Scheduling Your Priorities
- Marcia Washburn Contributing Writer
- 2007 6 Aug
Ten years ago I felt like a candidate for Queen of the Unfinished Projects. A wife and homeschooling mother of five, I also held leadership positions in four state and local organizations and helped run three home businesses. There was never enough To-Day for the To-Do's.
GOD'S CLAIM ON OUR TIME
Guilt is an ever-present partner in parenting. I often felt guilty at the end of the day because there was so much work yet to be done. As I fell into bed, I longed to be able to say with Jesus, "It is finished--I have done what You called me to do this day."
Ephesians 5:15-16 speaks of "redeeming the time." Kairos, the Greek word used here for time, really means opportunity or in due season. We are to be less concerned about shoe-horning as many jobs into one day as possible and more concerned about doing the right task at the right time. This is the difference between mere efficiency and true effectiveness, between self-reliant multi-tasking and God-reliant prioritizing.
A HUMAN BEING, NOT A HUMAN DOING
God loves and accepts you for who you are, not for what you do. He is head-over-heels in love with you, just because He's your Creator-Father. He doesn't love you less when you have unchecked tasks on your To-Do list at night.
This is hard for Americans to accept. We are a Can-Do people who fill our days with Must-Do lists. Our families regularly supplement those lists with their own additions until we're struggling under an overwhelming load. Remember: if we keep burning the candle at both ends, pretty soon we'll run out of wax! So how do we decide which candles to burn and which ones belong on someone else's cake?
An old story tells of a professor who fills a jar with big rocks asking, "Is it full?" "Yes," the students reply. Then he shows that he can still add smaller rocks, sand, and water to the jar before it is truly filled.
What would have happened if the teacher had poured in the small rocks or the sand first? Could he have fit in any big rocks? No! The big rocks must be in place first. Then the small rocks can be added. Does this mean we should keep stuffing more activities and tasks into our already overstuffed lives so our jars are filled to the brim? Of course not!
The big rocks are the high-priority tasks you must do. They also define which smaller rocks belong in your jar to support the big rocks. If providing for the physical, spiritual, academic, and social needs of your children is a big rock in the jar of your life, it will define how you spend most of your time. Getting meals on the table, doing laundry, and grading papers are all small daily rocks that support the big rock of meeting the needs of your family.
Recognize that some of these rocks will be in your jar for a long time--that diaper-changing/potty-training rock seems to last forever! But recognize that it belongs in your jar for now. Realize that as you are meeting the physical needs of your family for health, cleanliness, and food, you are fulfilling one of God's callings for you in this season of your life.
Your calendar reveals what you really believe is important. For the next few days, list on paper how you spend your time, noting every task, interruption, and phone call--and every time you check your email! What are you actually doing with your time? Does it center on the big rocks, the priorities? Or is there a lot of gravel in your schedule--time-wasters or activities that you could delegate to someone else? Classify each activity according to its significance in this season of your life.
Now list those priorities, those big rocks. Use your list to evaluate other opportunities that most surely will come your way. Are these options compatible with your big rocks? Then, each day, sit quietly before the Lord and ask, "What small rocks do I need in my jar today? What tasks can I do today which will move us along in the direction You have shown us?"
After committing those tasks to the Lord each morning, ask Him to pour the water of His grace over all of your rocks, filling in every empty space, lubricating each sharp edge. When there are interruptions, He will be there in them, directing and fine-tuning your day. He will reveal which tasks can be delegated to others and which can be dealt with at a later time. He will help you discern which ones are important, and which ones are just gravel and sand that irritate but don't produce fruit. And as you are planning, don't forget to leave unstructured time for the delightful serendipities He loves to surprise us with.
YOU BECOME EFFECTIVE BY BEING SELECTIVE
"If you want your life to have impact, focus it! Stop dabbling. Stop trying to do it all. Do less. Prune away even good activities and do only that which matters most. Never confuse activity with productivity." (The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren)
Ingrid Trobisch tells us in Keeper of the Springs that as women, we want to make One Grand Sacrifice--saving our child from an on-coming train or something heroic. But what is needed is a string of small sacrifices--lullabies to be sung, flowers in the vase--these actions are the putty that holds together the mosaic of family life.
Don't despise the day of small things--there is a season when wiping runny noses and sorting laundry are the big rocks in your life. Don't yield to peer pressure. Don't try to copy what God is leading some other homeschool mom or dad to do. You are uniquely designed to live the life He has called you to. Dr. Jeff Myers reminds us, "Your greatest treasure, and your greatest contribution to the building of God's kingdom, doesn't come from trying to become something that you are not. It comes from identifying and living out that which God designed you to be."
God didn't do everything in one day. What makes me think I can do everything in one day? I still have unfinished projects. I still need to sift out the gravel and sludge in my jar. But when I drop my own list-making day plannings and make God my Day Planner, I find contentment and peace with what I do get done each day. "To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Do today's work today. Don't let concern for tomorrow's work hamper today's.
REPORT FOR DUTY
Soldiers report to their commander for orders each morning (II Tim. 2:4). Elisabeth Elliott says, "Christian discipline means placing oneself under orders. It is no mere business of self-improvement, to be listed along with speed-reading, weight-watching, [or] jogging... Such programs have a strong appeal that is largely self-serving: what's in it for me?... in the end a do-it-yourself program depends on willpower alone, which is not enough for most of us." Approach the Lord each day for your daily list, as well as your daily bread, so at night you can say, "I have finished the work you gave me to do."
You may find that morning is your best planning time. Or perhaps your best time to sit down with the Lord and plan the coming day is in the evening after you've tucked the last child into bed. Sunday afternoon while you are still fresh from your time of worship can also be a great time to lay out the week's work.
We don't know what the expiration date is on our lives. God has the right to graduate us to heaven at any time. But we must realize that there will be time to do all He leads us to do. He doesn't give us incompatible obligations. Let's be found faithful in fulfilling what He has called us to do during this season of our lives. We do this by asking the Lord to reveal the Big Rocks He has placed in our jars, and by focusing our efforts on them and the actions that support these responsibilities.
And at night when we crawl into bed, we can know that even though there is much left to be done--"A woman's work is never done!"--we have done the things He called us to do that day. Then we can reap the reward of hearing His words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
*This article published August 10, 2007.
Copyright 2007 by Marcia K. Washburn, homeschooling mother of five sons. Adapted from an article published in The CHEC Update Fourth Quarter 2006; reprinted by permission. For information about workshops, articles, or books, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-842-4776.