I've been lax in the blogging department for a few weeks, which is funny because I've been writing a ton. My wife and I took a weekend at a friend's cottage sans 4-year-old and sat by the fire two and a half days of pretty much non-stop clickety-clacking. I worked on the non-fiction book on consumerism in the church that I'm writing with Ted Kluck. I worked a ton on my next novel, which I'm now tentatively calling The Outside Man. I re-read my book proposal a couple times, even though it's already worming its way through the workings of a major publishing house (my agent hopes we'll hear back in a few weeks).
But no blogging. Soooo... let me riff a little on time management, which is actually a topic I love to read/write/think/strategize about, but am less than stellar at actually mastering in real life.
It was looking to be one of my busiest weeks in at least three
months—one of those perfect storm things where an already-tight schedule
is complicated by the seemingly un-providential/coincidental
convergence of multiple meetings, projects, and appointments (both
personal and professional), leaving you to wonder how/if you can
possibly deal with everything on your plate.
In the midst of
this, a friend of mine from overseas, whom I haven’t seen in over a year
and who is currently stateside for a very short time, called to see if
we might get together this week. “I’d love to,” I told him, “but it’s
not possible. If we can’t work it out for early next week, then I’ll
have to catch you next time.” There was just no space in the schedule.
was already falling a good deal behind by mid-morning on Tuesday when
my son’s daycare called. He had a fever and was acting lethargic and
clingy and they wondered if I wanted to come get him. My wife was out of town on official publishing business and so, suddenly, my schedule cleared itself. I sped
over and picked him up, scored some chocolate milk and cookies on the
way home (mostly for the boy), and settled in on the couch with him,
where he alternately played with toy trains and soaked up TLC for the
balance of the day.
Just after lunch, in a doomed-from-the-word-go
attempt to salvage the work day, I lugged my PC (laptop was in Texas allegedly being fixed, but that's a whole other story) and 2-ton monitor down to the basement and fired it up while my son indulged in a couple episodes of Bob the Builder (spoiler alert: yes, we
can fix it). But before I had so much as answered an e-mail or
parsed a Hebrew verb, my little son was climbing up onto my lap, where
he summarily fell asleep against my shoulder, snoring and drooling as I
gently rocked him.
It was the best Tuesday I’ve had in a long time.
I sat there, afraid to make any large movements lest I wake my sick
child, I pondered how tricky priorities are. I’d just preached a message
on the topic two days earlier, but right here on my lap was a living
reminder of how we truly do have control over our own priorities and the way they play out in our lives (even though we might tell ourselves otherwise).
instance, I had told my friend that I don’t have a spare hour this
week, but with a single call about my son, I suddenly found more than
six. We might tell a church or charity that we don’t have another dollar
to spare, but if the car breaks down, we’re suddenly able to scare up a
few hundred, simply by a forced shift in priorities. We might tell a
co-worker that we lack the emotional energy needed to care for a pet at
this point in our life (so please stop trying to give me one of your
kittens), but if a spouse, child, or parent falls ill, emotional energy
will suddenly be in record supply, at least for a time. The issue with
the kitten is that it’s just not a priority.
The variables here
seem to be willingness and intentionality. When I’m protecting my life’s
status quo from a new element that is vying for a chunk of my time,
money, or energy, I tell myself how impossible it would be to displace
something else (anything else!) from its current rank in my life in
order to accommodate these new items. Nine times out of ten, I don’t go
to the trouble of evaluating each and every time-, energy-, and
money-zapper in my life to see how each compares to the new prospect.
And yet, when something significant happens, it becomes very easy to
overturn old priorities. Compared with a basement filling with water or
the chance to finally meet Eric Estrada, my formerly top priorities find
themselves downgraded. And the only thing that has changed in such
situations is my willingness to make the comparison and act on it.
think this (our lack of willingness and intentionality) is why
Christians often fall drastically short of our own expectations in the
areas of prayer, Bible study, evangelism, tithing, and the like. We wish
that we “had the time” or “had the money” to follow through in these
things, but alas, our resources are all tied up. We don’t analyze what’s
got them tied up and then compare the importance of these things with
different elements of discipleship. Rather than being governed by our
values, we usually just follow the inertia of the status quo. It might
be laziness that keeps us from making needed changes or it might be
workoholism. Either way, being intentional about our priorities (not
just knowing what they are, or should be) is essential to being an
effective disciple of Jesus Christ.
There’s a rather corny old
illustration about time management (which also applies to most areas of
stewardship) that I’ve come across about twenty times, and yet it always
strikes a chord of truth with me:
An old professor was once
addressing a group of top executives on the subject of time management.
Rather than just give a lecture, he provided an object lesson by way of
an experiment. Pulling out a large empty jar, he proceeded to place
tennis ball-sized rocks into it until no more would fit. Turning to his
audience, he asked, “Is the jar full?”
“Yes,” they replied.
a word, he reached under the podium and pulled out a box of pebbles,
which he slowly poured into the jar. The pebbles fell into the cracks
between the large rocks and, before long, almost the entire box of
pebbles was in the jar, such that not one more would fit. Again he
asked, “Is the jar full?”
Having caught on, the executives answered, “No!”
professor smiled and produced a box of sand, which he very slowly
poured into the jar, allowing it to fill in all the space between the
large and small stones. He then surveyed the crowd and asked, “Now, what
is the point of all this?”
One man in the audience raised his
hand and suggested, “You’re telling us that, no matter how full our
schedules may seem, we can always fit in more client meetings, more
phone calls, more staff training, etc. if we fill in the cracks.”
said the old professor. “The point is that, if we don’t put the big
stones in first, we will never be able to fit them in later.”
all have our “big stones” in our lives—those things that we would
identify as top priorities if asked to list them out. Family, health,
maybe time with friends. For the Christian, these should include time in
prayer, time in the Word, service in the Kingdom, financially
supporting missions and ministry. And yet, because we are not
intentional about putting them in the jar first, we find that the
pebbles and sand of life too often crowd them out.
mindless Internet screen-sucking can steal an evening and give you
nothing back in return, and yet we might tell ourselves that we don’t
“have time” for personal devotions or exercise or a Bible study group or
whatever the big rock is. “I’m only giving 2% to the local
church and missions, but I’m stretched as far as I can go,” one might
say, even while the sand of satellite TV and web-enabled smart phone
payments, along with the pebbles of payments on two brand new cars and
countless meals out are poured in first, leaving no room for the rocks
that we wish marked our lives.
Although God’s resources are
infinite, he’s entrusted each of us with only so much time, so much
energy, so much material wealth. Stewardship means looking at that
finite jar and putting in the big rocks first. I find that I’m
continually working on this, re-building my schedule and priorities from
the ground up. This sometimes frustrates me, but I suppose it’s better
than the alternative. I pray that I’m getting closer and closer to a
life that seeks first the Kingdom of Heaven and trusts God to provide
the rest—a life where the big stones are placed in the jar before the
sands of life fill in every little crack.
And while nobody is
perfect, I’d love to reach the level of Martin Luther who used to
(unironically) say, “I have so very many things to do today that I can’t
afford to spend less than three hours in prayer this morning.” May the
priorities of the Kingdom be the biggest rocks in our lives, and may we
place them firmly and firstly on the Rock of Jesus Christ.