Justin Whitmel Earley

The Power of Daily Habits: Crafting Household Liturgies and Setting Sacred Boundaries

Season  1Episode  1845 MinutesMarch 13, 2024

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Have you ever considered that your most mundane daily habits might be shaping your life’s direction more profoundly than your most passionate beliefs? This week’s conversation with Justin Whitmel Earley, author of “Habits of the Household,” unpacks this intriguing possibility.

Justin’s journey from a shoeless punk rocker to a corporate lawyer and parent, alongside his missionary work and eye-opening experiences in Shanghai, has led him to a deep exploration of the small practices that build our family life and faith.

In a world where the digital age threatens to consume our attention and shape our identities, Justin’s story resonates with anyone struggling to find balance. We explore the idea that our daily rituals, from tech use to bedtime stories, can become unintentional acts of worship—potentially at odds with our deeper values and beliefs.

Justin’s reflections on striking a balance as a parent and professional, and how he came to see rest and human limits as sacred, offer a fresh perspective on modern life’s daily routines.

Rounding off our talk, Justin shares the delicate art of setting healthy boundaries with technology and ensuring our families stay connected in ways that matter most. He also gives us a glimpse into his disciplined writing routine, an inspiring example of how to maintain creative output and personal growth amidst the demands of a busy career.

Join us for this heartfelt discussion that may just challenge you to reexamine the habits that shape your household.


 

Key takeaways from Justin:

  1. It’s important to shape your child’s relationship with technology and to prioritize real-life relationships over virtual ones.
  2. The power of habits are integral in your personal and professional development. Growth is possible, fueled by the grace of God and our willingness to embrace new habits.
  3. Intentional parenting habits have a transformative power.

 


 

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Timestamps:

0:00 – Habit Alignment and Life Changes

14:04 – Rethinking Daily Habits as Liturgies

19:52 – Cultivating Healthy Habits at Home

32:54 – Parenting and Writing Habits

 


Show Transcript

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

My life just started turning around because I started aligning my habits to my head. So you know, this sort of like habit and head were now like spiraling in the same direction. My heart was moving also in that direction instead of being tugging in opposite directions. And that became so fascinating to me that I started to write about it and eventually, like a publisher, kind of connected in, we’re like do you want to write a book on this? And I was like I’ve been living my whole life for somebody to ask me that.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And that was the beginning of writing, so like I had always wanted to write, Alright, folks, welcome to another episode of Interesting Humans.

Jeff Hopeck: 

Today we have Justin Whitmull early. Justin, it’s really an honor to be here with you, so thanks for jumping on.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I’m so happy to be here, Jeff. As soon as you told me about the podcast and asked me about it, I was like I’m doing this one. I love the name, I love the concept. That’s awesome.

Jeff Hopeck: 

So just a little backstory here. So we met a couple of weeks ago at my son’s school perimeter perimeter church in school in Johns Creek, Georgia. You came and spoke and it was halfway through there. You talked about your book, Habits of the Household, and I just said this guy needs to come on this content. It’s from a different approach, it’s a different angle, there’s different jargon. I was fascinated, went home that night. Although it was too late, my kids were in bed the next morning. First question I asked them can you see my eyes?

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Alright, I love it. Which is just so, without giving too. They’re like what is dad talking about?

Jeff Hopeck: 

I know right, but without giving too, too much away, I want to say a couple sentences and then we’re going to turn it over to your remarkable story, which I love. If you have a child, if you have a grandchild, if you have a niece or nephew right now, just imagine looking into their eyes and saying do you know that I love you no matter what bad things you do? And that’s what changed the game for me. I was always focused on the good things. I’m going to let you unpack that later, that whole little story. I mean I’m I’ve chosen goosebumps right now because of how it changed things for not just our nighttime routine, but all throughout the day. I’m using that line and the others that you’re going to talk about throughout the day and it changes the game truly in discipline. They are loved not just for the good things they do. So, without giving too much away, justin, again thanks for being here.

Jeff Hopeck: 

You were a missionary moved into law, which you’re going to unpack Now. You wrote this incredible book and I’m just dying to know how did it all come together?

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

How did it all happen? Yeah, it’s a story Because I I’ll jump into it. If you had met me in college, jeff, you would have met a guy who didn’t often wear shoes, who had long bleached out hair, almost like down to the ears. I was in a punk scrimmo band and I was debating whether to go try to tour with this band or go be a missionary in China. These were my two options after my degree at University of Virginia.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

So while a lot of my other friends were going on to I don’t know like working, consulting and banking or going to graduate school, I was sort of like I’m going to do one of these two sort of unorthodox things and I did. I actually ended up feeling very deeply called by God to go work in missions, work in China. So that was actually my first major calling experience. I just sort of felt like this was the thing that I was supposed to do, and so I was a missionary in China for almost five years. My wife and I got married one year into that and because we met at college, so I went to China, lived for a year, then she came and joined me. We got married and, by the way, marriage in Shanghai, china, with not of your family, in a total new community was incredible. It was risky. I think a lot of even our missionary sort of senders were like we’re not sure if you should go straight overseas getting married, but for us it was just this beautiful time of being formed together, like we’re figuring out language together, figuring out how to live, how to live our own life. So it’s amazing, amazing time there.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

But my life was changed about four years into China, when I had an experience on the streets of Shanghai, china, where I encountered a black market thief trying to sell me a stolen laptop, a drug dealer trying to sell me marijuana, a bunch of brothels which are just there’s tons of them in China. They were open on the street and I saw these three things all the time, by the way, but on this particular day I saw those three things and a political protester. One and only time I ever saw a political protest in China, it was this woman who unfurled a banner and it said the judicial system in China is broken, the people in the countryside are being oppressed. That’s as far as I got, because I read Chinese really slow and it took me like a minute or two just to read that sentence. And by that time there were hundreds of people packed around us and I listened to a cop tell this woman that she knows that this was illegal. She said back to him but you know, this is true. And he says and you know what’s going to happen now. And he put her in a van and took her away.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And I remember standing there in downtown Shanghai and being like I just saw four illegal things thieving, prostituting, drug dealing and political protesting. Three of them are great ways to make money. One of them is a great way to get immediately arrested. All of them are technically illegal. And I had I’m like getting the feels right now, even as I retell it, because for me it was this visceral moment where I was like, well, how we shape law and economics matters in a deeply moral sense for the average person. All of these people were, you know, image barriers have got. All of them were broken in some way.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

You know they had made different choices and there’s matter for sure but this was they were living under a system where you were better off to sell your body or to sell drugs than to complain about justice being done in the poor areas of China. And I just I felt like I left that moment thinking I wanna, if this matters to people, I wanna be a missionary to that, like whatever that meant and you know it was as vague as it sounds. I was just like I caught my heart, I got interested and I decided to apply to law. Actually, I tried to apply to law in business school but I ended up thinking like that’s super long and super expensive, I’ll just do business law.

Jeff Hopeck: 

And that’s what I did. And I what year was this? This is what year.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

That was 2011 that, I think, I saw the protest. Oh, got it, and it was 2012,. No, maybe it was 2010 that I saw the protest and by 2011, I was starting law school.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Yeah, that’s right, you may remember this was the time around the Arab Spring where it was like there were starting to be significant grassroots uprisings in places that didn’t traditionally have protest cultures, and China. It fizzled really quick, but there was a couple, like there’s a couple of little incidents that were unusual for China and I think, you know, I kind of like witnessed one of them and it really changed me, so okay, so this is where I think the story gets maybe more interesting, though.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

So I came home to go to law school with all the fervor of a missionary on a call Like I was like God, this sent me to law school right and I had in my mind that that meant to do excellent at it. So I ran at it super hard, as many, you know, top law school students do. I went to Georgetown Law at DC. I did do really well. I graduated towards the top of my class with honors. I got my dream job and mergers and acquisitions lawyering down here in Richmond, virginia, where I still live now, and I would have said to you like everything’s going great. At that time I had my first, we had our first two sons, lauren and I, in law school. Again, like I did well, my resume was looking good. I was just really really maxed out, but I didn’t think that was a problem because you know that’s what all top law students lives looked like.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I could tell there was a thinness that was starting to happen after three years of just running art at law school, cause my worldview, or like what I thought about what I was doing, my missionary calling, so to speak. Like the house of my life was decorated with this Christian content of calling for sure, and I really meant it sincerely. But the architecture of my habits, just like everybody else’s, and I did not realize how significant of a reality that was until my first year of lawyering. My life fell apart very quickly. I, within a couple of months of starting my you know full-time job as a lawyer, had this night where I woke up and what I now know is a panic attack. But then I didn’t. I just like, couldn’t sleep. My hands were shaking, my palms were sweating and my heart was racing.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I thought I had eaten something like I couldn’t figure it out. I tried to get. I went back to sleep that night. It happened again the next night and I ended up in the emergency room after almost two full nights of not being able to sleep, where a doctor told me one of the most anti-climactic moments of my life that I was just struggling from typical symptoms of clinical anxiety. Seven of them were sleeping pills and my life cratered because one I responded to the sleeping pills really bad, and two I wouldn’t know this for a long time, like a year or probably a year and a half. But I see now. What was happening is that my body, like in my heart, so to speak, had started to become converted to the anxiety and the busyness that my habits and routines had been worshiping for years.

Jeff Hopeck: 

And so.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I had this like visceral experience where my head went one way but my habits were going the other way and I found that my heart followed the habits, despite what I told myself about what I was doing and why I was doing it. When I lived in this sort of existential like keep up, always, respond, always, add more to your resume, don’t put the phone down, stay up later, wake up earlier, like not my body and my, I would say, soul like started to fail, like, even though I was telling myself in my head like your identity doesn’t depend on how you do it in your work, you know my habits were saying something else. They were acting like it did. And that’s where my heart started to go.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

So I learned a lot during that time. But this is the last part of the story and then I’ll pause here because I don’t know if you want to push into some questions on it. But I got to a point, a year into the struggle, where I’m sitting with my two best friends at a restaurant and on the table is this program of daily and weekly habits I had written out because my wife and I were like let’s just, we tried medication, tried counseling.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I was still like a total wreck a bit over a year and we decided that I would ask them to keep me accountable for these small daily and weekly habits. I didn’t think any of them were gonna matter, it was just something. I was just trying to be a good boy and try it Because I had no idea at the time how much those small patterns of your days and weeks actually change not just your emotional health and mental health, but your soul, your spiritual wellness, in the most extraordinary ways. And I started my life just started turning around because I started aligning my habits to my head. So, like you know, this sort of like habit and head were now like spiraling in the same direction. My heart was moving also in that direction instead of being tugging in opposite directions.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And that became so fascinating to me that I started to write about it. And this is like fast forwarding a lot. My first book, about two years later, was because I had started to just talk and think and read and write about the spirituality of habit and why it forms our mental health and our souls in such significant ways. And eventually it’s like a publisher kind of connected and we’re like do you wanna write a book on this?

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And I was like I’ve been living my whole life for somebody to ask me that and that was the beginning of writing, so like I had always wanted to write but it was my calling turned into a crash that actually gave me the first thing that ever mattered to write about.

Jeff Hopeck: 

That’s incredible. All right many questions. So what was life like at its worst? So you’re an M&A lawyer, you’re just out of school, unpack that. What was life like? Where was routine like? What was it like at home? What was it like with your kids?

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Much, much, much color, like a little vignette into my existence would be. I opened my eyes in the morning, started scrolling my work emails Like this was my morning routine. We’d all be scrambling. We have two little little kids at that time. This was about nine years ago, so my kids are one and three, I think at the time, and we’re scrambling to get somewhere late. I’m probably not eating on the way to the office. I’m probably eating at my desk at lunch. I may or may not come home for dinner Like young, young children. So nobody’s sleeping through the night. I’m waking up multiple times. I’m probably trying to work through the evening while I’m home, doing some emails while feeding the kid at the counter. Everything. There were no one way to look at it. It’s like there were no boundaries, like everything was mixed together.

Jeff Hopeck: 

Everything, yep.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And I, you know it was as stressful as it sounds. It’s also as normal as it sounds like. I came to find out that I might be a little extreme in my story, but I’m not unusual. Like most of us are living with these, swimming in this water of chaotic habits and we don’t even know that they’re habits. They’re just how, what life feels like, and that’s kind of the definition of habit. They send me conscious to unconscious things that you don’t usually realize you’re doing.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

But, shape most of your day. And you know I was getting to the point where I either needed to take sleeping pills or have a couple drinks to be able to sleep at night because of the enormous sort of anxiety, of being fearful of not being able to sleep, or just just sort of the existential angst of existence, of like how was this? All you know, when you’re going so hard and you start to wonder, like how is this going to go? Like I don’t think the engine can stay overheated this long and like when’s the next crash coming, there was just this increasing thinness, this tenuousness to existence that was deeply accountable. Anybody who experiences anxiety knows this. You know. You’re not even sure what you’re worried about. You know you’re just like you know, and so you know. Put it short like the missionary had become the nervous medicating warrior, I had been converted to the nervous medicating warrior, like I set out to have an impact on the world.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

The world had an impact on me and I was the one who was changed. Sure, and yeah, I come to see that it was by habit. I was converted by habit and that’s why I started paying so much attention to habit.

Jeff Hopeck: 

What area, yeah, what area of life, would you say, were you overlooking the most during that time? Physical, spiritual.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I would say it was a combination of physical and technological, so I wasn’t necessarily overlooking the spiritual. Like trying to pray and meditate was an idea in my head, but I didn’t really have an understanding of the I’m saying a complicated phrase here. I didn’t have an understanding of the liturgical significance of the way that I scrolled my phone and kept my work schedule. Yeah, and I say that because I wouldn’t have thought my phone had anything to do with my worship. Yeah, but I came to see, like, actually, you know, the ways that I was checking emails were more significant than the ways that I was having a quiet time reading my Bible in the morning. Sure, because I was actually interested in what the inbox had to say for my life. That’s it, yeah.

Jeff Hopeck: 

I wasn’t, I wasn’t resting.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

You know there was no meaningful concept of a Sabbath, or even a weekend, right, you know. So I would say, and this is why I say like my head went one way and my habits went the other, because I would have said all the same things I say now about my Christian faith. But my rhythms of technology and the way I treated my body like always, like a machine, almost, yeah, that you know. That you know doesn’t necessarily need to be restarted or unplugged, just just could keep going as it turns out. We’re more like computers in that way, like unplugging it and restarting us. Actually, that does us a lot of good in our computer it sure does.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Yeah, but I would say it was there’s technological and physical rhythms that were really really I thought of myself, not actually as a creature like with limits, but as sort of yeah, I don’t know, a tech like my body was a technology that could be used.

Jeff Hopeck: 

Yeah.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Used a lot of technology, which is a. You know, it’s a weird view of a human being.

Jeff Hopeck: 

Yeah.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

It’s nothing, yeah, totally.

Jeff Hopeck: 

So in your book you mentioned the word liturgical, and I heard you just say it there.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Yeah.

Jeff Hopeck: 

Liturgical is the same as, just for those out there that aren’t familiar with the term liturgical, yeah so.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I like to compare habit to liturgy, because liturgy you know whether or not you’re familiar with this word they’re the things that we do in worship services or in, you know, a spiritual life, like ways that we pray, things that we say, even like rituals that we perform. And we do them because, even though they can become semi-conscious to unconscious, like you just know that prayer, you just say it, you just do that thing, your worship service. We say them because we believe that they change us, you know, and we’re trying to be formed in the image of the God we worship, which is the goal of worship, and I like to compare these two to show that. You know, thinking of habits as liturgies is odd at first, but we need some language to emphasize the non-neutrality of these day-to-day routines, because they also become ways that we worship something we just usually don’t know what and whether or not you’re a Christian. Like David Foster.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Wallace had an incredible like landmark speech about this at Kenyon College, I think at 2004 or something I can’t remember, but people might be familiar with it. It was called the this Is Water speech, okay, and he says the most significant things about us are the invisible things. The hardest things to change are the things we don’t notice, because it’s the water we swim in. And he went on to talk to these college students. Again, he’s not a Christian, at least that I know of, but he went on to talk to these college students. You should go read the speech about how, like all the things that we do become idols that keep us alive. Like, if our main thing is to become beautiful, like vanity will eat us alive. If our main thing is to become successful, then money will eat us alive. And it’s just this incredible, like philosophical take on.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

What I’m basically trying to say is true of habit. Like when you, when habit takes your life and devotes it to something, whether it’s social media, your inbox and addiction, whatever it is that should accurate. Like, the best way to understand that is you as the worshiper, the habit as the liturgy and something else is the God reigning over you. Like whatever you’re looking for, and the problem with that is that most of those gods don’t love you back, and so your work will eat your soul alive, because it’ll always take more from you. Social media will always take more from you. They are like, in my view of the world, the only thing that deserves your worship is the trying God made manifest in Jesus, because he loves you back and so he’s safe to worship. But what I’m trying to give people to realize is that you can’t not worship. You’re always gonna be worshiping something.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

The only question is what and whether it helps you back. And that most of this worship is bound up in habit, and so we need to look closely at our day-to-day routines to understand what we’re worshiping and how it’s impacting us. That’s why you look around right now and you see such a wreck of mental health in the world, because the smart front has radically changed who and what and how we worship, and this is something that makes our souls whole apart.

Jeff Hopeck: 

It’s a great nugget. And just to reiterate, if your head goes one way, what is that one?

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

if your head goes up in your heart, If you think of it like this if your head’s going this way but your habits going that way, your heart is gonna follow the habit.

Jeff Hopeck: 

You can control yourself the thing that you do every day.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Everything you want about like, oh, I’m this kind of mother. You know, I love my kids this way. I wanna be kind to them. But when your habit goes towards, whenever they’re around, I’m distracted on my phone. Whenever they misbehave, I snap at them like this, like of course we don’t wanna do those things, but that is what’s actually true about us, that’s what’s leading the heart. And you know, I’m starting to verge into the home territory here, the parenting stuff, because that was the second book I started to think about wait, I have little kids. Like all this habit stuff should affect the way I parent.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

But that’s the idea. Like you know, we weren’t meant to live lives where our heads go one way and our habits go the other. We were meant to live lives where they come together.

Jeff Hopeck: 

Sure, it’s awesome. Something profound happened in your life. Then let’s talk about the turnaround. The book, yes. How did it come up?

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

My first book, the Common Rule, was on exploring everything we just talked about. I had a significant moment year after I wrote the Common Rule and this is what I. We’ll get to that. Can you see my eyes thing that you started with.

Jeff Hopeck: 

yeah, oh, wow.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

So I had a really significant moment.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

A year after I wrote this book where I’m putting my boys to bed. The time there were three of them. I have four sons now. At the time there were three and my wife was pregnant with our fourth and we’re having our normal bedtime. Chaos, which involves kids escaping from, is everything that you think. You know. Putting a bunch of boys to bed would look like they’re escaping from bath. There’s naked children running everywhere. They’re wrestling each other. They’re using board books as weapons, I’m like. So the thing that became normal is I would start these you know, significant threats of bodily violence If I’m not heated, if I’m not listened to. Everyone ignores it. We’re fighting over toothbrushes, blah, blah.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I find it like, like, like forcing kids to bed and I say I’m a quick, like good night, god loves you. I do too. I might’ve said the pre-arcade, remember, and I walked out of my room their room that evening and I was standing in the hallway and I’m just having this epiphany of like oh, whoa, what did they shake? A lot of meats. I just yell them to bed and like I love you, god does too. And the epiphany that I had that night was that this is my normal, like I’m looking at my, I’m the guy who talks about habits as liturgies and like healthy technology and work routines, and I regularly yell my kids to bed in the evening, and that was an uncomfortable reality. Again, I might be extreme but I’m not unusual.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Most of us if you’re a parent of young children listening to this, most likely along with me you can experience some discomfort of oh yeah, when you think about your normal in the household. It can be uncomfortable because we are, in some ways, most ourselves in the house and usually that essence of ourself is like oh, that’s not who I thought I was. When you boil it down to the habit, like what do you actually like every day at your house, we’re like, oh, it’s not what I’d like to be, like, you know, and I was just having this sort of like moment of conviction. So I was talking to a pastor friend about it and he recommended that I try something called a bed type liturgy, which was, yeah, he gave me some examples and this is when I went home and wrote my first bed type liturgy, which, can I say it for you Please? Oh, my gosh I love it.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

So I wrote out this liturgy and it was like a series of questions to which all the answers were supposed to be yes, and so it was supposed to go like this with my voice. It was can you see my eyes?

Jeff Hopeck: 

Yes.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Can you see that I see your eyes? Yes, yes. Do you know that I love you? Yes, do you know that I love you no matter what bad things you do? Yes, you know that I love you no matter what good things you do? Yes. And then I would say who else loves you like that? And they say God does. And then I would just say rest in that love. And this was a really special thing writing it out. But you can imagine with young children like how does this go? The first time it went horribly. They poked my eyes. They were like can you see what eyes those right there?

Jeff Hopeck: 

Right.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

They did not get the questions right. I remember a couple times I was like do you know that I love you no matter what bad things you do? And they’re like no, that’s right yeah.

Jeff Hopeck: 

All evidence shows that you don’t.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

So I just want to be really clear. With any habit that you start with technology work, or any habit of the household that you start with parenting, it’s weird at first. It doesn’t work. At first, nothing is normal until it is. Think about your first time getting back into the gym after a year. It’s like things aren’t working right, but that’s just normal. That’s what it looks like to start up a new habit.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And so we did persevere. And there was this really wonderful moment a couple weeks in where my son Asher was like, can we have our bedtime blessing now? Because it started to become normal to him and he even asked for it. And we had this quiet, special moment of talking about the unconditional love of God for us Not just them, but for me, no matter my bad behavior or theirs, no matter our good deeds or theirs that love is the central fact of the universe, not how we perform today. Right, that we’re loved despite our worst deeds and despite our best ones. We can’t earn that and we can’t lose that. We can just accept that.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And it was so significant because otherwise the night was mostly the same. I’m not saying their behavior was better, but mine was, because the biggest thing that had changed was me, because of this new rhythm that we had practiced and worked to put in place. I was driving towards a different moment. I wasn’t driving towards the moment where I could finally shut the door but I’d be like, oh glad that’s over. I was driving towards this moment of saying I’m about to exchange with them this really important truth. I kind of don’t want to be yelling at them the moment before I do this. So I was like it was making me like calmer.

Jeff Hopeck: 

It was sort of like and Jeff.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

This is just where I basically had my second epiphany and was like oh, this is the significance of a good parenting habit. It interrupts your ordinary reactions to everyday circumstances and opens up a new way to respond. In my view of the world, it opens up a way that God can come in with grace and say there are other alternatives to your anger, to your frustration, to your exhaustion. In the midst of this mess you could actually act different, which, in my mind, is one way to define grace as a Christian that there is an alternate power coming from God that says this next reaction doesn’t have to be like the last one. You can change, even though you don’t deserve that and even though you didn’t necessarily earn it Right.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And for me, these were ways to practice grace, to cooperate with grace. And then I started to see it everywhere. So I started to think, oh my gosh, if habits of the household are going to be forming me and my children all throughout the day, what if I took that seriously and started looking at that at mealtimes and in moments of discipline and waking screen time conversations, just all the little moments that mark the day that you think are ordinary but are incredibly spiritual. To me that was a joy because it’s like, oh, I don’t need to take my kids on some monastic retreat, I had a Sunday school. First and foremost, we can be formed right here, in the ordinary places of the day and the love of God and neighbor, and that became exhilarating to me, honestly Incredible. And that’s the subject of habits of the household. How would we think about that in our everyday interactions with our children?

Jeff Hopeck: 

Talk real quick about. I want to get into your writing process next, but before I do something you mentioned there, talk about where you suggest going through the pain now with the phones so that your kids don’t have to. I love that.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Yeah, A big component of thinking about habits of the household is technology and how we teach our kids to use technology, how they watch us use technology. This is so fun that you asked. My friends and I were having a huge debate last night about the virtues and vices of the internet social media. Wait for it.

Jeff Hopeck: 

We were having this debate on our text chain.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I say that just because we are all swimming in this water now of new tech habits that you and I.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Jeff, I don’t know when you got your iPhone or whatever device you use, but smartphones are a foul 14, 15, 16 years old, depending on when you got them. We’re all basically adolescents in our use of technology. Unsurprisingly, it’s taken us by storm. We’re trying to figure out this is the wild west and we’ve got a lot of development to do, but anyone who takes that seriously and most of us intuit this really quickly we’re like oh my gosh, I need to help my kids learn this. I’ve got tons of thoughts. People can look at the, read the book and think about specifics there, but you asked about the pain that we have to go through in order to do it. Well, and that’s one of the points I like to emphasize, because anybody who is going to answer the question can I have the iPad? No, you can’t always have it. Or like, hey, we need to turn off the screen. Or hey, these are our times. My basic advice to people is to pick carefully times for good technology use and then say no is the default.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

So, like you, have a movie night with your kids but make the default off time. Like have like, yeah sure, my kids play switch every Tuesday afternoon once they finish their homework, but the default is off time. They can’t just go pick it up anytime, you know. Likewise, like you know, my phone at home. I put it away when I get home, like for at least an hour, because I want, during dinner, just to be present with the family.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And if you’re going to do that, you’re going to encounter a ton of complaints. Like it is hard. Kids are constantly like I want more, just like we are. I want more screens, I want more TV, and just like sugar and ice cream and everything else, sure, but I just want to encourage parents to just say you know, one of the most important things that you will do is form a child in the proper use of technology. Like this is one of your most important tasks. Like will you send them out of their home?

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

As someone who knows how to use a computer screen with integrity, as someone who knows when to be off a computer screen, and then as someone who knows that relationships embodied in the flesh are far more important than virtual ones, and that’s what keeps us mentally and physically and spiritually healthy. Like this is one of our most important tasks. If you’re going to do that right, you are going to have to take the pain of a lot of complaints, of a lot of like hard decisions, of a lot of messiness. You don’t make them right, like you’ll try one thing and then it won’t work. But I’m, in my view of the world, that’s exactly what it is to be like Jesus to say that I will take the pain so that you can have a whole life. That’s the best parent. That’s the best parent. I’m a parent.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

To understand that you are the one that gets to lay down their life for their children, rather than saying I’m going to make it easy for myself, just do whatever you want. When your kid suffers from all the mental, physical… and emotional unhealth of unhealthy screen use, that’s an awful distortion of parenting. That, like we have an easy life, ipad’s, always the babysitter and my child takes the pain for it. No, like no, no, no, you take the pain so your child can have a whole life.

Jeff Hopeck: 

You take it now. That is so awesome.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

You know, and I think that’s good for the whole paradigm of parenting, but it’s very important for technology use.

Jeff Hopeck: 

Yeah, tell me about your writing process. How do you go about?

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Yeah, I love talking about writing. So I’m, you know, I love that. Your podcast is the interesting humans and like the stories, the whole story, like that you know we’ve been talking about is, yeah, I’m a corporate lawyer, like that’s where I’m in my office right now. I was a little late to our podcast because I had a client meeting running a little bit over, you know, and so I do my business law work, like you know, nine to five ish.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

But a really important ritual habit for me now is that I get into the office at eight AM and that’s my writing hour, and to me it’s a joy usually because it’s the time of day where I can be allowed to write, do one of the things that I love to do, and that is like this morning it was actually just sort of some reading and researching for the next book. So it might be reading, it might be like scribbling out new ideas, might be writing an article, but then when it comes time to manuscript a book, that’s when the hour starts to become a little more burden and a little less privileged, like I’m like I have to use this hour because I’ve got to get at least 500 words. But it’s amazing, jeff, you know, for anybody. You know, this could be anything.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

This could be physical activity, this could be a hobby, it’s definitely true for writing, but when you spend an hour as a discipline every day doing something like that in manuscript season, I’m like I have to write 500 words every morning before I start my law work, which means you basically actually have to sit down and start typing or sit down and start scratching something out. And you got to get through all the self doubt of like why am I doing this? This is not good. Like there’s tons of useless words being written on the page. But the process of doing that and saying I’m not going to listen to the self doubt, I’m not going to listen to the laziness, I’m not going to listen to the urgency of like something this morning is more important. There’s always something that seems more important, but like no, the writing hour is like it’s sacred. Like to this, that’s the most important thing I have to do right now during this hour.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

And when you aggregate that across months and months, books start to form. Like you know they’re not good yet. And then you got to really start to edit them. And I have. You know I’ve got another process.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

That’s like one or two writing retreats where I go away for a weekend and just like get into the deep work of like 13 or 14 hours, like just that writing and editing, and then they send it off to an editor and the editor tears it apart and that. But that process like is honestly incredible. And you know most. I’m a full-time lawyer, that’s most of my work, but I write books between the hours of eight and nine and that’s really possible. Actually it’s really possible and it’s a joy. But again it kind of cuts down to that, that habit of keeping the hour and keeping the secret.

Jeff Hopeck: 

That’s right. Do you have a favorite place you like to go to? You said you get a whack.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

When I go away for writing retreats, I like to find a like Airbnb or a cabin that is like ideally in the woods but close enough to like a brewery or downtown. So then the evening I could go like, think about something else and just go like read or something that’s awesome. That’s the ideal, and I live in Virginia, so going an hour west to the mountains is pretty simple for that.

Jeff Hopeck: 

Put Blue Ridge, Blue Ridge, Georgia on your list. Maybe one day you make it down here to do some writing. Beautiful cabins downtown, I mean it’s exceptional.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

All right, duly noted.

Jeff Hopeck: 

And who knows, maybe we’ll be, maybe we’ll do another episode from the Blue Ridge Mountains, but for sake of time today, wow, I wish we had not even another hour. I wish we had a couple more.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I mean I have a thousand questions.

Jeff Hopeck: 

I think so. Thank you so much. I know this has been incredible help for me, certainly for my tech team here. They get to sit and listen to this live and it’s just a real blessing. So one last thing, and I think we’ll stay on time give some hope to those listening that are just getting beat up. They don’t know anything we talked about today. They want to, but they’re just in the throes of it.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I’m really glad you said that, because it’s possible to hear a lot of this stuff. I think people hear habit and they think I’m not good at that. I feel really guilty about my bad habits. So let me give you some grace and some hope. The grace is that you’re hearing from a person who came to this by way of his life falling apart. I write about this stuff and work on this stuff not because I’m so good at it, but because I need it so badly, and I think that is encouraging.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

That God will use your broken moments of life to lead you to your best moments of life. And suffering, as often, what refines us. So if you’re out there thinking I’m not good at this, I’m bad at this, take heart. I mean, a super important part of this is where you started, at Jeff, with this idea of looking at your child and saying can you see my eyes? Do you know that I love you, no matter how bad things went today? The whole reason that’s worth saying to your child is because there’s a God who looks at you that says look me in the face, because I’m gonna tell you face to face that I love you, no matter how broken you are. That’s what Jesus says to us. That’s the essential message of Christianity, which means that our habits will not change God’s love for us, period. But God’s love for us should change our habits. So if you approach this as like, oh, I’m so messed up, I gotta get it together, I gotta earn this, it’s like no, no, that’s the wrong direction. It’s that God loves you. He wants to move you forward to a new place, and habits are a part of that. That’s when you realize I don’t have to do this to earn anything, but I can put effort into it because I am already loved. And when you’re looking to earn your love, you’re in a world of hurt. But when you realize you are loved and you can put effort in because of that, that’s a world of motivation. And then the I think just the small second part of encouragement there is that your life actually can change, like again, I was a person who was struggling with a. I was an alcoholic or like maybe a diagnosable addiction, like as many people do struggle with. But I was in a very unhealthy place. I was in a very physically, emotionally unhealthy place and it’s wildly encouraging to me now to look back and be like, oh, my goodness, god will actually use habits to change that.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Neuroplasticity is real. You’re not stuck with the mental health you have right now. Grace is real and it’s manifested in neuroplasticity. Like that, I’d say. Neuroplasticity is grace built into the brain. God is like, surrounding us with all sorts of ways of saying tomorrow does not have to be like today. There’s a new sunrise, there is a new waking up moment. There are new possibilities for your relationships, for your brains, for your habits. You’re not stuck. You are not stuck Whoever’s somebody out there in Asia. There’s like you are not stuck because God loves you, like if he wasn’t there you would be, but he’s there and so you’re not, and I think that’s encouraging. God will move you forward. But don’t ignore habit. He wants to use that in your life. So I hope that’s hopeful, awesome, that’s incredible.

Jeff Hopeck: 

Thank you, I mean thank you so, so much for taking the time to be here. So we’re grateful for that. I’m gonna just I’m gonna say God, thank you for this brother. Thank you for this brother, thanks for how you have have used him, how you have redeemed him and how you continue to use him. We’re grateful, and I pray openly here, that this episode does make it into the hands of those who need it that this truth would be heard by many. So, thank you, thanks for Justin here. Thanks again, justin.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Amen. Thank you for that prayer, Jeff.

Jeff Hopeck: 

This was so good, this was so awesome and I’m gonna actually ask you now. I’m gonna save a text message. I’m gonna ask you to come on the show again, cause.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

I know a lot of people myself included.

Jeff Hopeck: 

wanna hear lots and lots and lots and lots and lots more so thank you everyone for joining.

Justin Whitmel Earley: 

Let’s take listener questions and then see what round two, what we should talk about.

Jeff Hopeck: 

I actually have a handful for my D group that specifically asked if I would ask you that we didn’t get to. But that’s okay, no issue, we’re gonna do another episode. So let’s do it, let’s do it.

Jeff Hopeck: 

And for everybody out there, just a reminder if you can, it would help this show out significantly. Rate us, leave a review and, as I always say, I’m not asking for a five star review Leave a genuine review. Let us know how we’re doing here. It helps the show. Thank you again, Justin. Have an awesome day, Mint. So welcome brother, See you.

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