Sunday, October 6, 2013

31 Days of Listening {to The Word} {to Myself}

In her second book (which I would argue is her best work) Shauna Niequist introduced me to a concept  that has changed the way I think about and have confidence in the choices I make. She made a list of "Things I Do", and a list of "Things I Don't Do". She argues that in order to say "yes" to the most important things in our lives, we are forced to say "no" to others. We simply cannot say "yes" to everyone and everything.

I've struggled to master this in my life, but the concept of prioritizing my roles, my time, where I spend my energy and what's important was introduced to me in high school. I realize this is unusual and am very grateful for the training I received at such a young age. I was a part of a small group at Wheaton Academy led by Chip Huber that read the book "Ordering Your Private World" by Gordon MacDonald. This concept of being intentional with my time and focus was introduced then, and brought up over and over again throughout my Christian education and in my relationships. In the introduction of MacDonald's book, on page 9, he writes: "The order we seek begins with a thorough scouring of the inside of life. With tough questions that it may take others to help us answer. With a confronting of beliefs and principles that are toxic and destructive. With a listening to the voice of God who has better things for us." And then, on the following page, he writes "If my private world is in order, it will be because I am convinced that the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity."

My mentor, Cheryl, has also modeled this for me, choosing to say "yes" to sharing her life and faith with a group of junior high girls (which I was a part of), continuing to meet with us throughout high school, and then keeping in close contact with us as we went our separate ways for college. We remained close even after I graduated college and moved back to the area, and she has seen me through a wedding and 3 births, among other milestones and life-shaping events (not all happy). She continues to speak into my life, and as I look back over the last 21 years that I have known her, I am fully aware that she sacrificed and said "no" to thousands of other things and people in order to say "yes" to mentoring me and the other women who were in our small group.

I've been taught and I've been shown how to prioritize my life, and the Bible is very clear about the importance of living with priorities. In Matthew 22:36, the Pharisees ask Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Law is, and in verses 37-38 it says "Jesus replied: "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."

So loving the Lord and having a relationship with Him is our number one priority, no questions asked.

After that, it gets harder to discern what our priorities should be. I love the way Dr. Kenneth Boa explains it in his series on Leadership Qualities {Priorities}, Published October 28, 2005:

"Ultimately, our purpose for living should be to bring recognition (honor and glory) to God rather than to bring pleasure to ourselves (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). With that purpose in mind we can set our priorities by discovering what will bring the greatest recognition to God. If we do that, unlike the fool in the parable [Luke 12:16-21], we'll be rich in God's eyes...

There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings...

In George Bernard Shaw's play St. Joan, one of the characters asks Joan of Arc why God doesn't speak to him the way she claims God speaks to her. She replies, "The voice speaks to you all the time. You just fail to listen." This kind of listening requires us to acknowledge the fact that Immanuel, "God with Us," is, in fact, with us at all times and in all circumstances. Merely acknowledging his continual, abiding presence is a huge step toward setting our minds on things above and allowing those things to order our steps, our words, and our thoughts. So this ordering of our minds on more than one level at once, is a skill that can be learned...

Paul, whose focused life made him, literally, a world-changer, discovered the key to a prioritized life and shared that key in Philippians 3:10-14... "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." ...Part of Paul's ability to accomplish so much is defined in this phrase: "But one thing I do..."

The book of Acts and Paul's epistles reveal that he lived a real life in real circumstances with real options to choose from. He, like everyone else, had to decide what to do and what not to do. He obviously made wise choices. He pursued matters that mattered. When options conflicted he had the ability to choose well. But priorities have to begin with a "This one thing I do." Without a defining, central Priority, there can be no sensible priorities in leading or in life.

Life is too complex to live it by lists of priorities. Paul knew what one thing gave definition to his life, and all his priorities grew out of that central focus. Priorities help us say "yes" and "no" to things that matter and don't matter. Far more, having a consuming priority redefines how we say yes and how we live to make that "yes" a reality. Our lives are to be given over completely to something bigger than ourselves."

Since first learning back in high school that my life is to be lived within the context of God-given priorities, the first of which is loving and serving Him, many things have changed. I've gone from student, to mentee, to student-leader on campus, to employee, to wife then mother, to small group leader, to mentor... The landscape of my life and relationships have changed from year to year, but my singular priority and aim in life remains the same. I've learned that living out of that singular priority, loving the Lord and serving Him, looks different at various stages in my life. I am responsible for the choices I make as I allow that first priority to shape the rest of my life, the way I spend my time, etc.

And that brings me back to Shauna's two lists: Things I Do, and Things I Don't Do. Periodically I revise my lists. I start with Things I Do. Based on this first list, the second one comes a lot more easily - Things I Don't Do. Knowing what I'm saying Yes to and why makes it a whole lot easier to say No to the things that keep me from my priorities. I love the way she puts it in Bittersweet:

"It's brutal, making the list of Things I Don't Do, especially for someone like me, who refuses most of the time to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a limit to her personal ability to get things done. But I've discovered that the list sets me free. I have it written in black and white, sitting on my desk, and when I'm tempted to go rogue and bake muffins because all the other moms do, I come back to both lists, and I remind myself about the important things: that time is finite, as is energy. And that one day I'll stand before God and account for what I did with my life. There is a work that is only mine to do: a child that is ours to raise, stories that are mine to tell, friends that are mine to walk with. The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be. It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being."

Here are my lists, as of today.

Things I Do:
(in order of importance...)

  • daily quiet time
  • spend time in prayer, and teach my kids how to pray
  • prioritize our family time, and time with my husband
  • grow our fourth child inside my womb
  • lead Bible study
  • mentor other women
  • journal / blog / write
  • spend intentional time with my closest friends
  • serve as a room parent in my son's kindergarten class
  • look for opportunities to build new, meaningful relationships
  • cook and bake (nourish my family, celebrate, and serve others with food)
  • take a shower and wash my hair, get ready every morning
  • go to bed at a reasonable time / take a nap when I need it
  • open our home to others / host dinners, gatherings
  • take pictures
  • encourage enriching activities for each of our kids during the week (1 academic, 1 athletic, 1 spiritual)
  • read (for myself, to my kids)
  • allow time to relax and enjoy life (taking a bath, going out for coffee, eating pastries, making a big deal out of birthdays, getting the occasional pedicure...)
  • try to stay flexible with our schedule depending on the needs of my family / my own needs
  • plan ahead, be dependable, be intentional about punctuality and communicating consideration of others

Things I Don't Do:
(in order of importance...)

  • spend a lot of time in large groups
  • stay up late
  • cram our schedule full of activities and playdates
  • travel a lot or go on vacations
  • go out on weekday nights (unless it's unavoidable/special occasion)
  • keep a steady, vigorous exercise routine (for now, while pregnant)
  • make to-do lists every day in order to feel a sense of accomplishment
  • facebook
  • decorate our house well, thoroughly or consistently
  • diet
  • yardwork, gardening
  • go to concerts, gamble, try new exotic foods, dress up 
  • allow pets in our home/family
  • compare myself to others and the ways they prioritize and order their lives
  • make the bed (I'd love for this one to make it to the other list - I love keeping things neat but there's only so much time)
  • manicures
What are your priorities? 
What's on your list of Things I Do / Things I Don't Do? I'd love to hear about it...


The Larsons said...

I loved reading your thoughts as you reflected upon Shauna's. I have not read either of her books, but they sound like one I should add to my ever mounting book pile. :)

Thank you for your honesty, your reflections and putting your priorities out there. I look forward to creating my own bittersweets. (I had to laugh, as I just hit up the antique store today with the little lady...decorating once again...)

kacey said...

thank you for helping me be ok with not making our bed.