The Examined Life (aka Priorities, Boundaries, and Setting your Sails)

Whoops.

I never mean to go long periods of time without blogging. Just like I never mean to go long periods of time without introspecting (see previous post).

I’m working on it, folks. Balance. Having time to do both the things I want to do and the things I need to do. Isn’t this what we all struggle with?

And then there’s those pesky things I should do…but as a friend and counselor of mine would say, “Stop shoulding yourself.”

There are necessary things, then there are good things, but there are also better things.

Am I making sense yet?

I was feeling guilty recently – shoulding myself, actually – when it occurred to me that perhaps I was spreading my net of responsibility (or calling, if you like) too wide.

Consider the below, expertly-designed-in-MS-Paint graphs.

World's needmy perceived responsibilitymy actual responsibility

If I literally cannot meet the world’s whole need, then it follows that I’m not called to meet the world’s whole need. This led me to ask, what need can I meet? Well, there’s a lot of things I can do. But what can I do really well? What do I feel really strongly about?

You might not know this about me – I hope you do, though, because it’s important to me. Ultimately important, actually. I believe that:

Few things are necessary;

really, only One.

Know God.

It’s on my About Me page. For a long time I wondered about my purpose in life, but I figured it out, about 10 years ago: Know God.

We can get more in depth about what that means later, but I touch on it because it’s part of the purpose of this post. Knowing God – seeking him, learning him, finding him – is my Number One priority, and when everything in me and about me fails, when I have lost everything and all of my ability and have nothing to give the world and no one to give me anything, I’ll still have this One Thing. I’ll still have him.

That kind of sets you free, when you think about it. It set me free, the more I thought about it in light of all the the Shoulds and Needs and Wants. I felt free to choose my priorities – to choose what was most important to me, what I felt most strongly about, what I felt called to. And, inversely, what I don’t feel called to. Or even what I feel called to but feel less called to than other things.

Because, our world is too full of people not having time for great things because they’re too busy doing good things.

Does this make sense? I feel like I’m rambling. I mean, I guess that’s ok because that’s what I do here, right? Rambling is wandering, and I wander. I wonder…

Ok, I’m sorry, I’m not going to leave you on that vague note. I wanted too, though. It would have been poetic.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, I decided I don’t want to drift about aimlessly, juggling wants-needs-shoulds and never getting closer to my goals and often feeling guilty. I don’t want to live the unexamined life; I want my life to be examined. Purposeful.

In practical terms, here’s what I did:

I wrote down a list of what I wanted my priorities to be. I wrote down what each of these things – mind, body, family, creativity, etc – entailed or required. Sometimes I got to choose, sometimes I didn’t. Because, you have to pay rent, right? You have to make sure the cat has food, and you need food too I guess.

Then I wrote them all down on index cards. I put them in an order. I changed the order. I rewrote a couple of cards. I thought about it. I prayed about it. This took me several hours, actually.

Then I decided on it. I decided what I would be responsibile to and what I would feel free to decline if it conflicted with a higher priority.

Friends, this process might not be helpful for you but it’s been shockingly helpful to me. I feel a new degree of freedom, and a new excitement at pursuing my highest priorities. I have weight and trajectory for my goals. It even gives more meaning to more boring of the priorities – like aforementioned rent paying – because they’re a part of making the others possible.

Perhaps this Wandering has been helpful for you, perhaps not. It seems likely that you didn’t make it all the way down here to the bottom of the post, and I forgive you for that. You have more important things to do.

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