:49] Yeah, the neurology is really clear on this. So you can read in tons of places how we now know that habit activity works in the lower part of our brain, the basal ganglia, which is so convenient for us because that’s how we do complicated stuff like talk to our kids while tying their shoes, you know, or making all the right turns on the way home while having a conversation with our spouse. But what happens is that when it’s a bad habit, that part of our brain that knows so well, you know, it’s just like the obvious and nasty stuff. Like, I don’t want to go to that website anymore. I don’t want to drink that much anymore. I don’t want to check my phone like this anymore. You could name a million things we always know better. We just that part of our brain that knows it is not the part of the brain that’s churning along in habit. And so we get this disconnect, like I said, you know, the head going that way and the habit going the other way. When I say the heart follows the habit, that that’s where you really need to let the neurology kind of move aside and look at the theology that gives rise to the bodies that we have because, of course, God created our neurology. And really what we’re talking about there is this idea that habits shape us because they’re kinds of liturgies. They lead our identity for a reason, it’s because, when, you know, the Psalms say those who trust and idols will be like them, right? When when you’re churning along in a habit like the ones I described, you’re not just unconsciously participating in something, you’re actually worshiping. You know, liturgies are things that we do semi-conscious, unconsciously, over and over in order to become like the God that we worship. Right? That’s how we set up liturgies. So it’s kind of strange, sometimes, to apply the word liturgy to ordinary habits, but I do that on purpose to try to say, wait a minute, look at the ordinary, regular rhythms of your everyday life that you never notice and look and see that they are full of all kinds of significant worship that is shaping you. And we need to own up to that, own up to those rhythms of worship and actually choose them on purpose. So it’s that idea of making the invisible, visible. And that’s really kind of like the bulk of my writing. We’re trying to think about the areas of life where we can make the invisible habits, the invisible liturgies that they are.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:09:04] And just to go specific for a moment, because I really appreciate how you talked about the dissonance between, you’re trying to get your boys to bed, it was like an after bath moment that’s out of your book. You’re like, Man, I felt this. I acted this way. But at the very last moment, I said, I love you, sleep well. God bless you. Like, Yeah, and could you just kind of set that story up? It just helps us get into the heart behind creating these habits.
Justin Earley: [00:09:32] Yeah, well, you know, it’s no small sense of irony because the guy who’s working on a book about, you know, habit as liturgy, I’ve been thinking about all these concepts. And it was a couple of years ago when I had this regular night with my boys that the story I tell at the beginning of Habits of the Household, which is just putting them to bed and yes, they’re being wild, but no wilder than my boys always are. So yeah, there’s bathwater on the floor. They’re having a naked wrestling match in the room because they’ve escaped from bath, you know, and like they’re fighting over a toothbrush. It’s just the ordinary stuff. But I did what happened so often in those evenings, and I just sort of snapped and went into what I call the impotent dictator mode, which is like, I yell a lot, but it doesn’t really change anything. I get them to bed and say a quick prayer about how God loves them and that I do too, on the way out. And it was one of those regular nights where I had an irregular realization and I was just standing in the hall and realizing that this evening is a very normal evening for us. And when I sort of sank down for a moment and I was like, Oh, well, my normal, like I said at the very beginning of this can be just this grouchy guy who’s snapping at the kids and far from sort of shepherding them, in something that looks a little bit like the love of God, their Father. You know, a truthful but graceful presence. I’m really often just marshaling them around in my anger, you know, like shame or fear or, or just frustration would be guiding motivations. And I had this realization that those were my liturgies of parenting and that I had done all of this work in other areas of my life to think about my liturgies of how I use my iPhone and how I set up my work schedules and my rhythms of life and Sabbath meals and all the stuff that we could talk about. But but my children had been a bit left out of that equation. And I just pause and say, Praise God for grace, because we’re always fractured, people like that. Like no matter how good you get, the grace of God is going to come and show you that you’re not perfect yet. And and grace means that you don’t have to be mad about that. You have to be ashamed about that. I mean, in a sense, like it’s shameful all the work that I’ve done, and yet, I left my kids out. But it’s also a moment of grace to realize, oh, my gosh, I can I can learn more and worship God more in this area, too, and follow Jesus more in this area, too. And so that is kind of the crisis, I say all the books come from crisis, the first one from the anxiety, I’ve done second from this evening. But that was kind of my crisis that led me to start examining habits of the household as gospel liturgies or deformational liturgies, like the ones that I had.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:12:16] When you say that there was a habits attached to this kind of anger or frustration or command, control like it, I guess maybe I’ll share a story of mine, you can help point out what are my habits here? So as we tried to leave the RV, we’re living in this 37 foot long RV as a family of six, leaving the RV, there’s only one door in and out of that thing. And with the four daughters like that is the moment for me that I’m realizing I’m getting so frustrated and I’m getting frustrated with all the parties involved except for myself. Like I’m just like, with the packing of this bag and with this and getting in the car and the shoes on and, and like getting out of the RV is one of those transition moments, and I know you write about that, getting ready and off for the day. So this is just I’m being casualised to my own situation. I do find that frustration rising, impatience, I find being kind of pushy and like almost like talking down, like they’re not very valid, like devaluing my girls the way I’m like short. So all those things, and I’d love for you to help walk me through what might I be doing today and how could I move that into a more peaceful moments of even, taking these moments and saying, I care about their hearts and I care about helping them grow as followers of Jesus and young women that are responsible. Yeah. How would you coach me through that one?
Justin Earley: [00:13:41] Yeah. So let me finish this story, I just started as a way to get there, because, so what happened to me after that evening was I was talking about this with one of my pastors and he recommended I tried to bring a bedtime liturgy with my kids, which like, you know, I’m like, oh, I should have thought of that myself, you know, having been somebody who writes. But again, it was a graceful moment. So I came I came back and I wrote my first bedtime liturgy with the boys, which the back and forth, if you read the book, you read this in the first couple of pages. It’s just a short, I did this on my son’s last night, I say, Can you see my eyes? And they say, yes. And then I say, Can you see that I see your eyes? They say yes. And I said, You know, I love you. I say, yes. And then I said, Do you know that I love you no matter what bad things you do? Yes. Do you know they love you no matter what good things you do? Yes. And then who else loves you like that? And they say God does. And then I say rest in that love. And this little back and forth, which might sound sentimental to anybody listening, like, was wildly unsuccessful the first time I tried to do it right. Like I got pokes in the eyes, for the eyes part, and they’re like, I remember saying it, you know, that I love you no matter what bad things you do. And they’re like no, you don’t, you don’t love us we do bad things, you know. So there’s there is a comical and halting nature to starting any important habit with your family, which is very important to realize. Nothing in the household is normal until it is. You have to practice, right? But everybody should take heart because families, families are the places where anything can become normal, where the weirdest things can become normal. Right. That’s what families are, like, you walk into your Thanksgiving dinner and you’re like, I can’t believe this person always says that. Like, how is this normal that they talk like that? You know, families can make anything normal, even important spiritual things. And it took about two weeks but then we had a night where, one of my sons, you know, on a night that was otherwise exactly like the former one that was chaotic and messy. And I’m frustrated and they’re disobedient. I just remember him laying down and saying, Can I have my bedtime blessing now? And we went through this sweet exchange of the unconditional love for God for us, no matter how good that I did at my parenting or no matter how bad they did at their behaving, just this moment where we landed in the day on, hey God love us, despite that, me and you. And I remember having my hallway moment that night after I shut the door and thinking that this was a really significant evening because none of my circumstances had changed. My kids behavior was not any better, neither was mine, necessarily. But I felt very different because I think I had changed, even though the circumstances had not. And I was moving towards a different kind of moment with my children, not, a woah they’re in bed now, but a meaningful gospel exchange about the love of God. And that is when I sort of realized that the significance of a parenting habit is not that your household is going to run smoothly necessarily or that you’re going to be out of the RV any faster, or that you’re all going to be loving and doing it. The significance of a and a parenting habit, a good one, or what we could call gospel liturgy in the household, is that it can reframe the way that you approach the ordinary moments that you always approach and almost open them up for a new kind of grace to come in and let God work on you and work on them in those moments. Because, of course, our moments in the failure is exactly where God leads us, right? So it’s not trying to make it all pretty. It’s trying to take those difficult moments and say, how is God loving us, shaping us here? So on the morning, leaving the RV, this was, Jeff, this was true this morning for me. My, well I won’t name his name, one of my sons this morning just woke up in an awful mood and my wife happened to have torn her Achilles tendon, last Saturday. So, yeah, this is a terrible thing, like, our household has been crazy because she can’t do anything, and she’s frustrated about this as much as anybody. She sits either in bed or on the couch and I’m getting everybody ready and like doing all the home stuff. And my, one of my boys is just in a terrible mood this morning and not packing his backpack. Right. And everything. And I kept thinking, like, I want to blow up on this kid. But I kept thinking, Jeff, but we’re about to pray together because one of our leaving habits at the door is to say a short morning prayer together just goes Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thank you for this day, bless us as we work, study and play, be present with us and all we do may we glorify and honor you. That’s it. So we say that every morning before we leave. And literally I remember thinking, it’s going to be weird if we all try to gather for this prayer, if I’ve just chewed this kid out and there’s there’s a way that I heading towards the moment of prayer just sort of like kept me being a gentle presence on the way there. And I think, again, there’s there’s just there’s habits we can set in place that, they just help guide us. They help reframe us. And this was a great example, like, was my heart still sinful this morning? Like, absolutely. I was really frustrated, my son, but I didn’t, thank God, by his grace, again. These are not like habits for productivity, your best life now or perfection. I still need to ask forgiveness for the way I thought and felt about my son this morning. But God’s grace did restrain my behavior in an important way. And I think because we were pushing towards a different moment. And so those kinds of rhythms are possible.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:19:33] Yes. So the example is really helpful. You’ve inserted, you’ve crafted a liturgy and you’ve inserted that into the flow. It’s just like brushing the teeth is inserted or God is inserted. You’ve inserted a, and we do, yeah, we do a huddles as the Zaugg squad, our girls, we put our hands in and do huddle moments. You’re basically saying you just you’re adding instead of a huddle that I pray a different prayer every day. Let’s huddle and have let’s learn a prayer together that is a part of our liturgy that catapults us.
Justin Earley: [00:20:03] Yes. And and those moments have shaping power over over all the other things that we do. So I think a lot now about picking small but key rhythms, and they’re not all devotional. I know I get two examples of sort of spiritual prayers, but I also just, you know, in the book I talk a whole chapter just about how to come together at mealtime, not primarily for the purpose of the prayer before the meal, but because there’s community there, making that a rhythm. It shapes your schedule to insist on a mealtime. Think about placing your screen times in certain places because that shapes your sense of presence and formation in the house. Think about putting conversations at certain points, like in cars or in places, because that keeps us just from being people of absence, always doing other things. So I don’t want to give the impression that all these habits are super spiritual liturgies about praying with your children. That’s great. And some of them should be, but a lot of them are just ordinary things that keep your literal gaze at your children and your literal presence of your body around them, because that is an enormous part, if not the biggest part of what is actually shaping them.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:21:11] Yes, I think instead of jumping into one of my next 15 questions, which we won’t even get to, we’ll get to a couple, but asking you from a few years removed of writing this book to today, so as time has passed since writing the book but also knowing the intended, the guys listening are dads. What would you say are like, oh, if I could take for my Swiss Army knife of learnings and then current learnings that are not even in the book, are there a few tools or suggestions you’d say, Hey guys, maybe lean in a little bit here or put a little more focus there?
Justin Earley: [00:21:46] Yeah, I would definitely with with dads talk about discipline, because if you’re like me, you’re, you’re struggling with anger, control and frustration and probably, you know, having this blow up moments that kind of like shuffle everybody back into line instead of being, again, like the Lord and savior that we lean on, a gracious and truthful presence who is not afraid to tell you what is wrong or what needs to be done, but will always do it in a graceful way that you can hear. That’s, if you’re a normal guy, that’s like one of your big issues. And I’m, I wrestle with this a lot, I still think the chapter on discipline is one of the most important chapters in the book, just for me that I continue to work on and chew on. So, for example, one of the things I talk about in that book, in that chapter is pause prayers before moments of discipline. And it’s something I’ve been wrestling with this week where I’m like, I’m not reframing that often enough. And the idea of a pause prayers to before approaching a moment of discipline have a short emphasis on short moment of prayer in your head, just to say, Lord, help me discipline this child like you discipline me, which is full of grace and truth, right? Or something like that. And it could just be Lord help, but some way of looking up to God before you look down at them so that you can be more like the God who parents you as you parent them. And those, and when I’m doing that, my approach to them is so different. It’s so much more gentle, it’s so much more slow, it’s so much more ready to understand. When I’m not doing that, my approach is control, quickly get mad, you know, use my volume like my body’s bigger, my volumes greater. I can I can easily win this match, that that’s control and and that has everything to do with your satisfaction of whether the house is moving along the way it should or everybody’s getting out of the RV on time or if like we’re getting what we need at the grocery store, that is about the ease and happiness of your life. It has nothing to do with shepherding your child’s heart towards the loving savior who loves them better than you ever will. Right. And so the reason that this kind of discipline is such a problem is because we’re just trying to control them for our convenience. And I do this all the time, which is why this chapter, and these tablets are some of the most important things to consider because it’s trying to say no why does God discipline us? He disciplines us because he loves us and wants to bring us back in a relationship with him. He wants to lift our eyes up to him. That should be my goal and discipline to, not to get this kid to behave as quickly as possible, but to lift their eyes up to the God who loves them. And pause prayers are a big, big part of that. Moments of reconciliation are a big part of that. But that’s the thing that I would say, if you’re a dad, I want you to key in on this one. I want you to think about this one.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:24:57] And to go one step further than what you just shared, the Our Heavenly Father wants to affirm that He enjoys us even after we screwed up and give tickle hugs that you are, they’re laughing, hug until you laugh. Is that how it works? Or remind me.
Justin Earley: [00:25:15] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I’m glad you went there, because if pause prayers are one of the key habits that helped me begin to discipline, moments of reconciliation are one of the key habits that helped me end it. And just like this morning, I’ll finish the story, for example, when we got in the car on the way to school with this son who I was telling you about, you know, I kind of gave it to him. I was like, this is unacceptable, like you did this, you did this, you did that. Like, I’m very disappointed, but I kind of caught myself, I’m like, I’m just listing off all his wrong. Like, I know we’re driving and this isn’t super convenient, but he needs to know there’s there’s a place for repentance, apology and forgiveness. And so so I just sort of said, you know, you let me know when you try to talk about like whether you’re sorry and and what we can do about this. And after a couple of minutes of silence, he just kind of piped up in the backseat. I could see him in the rearview mirror. He said, I’m sorry for my misbehavior. Will you forgive me? And it was it was very sweet. It’s also a script, right? Like he knows that’s what he’s supposed to say. Which is good. Which is good. I think we’re teaching him like, this is how you confess. But for me, that was a great moment to say. Okay. To be like God, right now is to say, this morning is as far as from east is from the west? It’s gone, buddy it’s gone. So I looked at him and that was like, you’re completely forgiven. Would you like and I always carry to text as like, would you like to hand out the Tic Tacs to the car? Because it’s sometimes that a special thing. They come in my car and they get like a little piece of candy. And that was just like that was my gesture of saying, like, we’re made whole, we’re good buddy like, you’re, in fact, do you want to be in charge of going up to the Tic TAC this morning? And I could tell he kind of lit up like that, and so, Jeff, sometimes it’s like tickling, like if I can’t hug or make a joke or tickle them after a moment of discipline, then it either means they don’t want to laugh, so I’ve been too harsh or I don’t want to be affectionate and I’m still mad. So I kind of use that as a litmus test. Like, if I can’t do one of these things, I can’t happily hand in the Tic Tacs or whatever else then we’re not done with reconciliation. And I just think that, if think about this with your wives, think about this with your kids, if you can’t really lean into reconciliation and somehow act it out, like hug that kid, tickle that kid, hug your spouse, you know, have makeup sex, like whatever the thing is, whatever the reconciliation moment is, if you can’t get there, then you’re just not done. And I like I want to step on that so much because the fact that you fight with your kids or your spouse is completely ordinary. Like that’s what happens to everyone in every family, whether you reconcile with your spouse and your kids, it’s completely unordinary, that’s what barely ever happens. And that’s why families often go the way they do, in a dysfunction. So the question of a Christian household is not whether we fight, we all do, question of a Christian household is whether we reconcile to them the way God reconciles to us. You need habits for that.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:28:22] The book that you wrote, released a year and a half, two years ago, Habits of the Household, it takes us through a day, all these anchor moments. And we’re not going to go in deeper today, but I will be linked in the show notes, and I’m going to want to make sure that our dadAWESOME community is taking a step into I mean, your email list, the emails that you the resources you’re just creating, giving away, your website, Habits of the Household, like the habit wheel and the resources, there, thank you. Justin, thank you. Would you say a short prayer for all the dads listening?
Justin Earley: [00:28:54] I would love to do that. Father, God, we lift up fathers knowing that we fall so short of being like you. And yet, by your grace, we are called to keep trying anyway. I think of the words of your servant Chesterton, that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. And I pray for grace. And, a sense of newness for any dad listening to this, that if there’s anything they’re convicted by, wonderful. Would you give them the grace to realize they can try? They can keep, they can change. And that’s exactly what Your Grace is for. That tomorrow, it doesn’t have to be like today. It could be different. Lord, I would, I pray that you would bring fathers into a new day where they can parent in a new way. Because that is what you are, that’s what you invite us to. So give us supernatural help to be a little bit more like you, even in the small step of the habit. It’s in your name. Amen.
Jeff Zaugg: [00:29:57] Guys, thank you so much for joining us for Episode 253 with Justin Earley. The conversation notes, some action steps, some quotes, the transcripts are all going to be at dadAWESOME.org/253. I would recommend, whether it’s Audible or the paper version of the book Habits of the Household, I have, in research for this conversation, been through the content multiple times and guys, it is so good, so needed. I want to keep doing work in this area and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what’s been implemented. But I’m inspired and I’m so thankful for Justin and the work he’s done in the area of habit formation and to us being dads who guide our family with intentionality in these areas. Even the way the book’s broken up of quadrants of the day, from wake up time to go to bedtime and really think strategically about liturgy, moments, moments of intentionality. So, so glad you guys listen today. Thank you for choosing to be dadAWESOME for your families. Have a great week.