The good people of Rapt Interviews did a great job of interviewing me. They brought out stories about me that I rarely talk about. You might enjoy the conversation I had with them. You can read more great interviews at raptinterviews.com.
Jim Burns cares about families. That’s why he and his wife, Cathy, founded HomeWord, a ministry that helps families succeed with strong marriages, confident parenting, and healthy leadership. Since launching HomeWord, Jim has created almost 2 million resources that have helped thousands of parents and kids each year draw closer to Jesus and enjoy their relationships with one another.
Today, we’re asking Jim what motivates him after so many years to keep helping families through his writing and speaking. You’ll learn what drives him, what battles he has to fight on a regular basis, how he finds deep spiritual renewal, and what resources and spiritual practices keep him strong.
Question No. 1: Acquaint.
There’s much more to food than palate and preference. How does a go-to meal at your favorite hometown restaurant reveal the true you behind the web bio?
Like my go-to meal, I’m simple. But I’m simple in a non-boring way! Growing up in Southern California, I could eat Mexican food every day. I usually eat the same thing: a cheese enchilada and a carne asada taco. That says a lot about me on several levels. But don’t judge me—I’m not as boring as that sounds.
Okay, I admit it. I cry during movies, weddings, novels, or even when I’m telling a story in front of an audience when I’m speaking. My three daughters give me an eye roll when the tears flow or when I tell one of my overused “dad jokes.” What’s cool is I now have three grandchildren who think those same jokes are funny. Or at least I think they think they’re funny.
I’m passionate about my family. To quote Disney’s Lilo and Stitch, “This is my family. It may be small. It may be broken. But it’s still good!” That’s how I feel about us. I’ve been married to my college sweetheart, Cathy, for 47 years. I married way above myself. Being a dad of all daughters is a joy, and yes, we experienced some hormones and drama along the way. Now I’m “Papa J” to three grandkids and I love it. Having grandchildren is a love affair between generations.
I’m also passionate about helping families succeed. When I had hair, I was a youth pastor, and even though I now spend my time speaking and writing on parenting and marriage, I still wake up most days thinking about how to help kids. For me, I’ve chosen to come alongside parents and give them some hope and practical tools.
Oh, and I absolutely love the beach. We live in a beach town (Dana Point) in Southern California, and we mainly vacation in other beach towns. See? I told you I was simple.
Question No. 2: Reveal.
We’ve all got quirky proclivities and out-of-the-way interests. So what are yours? What so-called “nonspiritual” activities do you love and help you find spiritual renewal?
I’m a nerd. But I wasn’t always a nerd. When I was young, I played sports. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a professional baseball player like my older brother. I ran with the popular crowd in all my “non-nerd” activities.
But at age 16, I had a major life change. I became a Christian and quickly decided I wanted to go into ministry and help kids. Becoming a Christian was not a popular decision with my family. No one in my family went to church, and now that I look back, it was a classic dysfunctional family. Alcoholism was all around me.
So getting saved was a huge shift in my life. All of a sudden, I wasn’t interested in playing baseball any longer. I even started changing who my closest friends were and hung out more with the Christian crowd. As a result, I spent less time on my “non-nerd” activities and spent a lot more time reading books.
Even now, I read all the time. I read novels. I read books on marriage and family. Put a book in front of me and I’ll read it. That’s the nerd part of me. Reading not only caused me to become a lifelong learner, but it also challenged me to write books. So now, I read, write, and speak for my career. When I’m feeling spiritual, I would call my career a calling. (Although, you can help kids and be a mature Christian without being a nerd!)
Question No. 3: Confess.
Every superhero has a weakness. Every human, too. We’re just good at faking it. But who are we kidding? We’re broken and in this thing together. So, what’s your kryptonite and how do you hide it?
If there was a People Pleasers Anonymous, I could be the president. Although, I just Googled “People Pleasers Anonymous,” and there really is a group. I had no idea. Maybe I will join.
Too much of my life has been focused on trying to please others. There are times when I’ve had to admit that I’ve only given my family the emotional scraps because I gave everything to others first. In fact, there are times I’ve given God my emotional scraps for the same reason.
My wife used to say to me, “We have a Messiah, and he is doing very well. Don’t try to replace him.” I’ve spent too much time being overcommitted and under-connected with my primary relationships. But I do think I’m getting better. Maybe I’m growing up, or maybe it was a bout with cancer that made me look inward and reevaluate everything. I think facing your mortality has a way of doing that. For now, my people-pleasing is more like three steps forward and two and a half steps backward.
Question No. 4: Fire UP.
Tell us about your toil. How are you investing your professional time right now? What’s your obsession? And why should it be ours?
I got a call from my doctor. He said, “Come to my office this afternoon and bring your wife.” That’s seldom good news. And this time was no different. He told me I had cancer.
The night before surgery, at one of the great cancer hospitals in the world, City of Hope, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, If this is my last night on earth, what principles would I want to pass on to my kids and grandkids? I ended up writing the 13 most life-changing principles I’ve learned over the years.
I never planned to write a book on them or speak about them—just pass them on to my family. Then one day, I was asked to speak at a major conference for pastors on those principles. Something happened after I spoke. The people stayed in their seats. They wanted to ask questions. Their issues were very similar to my issues.
I ended up writing a book called Have Serious Fun and 12 Other Principles to Make Your Life Count. Someone told me after I wrote the book, “This must be your ‘legacy book.’” My response is, to quote Monty Python, “I’m not dead, yet.” But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think this book is my legacy book. These principles are the principles that helped me most with my life, interpersonal relationships, family, and relationship with God. Even though the book is brand new, I’m hearing from people who have read it and are saying that it has been very helpful to them. That makes it all worthwhile to me. Here are some of the principles:
Have serious fun.
It’s the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
If the devil can’t make you bad, he will make you busy.
Practice thank therapy.
Attitude is everything.
Find replenishing relationships and more.
Question No. 5: Boost.
Cashiers, CEOs, contractors, or customer service reps, we all need grace flowing into us and back out into the world. How does the Holy Spirit invigorate your work? And how do you know it’s God when it happens?
Yesterday, I was speaking at the American Association of Christian Counselors Convention in Orlando. A woman came up to me and asked me to sign her book. (I had just finished speaking on the subject.) She said, “This book changed my life. It has given me direction and hope.” She went on to thank me, but I said, “No, thank you!”
People energize me, and so does affirmation. As I signed her book, my eyes welled up with tears. (See, I told you I cry.) I realized once again that God had used a wonderful Christian counselor at a convention 2,500 miles from home to remind me that what I’m doing matters. Because some days, it just feels like a lot of work.
People inspire me and keep me focused on helping more of them. In my work with families, not everyone is making such great decisions, but it just takes a few to keep me going.
Question No. 6: Inspire.
Scripture and tradition beckon us into the rich and varied actions that open our hearts to the presence of God. So, spill it, which spiritual practice is workin’ best for you right now?
Many years ago, I was speaking to high school students at one of the premier Christian camps in the world, Forest Home. It was a weekend conference, and the vibe was more than energetic. After my second talk that Saturday morning, the staff got together, and they were concerned that one of the girls was not attending the meetings. I asked the girl’s counselor about her. The counselor told me she was from the inner city, had never been in the mountains before, and didn’t seem to have an interest in attending the meetings.
I said, “I’d like to meet her.” Her counselor told me she usually hung out under a tree, sitting and looking out at the incredible view of the mountains on the other side of the ridge. It didn’t take too long to find her. She was drawing a picture of that stunning view. I realized she had absolutely no idea I was the speaker, but I sort of awkwardly walked up to her. I told her I thought her drawing was awesome. I asked if she had other drawings and she told me she did. I asked if I could sit down and look at them. In the less than the 24 hours she had been at the camp, she had drawn five or six truly amazing pictures of nature.
I praised her skill and asked about her time at the camp. She surprised me. She said, “I’ve never seen a more beautiful place.” She went on to say, “I’ve seen places like this on TV but never dreamed I could come and see it for myself.” Then she surprised me again: “I just feel so close to God here.” At that point, I wasn’t even sure I should invite her to the meeting. I awkwardly said something like, “Tonight, if you come to the meeting, I’d like to invite you to sit with me. I’ll be in the front row on the right and I’ll save you a seat just in case.” She just nodded her head. The singing at already begun when she came in. I saw her looking for me. I waved and showed her I had saved her a seat. I think she was a bit shocked when she realized I was the speaker.
After the meeting, I invited students who wanted to stick around to talk, ask questions, pray, or just hang out. She just hung out. It looked like she was drawing something while I spent most of an hour talking with other kids. After everyone else had left the room to move on to some game night event, I sat down next to her. She showed me her latest drawing. It was a picture of me on stage and a self-portrait of herself sitting next to Jesus. They were holding hands. She titled her drawing: “Jesus, my forever friend and Savior.” I learned that night that you can’t put God in a box. Sometimes he uses a talk or a book or a sunset or a mountain ridge to reveal his love.
Question No. 7: Focus.
Our email subscribers get free ebooks featuring our favorite resources—lots of things that have truly impacted our faith lives. But you know about some really great stuff, too. What are three resources that have impacted you?
For the last 21 years, I have sat with four other men every Tuesday morning. We have shared life together. It’s my “small group,” but it’s also so much more. I’m a better husband, father, grandpa, and Christ-follower because of Randy, Rod, Tom, and Terry. When we first started meeting, we didn’t share as deeply. Then one day, one of the guys shared about a tough spot in his marriage. I don’t think it was ever the same. We all opened up and felt safe. In this group, I have found peer support, mentors, accountability, wisdom, and deep fun.
The more I have gotten to know them, the more I admire them. I’ve watched them do marriage, parenting, business, grandparenting, and leadership, and I must admit, I’ve copied their behaviors. I like to say, “The essence of creativity is the ability to copy.” In many ways, I’ve patterned decisions in my life after watching them do life. They are “replenishing relationships,” and I’m so glad I get the chance to hang out with them.
We all have things we cling to to survive (or thrive) in tough times. Name one resource you’ve found indispensable in this current season—and tell us what it’s done for you.
Through the years I’ve clung to a daily morning routine of reading the Bible, prayer journaling, and, for the last eight years, reading through my Jesus Calling devotional. I do the same thing every morning. Remember, I’m sort of simple. Sitting on the big chair in our family room is my “thin place,” where, some days, heaven and earth are quite close.
It’s those quiet moments and those incredible men I share life with that keep me focused. And yet, there are times I still lose my focus, but I know that sofa and those guys are there to bring me back in focus.
Question No. 8. Dream.
God is continually stirring new things in each of us. So, give us the scoop! What’s beginning to stir in you but not yet fully awakened? What can we expect from you in the future?
As I get older it seems like my dreams for a better life for families gets bigger. We throw around a phrase at HomeWord—“When you reach the family, you reach the world.” What is great about helping families succeed is that practically everybody loves their families. You can be a Democrat or Republican, a conservative or a liberal, a Christian or not a Christian, and love your family. That gives me a platform to speak on helping build strong marriages, confident parents, empowered kids, and healthy leaders. I do it from a Christian perspective because that’s who I am, but I find almost anyone is open to listening as long as it’s practical and not preachy, judgmental, or negative.
I’m turning my thoughts to how we reach the next generation of parents and marriages. Frankly, I think raising kids today is more complicated than ever. I want to spend the rest of my life investing in reaching this next generation. I’m continuing to provide fresh content on marriage and family issues, but I’ll also spend more energy passing my content on to younger leaders who will do a much better job than me at bringing hope and healing to next-generation families.
I’m excited about HomeWord’s new Pass It On ministry, which takes my family content and passes it on to leaders around the world so they can adapt and use it to bring this message of healthy families to millions. It’s a big dream, and I’m putting my energy into doing it. You can hear more about that at HomeWord.com/Trainer-of-Trainers. Thanks for the incredible opportunity and privilege to spend some time with you today.
“The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world,” wrote William Ross Wallace in his oft-quoted poem. While William was specifically praising the power of motherhood, the phrase also points to a bigger principle: the power of family.
Could this be why the Bible talks so much about parenting and family relationships? If families—husbands and wives, moms and dads, parents and kids—had healthy, Jesus-centered relationships with one another, just how much of an impact would that have on our broken world?
Probably more than we think.
Raising children who change this world with Jesus’ love is more than teaching them the right theology. It’s relationships. It’s learning. It’s forgiveness. And it’s God’s grace.
This interview first appeared here.