Just the Essentials
Sometimes tools that end up being the most meaningful and powerful in our daily lives come from unexpected places and help us in unexpected ways.
Over the years I’ve seen this play out in a wide variety of ways, with a wide variety of objects, books, ideas, and systems. Recently a friend asked about how I appeared to persevere purposefully through our recent trials. The one obvious, overarching answer to that is God. It’s God, not me. I ran out of myself a looooooong time ago.
The second point I’d make in response is that people are not necessarily as calm and purposeful as they appear. Because you know what? There are times that remaining calm and purposeful requires enormous amounts of effort, energy, and epic internal battles. Discussing this reality led me to reflect on my battles, and I realized that a tool I thought I’d cast aside in the shuffle was actually one of the tools God used to help me persevere.
A few years ago I went through Tim Challies’ book Do More Better with my teenaged sons. I was in the Facebook group Tim started to guide a group of us through the book and the initial set-up of the apps and systems. I really enjoyed getting everything set up and organized. I’m a list-and-details person, so the whole thing is totally my jam. I really enjoyed the camaraderie of the group. It helped get us through the more tedious part of the set-up that some might not have finished on their own. For a long time afterward the whole system really did help me do more good, and do it better.
My favorite piece of the whole Do More Better system is the “Personal Mission Statement.” If you follow Tim’s instructions, you end up composing individual, specific, biblically-guided mission statements for each main sphere of your life. These are meant to be reviewed on a regular basis and used as a tool to help you prioritize tasks and keep your focus. Although I didn’t read and review my Personal Mission Statement as often as prescribed, I did so regularly, and I developed the habit of choosing how I spend my time and resources, and how I use my words, based on the mission.
It wasn’t until recently, in hindsight, that I realized how significant this habit is.
When you live through a short-term emergency, most of your ordinary daily tasks and goals are put on hold. Things get behind, you get through the worst of the emergency, do what you can, and then catch up once things calm down.
When you live through a long-term, consuming crisis that involves many repeated emergencies, things quickly get waaaaaaaay too behind and a future season of calm in which you can catch up is generally too far in the future to see, much less count on.
Your days and nights are eaten up and when you have a few moments to consider doing something other than dealing with the crisis it’s hard not to just stand paralyzed in the glare of the headlights. It feels as if every facet of life is urgent, ready to slam into you. Cars are speeding toward you from all sides. How do you even know which way to step?
For me, one thing that helped was remembering the mission.
Through the 10+ months of our emergency-mode, those personal mission statements were a mental checkpoint I could return to in those moments, and they helped inspire me to mission-focused action when all I felt like doing was sobbing in my bed. As my life was stripped to essentials, those mission statements helped me discern what my essentials ought to be. The system was no longer about productivity or doing the usual things better, it was more than ever about doing more good. About making the best choice moment by moment, under the circumstances. It was about defining what was best. It was about doing something, but not just anything.
For me, it wasn’t only about which task to prioritize over another at a given moment, but also about things like calm, loving interactions with loved ones being more important than all the emails and dishes and laundry and bookkeeping and lesson plans being done. I’m naturally task-oriented and I become stressed when mountains of tasks are undone and frustrated when interrupted mid-task, but my missions involve relating with and caring for people in ways that build them up in Christ so I have to remember and fight to make the latter the most important thing even as I chip away at the necessary task-mountains.
I’m really thankful God put Do More Better in my path when He did and enabled me to develop those personal mission statements and the habit of trying to live by those priorities even when I wasn’t actively reading the missions statements. God used them as one of the tools to help me keep taking another thoughtful step forward, by His grace.