When I left work many years ago I naively thought that retirement would eliminate all my time management problems. Instead, I have found that “time” is not always the issue. I now have lots of time, but not the energy or strength to do all that I would like to do. Now, just as in the past, I have to set priorities. I could never say that I have always faithfully followed these ideals. It has been a learning process, and I have not always been quick to catch on. However, after long reflections about life, these are some of the conclusions which I have reached:
My relationship to Christ must come before everything else:
While I may have many responsibilities to my family, job, friends, home and church, before all that I am a child of God. Paul writes: And He is the head of the body, the church: Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18) Does the Lord come into my plans at all during the average day, or do my job, family or even my daily jog come first? Does my life demonstrate salt and light to my family and friends? How consistently do I let Him guide my thoughts and actions? Do I show up at church because I love to meet the Lord there each week, or do I go out of habit, not thinking much about it at all? Do I prioritize time to read my Bible and pray most days ~ or only when I have a problem and want God to fix it? Who or what is my first line of influence and authority?
People come before things:
Some years ago I was moaning about my ancient carpets and the walls which are in desperate need of re-painting. I was saying I was embarrassed to invite people in. The friend to whom I was speaking gently told me how she came to know the Lord. She had a neighbor who had many children and whose home was always messy and hectic, but she frequently invited my friend in for a cup of tea and to share her love of Christ. Eventually, through these visits, my friend came to know and love the Savior. Her testimony made me understand what was most important. There are other applications to this priority. Where do I put my money? Is it on more stuff or do I willingly share what I have with missionaries and others engaged in the work of advancing the Gospel? What gets my energy first: the needs of my family or the needs of my home or job? How much of our lives are driven by pride and materialism instead of recognizing that all these things will rust and decay, and that the quality of our relationships is far more important?
Home comes before occupation:
While there are far too many situations where mothers must work, there are also a lot of situations where both parents are out of the house because some women prefer a job to the often monotonous work of raising a family. Traditionally, dads work because they need to support their families. How many marriages do you know where the demands of a job keep dads (and sometimes moms) away from the family sixty or more hours a week? Children don’t see Dad because they are in bed before he comes home. Stay-at-home wives are left without the companionship of any adults unless they have a close woman friend with whom they can talk. I am aware that many jobs demand this level of commitment; you either comply or find yourself out of a job. When these hardworking moms and dads are home, they need to take some time for themselves in order to avoid burnout. However, do they also look for ways to relate meaningfully to their children? Is there any consideration of the crucial emotional needs of the children for connection with their parents?
Sometimes it is the mother who feels she needs to succeed in her profession. She will have worked hard to be educated and wants to use her skills. Unfortunately this often means leaving the kids to be raised by nannies who may or may not have the same moral values or wisdom we really want to instill in our children’s minds. This is a real dilemma. Children are not like pets ~ they need parental attention and guidance. If our family believes that we really need two full time incomes to “survive”, have we looked realistically at our possessions? Do we really need that much stuff, or are we trying to compete with others, and could we live quite happily as a family in a smaller house, with a less expensive car, and a lot smaller TV screen? We might not be able to have it all. What is most important to us: our jobs and more stuff, or raising happy, healthy children who become emotionally stable and productive adults? As Christians, which should come first?
Sometimes people justify neglecting their families on the basis of how busy they are “doing the Lord’s work”. Is that how God sees it? Or, is it really the love of power or prestige or even an exaggerated sense of “duty” which is driving them? We need to look inward to take stock of what directs us, and work it out with the Lord.
Spouse comes before self:
When we were married we all made many promises to the other, and these promises were vows before God. I believe both men and women need to act on those promises; to love for better or for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health. A good marriage is compromised when either spouse acts in a selfish way. Husbands may think that being the head of the house gives them more privilege rather than more responsibility. Wives may feel that marriage gives them the privilege of being kept in the way they want to be cared for, rather than the way they can afford. An ideal marriage takes two fully functioning mature adults whose goal is the well-being of the family and each other, and each respecting the work of the other. Love is a reciprocal thing. When we consider each other first, everyone’s needs are more likely to be met. When only one person gives, eventually it is not enough, and love begins to evaporate.
Spouse comes even before children:
This is usually more a problem for the wife than the husband. In the beginning of each marriage, there were two people. If and when children come along, and if the husband is out earning a living and the wife is home raising the children, it becomes very easy for the mother to let the care and nurture of her helpless child become the primary focus of her life. The husband is a big boy; he can look after himself ~ whereas the children are (at first) helpless and need constant supervision, care and training. In the early years of childhood this is true. However, many women are never able to let go of this role even after the children should be learning to be independent. Wives forget that their husband is still there; still providing faithfully, still wanting to be her best friend. Some women tend to lose themselves in the role of mother, and forget that all her relationships need to be nurtured, and that one day the children will be grown and gone. If either spouse neglects to maintain that primary relationship with the other, eventually you will find two middle aged people who no longer know how to talk with each other, or worse ~ the breakdown of a marriage. Women should also develop interests and gifts which will take them beyond child-rearing years. There is life after children!
I know that many of these ideas go against the modern idea that full self-realization comes before everything else. My feelings ~ my wants ~ my ambitions ~ his is considered to be the “woke” position. However, as Christians, we are called to a different perspective. My comments are, perhaps, rather shallow applications of the conclusions I have reached in my thinking about priorities, but life is made up of small things. We can usually see what needs to be done in big, important situations. It is how we apply our faith in the little decisions which really shows how deeply we have integrated what we say we believe. I want to keep my priorities straight; to realize that I do have choices in how I handle the details. My prayer is that above all things, I will remember that it is Christ Who is to have the preeminence.