I love to make lists. I have an embarrassing amount of lists: to-do list, grocery list, book wish-list, Christmas gift idea list, 5-year goal list…you get the idea. And now thanks to the wonderful gifts of computers, and the internet, and smart phones, I now have a plethora of tools and apps (I love you, Wunderlist!) to feed my listing frenzy! I literally have a list of all my lists!
And even more than my love of creating lists, I love to check items off those lists. There is something empowering in the accomplishment – a feeling of freedom from that responsibility, at least for one day, because it’s done. (Have you ever written down something you already did, just so you could hear the satisfying scratch of the pencil marking through the task? No? Yeah, me neither…)
If I am this excited about list making, you can imagine the euphoria that prioritizing creates in me. Bring order to the already beautiful list? Yes, please! Deciding what should be tackled first is like a drug to my analytical brain. I mean, there are so many ways to think about it. I could do the most important thing first; that seems noble. I could do the most annoying thing first, to get it out of the way; that seems promising. Maybe I could do the easiest one first, so the feeling of accomplishment will fuel my fire to do more! Or should I do the hardest task first, so the rest of my day will seem like a breeze?
Add to this the other love of my life – multi-tasking! Oh my. Tackling two (or more!) things at once? Checking off multiple items at the same time?? Pure, addictive joy!
Or is it?
A few years ago, I found myself experimenting with just how much I could do at once. It was like I was convinced there was some kind of prize I could win or some cosmic pat on the back for having the biggest list for the day and solving the logistical puzzle of how to accomplish it all. At first, I was only abusing myself. But then (after hearing loads of advice on how women shouldn’t try to do it all, and it’s okay to ask for help) I started pulling my unsuspecting spouse, our relatives, friends, and even the parents of my children’s friends into my crazy scheme.
A sample of my day at its craziest: My daughter has plans with a friend after school, and then needs to go to a 2 hour cheerleading practice. My son needs to go straight from school to chess club, then with me to church for dinner and youth group, where I am helping with the meal and leading a session. At some point while at church, I need to work on their bills, because I am also the church treasurer. My husband is out of town for work, so I have lined up for the friend’s mother to get my daughter home in time for her cheer coach to pick her up for practice. I forgot to think about dinner for her, so she texts me that she is eating some Pop Tarts. Perfect. On the way home from church, where I barely said hi to anyone, my son tells me he has a test tomorrow that he has not studied for at all. While we wait outside of the cheer gym, I log into my work email to finish off a few things that I left hanging when I ran out of there 10 minutes late. When we finally get home, I snap at my daughter to eat some real food while I yell study questions to my son over the noise of his shower. When they are finally in bed, and I’m collapsing into bed, my husband is texting to tell me about his day. I don’t even have the energy to respond.
There was no high from a sense of accomplishment. There was no joy involved in the hurry of the day. I wasn’t even nice to my kids, and I didn’t even talk to my husband. This had to stop.
Right around this time, my employer decided this same type of thing was destroying our productivity. We were running around from meeting to meeting without getting any real work done. So we went through a class by Franklin Covey called The 5 Choices. I am forever grateful for this work of pure genius. It offered solutions for taming the beast I had created! It was just the stepping stone I needed to start saving myself and my family. Watch this awesome video for a visual example of why I needed saving.
One of the exercises from that course that stopped me in my list-loving, multi-tasking tracks actually involved making a list of the things that are most important to me. Yay! A list! One that I can put in the order of most importance! And they were paying me to do it! (You should all find a job that makes you this giddy, by the way.) My top-5 list looked something like this:
I was proud of this list. It sounded really great. But then…a test. If these things are really the most important things in my life, then this is how I should be spending my time. Let’s get out the calendar to prove it! Let’s make another list, showing how my time is actually spent.
- Kids’ activities
- Church functions & responsibilities
Busted. This actually took my breath away. I was fighting tears in front of my coworkers. One of my biggest fears about myself is that I am actually a fake and someone will expose me. This exercise did just that. There it was on paper. I was not doing what I was saying. I was not practicing what I preach. I was failing.
Failing my kids.
Failing my spouse.
Failing our families.
Failing our friends.
I wasn’t nurturing any of these relationships!
Worst of all, I was failing God. And I knew it, and I had been doing it anyways. No matter how much I tried to justify it (look at my long list of church activities!), I couldn’t remember the last time I actually prayed. Not just the quick “please let this light turn green”. An actual, focused prayer. I couldn’t remember when I had actually read the Bible, or really listened in church.
So this was my wake-up call. Time to re-prioritize. For real this time. Not because it would give me some short-lived high from making a list, but because I needed to save myself and my family from the crazy. Because I didn’t want my children to think this is how life was supposed to be. Because I missed my husband. And because I missed God.
Around this time, I watched a Rob Bell video called The Gods Aren’t Angry. There is a part where he says over and over again, “You don’t have to live this way. You don’t have to live this way.” This time I didn’t fight the tears, they just streamed down my face. I felt like God was giving me permission, or maybe a command, to let go of my crazy list.
Getting through the re-prioritization stage took a lot of work. It meant letting go of a lot of things that I once thought were necessary, and learning that letting go doesn’t mean failure. Lysa TerKeurst and her book The Best Yes got me through most of it, and long talks with my best friend got me through the worst of it. I highly recommend both.
But letting go (emotionally and physically) was just the first step.
Actually living out my real priorities was next. Because just having the “aha moment” isn’t enough to create real change. If you happen to find the vending machine that allows you to insert your aha moment and a brand new shiny life falls out, please let me know where it is! From what I’ve experienced, the aha moment drives the change, but you have to apply what you’ve learned to see lasting results. There is serious work involved.
And I’m still working on this, but now I’m spending hours with God every day instead of minutes. This makes sense if I really believe that He should be first in my life. Even so, I still feel like I’m falling a bit short of the mark. Like something is still missing. I figured out why when I saw this statement, from the perceived point of view of Jesus, in William Paul Young’s book The Shack.
“I don’t want to be first among a list of values; I want to be at the center of everything. When I live in you, then together we can live through everything that happens to you. Rather than the top of a pyramid, I want to be the center of a mobile, where everything in your life – your friends, family, occupation, thoughts, activities – is connected to me but moves with the wind, in and out and back and forth, in an incredible dance of being.”
So THAT is what I’m striving for. And the closer I get to it, the more amazing I feel. The work I did to get here wasn’t wrong. It was necessary. Awakening to the truth. Purging the distractions. Re-prioritizing and actually living it out. These are all stepping stones. But now I have to be willing to go to the next level. I need to give Christ all of me so that I feel His presence in all that I do. THAT is my number one priority right now.
Lord, I am willing. Please keep patiently guiding me. You are so awesome, holding my hand as I stumble my way towards You. Thank you so much for loving me patiently and giving me just what I need when I need it so I can find my way to You.
Romans 12:1-2 from The Message
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.