Monday, November 9, 2009

Getting It All Done Tip #5: Keep First Things First

“‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV)

I really should have put writing about priorities higher on my list! But as we have come to it in the course of our conversation…

I often find myself “running behind,” trying to play catch-up. When it gets really bad, I find that I keep looking at all I have to get done, and everything is so important, and no one is willing or able to help, and something has to give, and…and…and I get nothing accomplished other than feeling sorry for myself. Where to start, when everything on the list is vitally important?

Well, those pity parties aren’t any fun, and they do nothing but make me and everyone around me miserable. Meanwhile, that to-do list is still there, and it ‘ain’t goin’ nowhere.’ The reality of the situation is I feel that everything is so 'vitally important,' but when I step back and look at the big picture, the situation is not so life-shattering after all. When I look at what’s really important, it becomes clear what truly needs my attention and what can be crossed off the list until next week. It comes down to priorities and perspective.

It should go without saying that you must stick to your priorities, but it is so very easy to get them jumbled up and out of order. How many of our everyday problems would disappear if we were able to keep our priorities perfectly in order? How many money problems, relationship problems, spiritual problems, would be eliminated or reduced by keeping sight of what is truly important?

Did you notice the order of those problems above: money, relationships, spiritual matters? That’s the order of importance in which many of us see our problems, especially in these trying economic times. When our priorities are out of order, the importance of the problems we face gets out of sync. If we will seek to keep “first things first,” the size of the others will begin to shrink, as we look at them from a proper perspective.

If you are a Christian, then your Priority List should begin as follows:
  1. Jesus
  2. Your spouse
  3. Your children
  4. …followed by all the other things that require our time, from work to the kids’ extracurricular activities to personal hobbies and interests, viewed from a perspective of putting Christ first in everything, down to what chores are most important in order for the household to function.
When you keep Jesus first, you are aware of his provision. Has He ever failed you? I can answer that for you: no, He has never failed you; He has never forsaken you. He has promised us, “Seek His kingdom, and these things [food, clothing, our necessities] will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31, NIV) This is not a license to be irresponsible – instead it is permission from Jesus Christ not to worry, especially about money, if you are truly seeking after Him.
“For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.” (Psalm 36:28, NIV)
“To the faithful you show yourself faithful…” (2 Samuel 22:28a, NIV)

Secondly, do not neglect your spouse. He is the half that completes you, and should you neglect half of yourself? But this is much easier said than done, especially when your children are small and they demand so much of your time and energy. This is an area where I am constantly afraid that I fail due to our family’s sacrifices in order to homeschool. My husband works day shift, and I have been blessed to be able to rearrange my work schedule to work evenings. Sometimes we can be like two ships passing in the night (…actually, in our case, we pass in the afternoon…). So when we are both home, I try very hard to have all the chores done so that we can spend time together. I know that he needs more of my attention, and I am constantly striving to do better in showing him that he is my first and foremost earthly priority. I’ll admit that I need to do much better.

Thirdly come the children, although it’s very easy to place them higher in importance in practice than we do our spouses. However, for those of us who work outside the home, it is worth reminding that there is no job or career that is a higher calling than being a mother. Children are a blessing from God, and He never intended that a village rear them. That means that your priority should be to your children over your job.

Now if you are working outside the home in order to keep food on the table, the lights and water on, and a roof over your heads then working becomes part of caring for the children (but never the only part, nor the most important). But to pursue a “career” for “self-advancement” for better promotions and more prestige is not biblical. Even the Proverbs 31 woman worked, and this apparently took her outside the home, at least on occasion: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard (v. 16)…She sees that her trading is profitable (v. 18a)…She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes (v. 24).” But she doesn’t do this for her glory; she does it for two reasons: because she fears the LORD (v. 30) and to bring honor to her husband (v. 23).

I have found that keeping these top three priorities in focus will often solve my problems with my oft-overloaded schedule and to-do list. If I only have time for one thing, I ask myself which is more important. Is it keeping the clothes clean or keeping the toilet clean? Well, since we can’t go around naked, that toilet can wait! Is it making sure the master bedroom gets cleaned or making sure Katie understands how to translate an everyday statement into a proper logical syllogism? (OK, that may not be a good comparison because it takes a lot less time to clean the master bedroom than it took for us to understand how to translate everyday statements into proper logical syllogisms…but we learned, together! And I only had to postpone cleaning that bedroom for a day or two…my point being that preparing my daughter for the purpose God has planned for her is much more important in the grand scheme of things than dusting the dresser.)

The bottom line is this: keeping your priorities in order makes it much easier to navigate all those inevitable bumps in the road that act to disrupt our best-laid plans. Besides, how boring would life be if our schedules worked perfectly on cue every day? ;)

There is joy on this journey, On My Way Home to My Father’s House,
Cindy <><

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