What Happened to My Priority Discernment?

The need for frequent breaks is among the top contenders for first place in the “everybody says it’s a good idea but nobody does it” category. The #1 cause of our seeming inability to use this good idea? I vote for “the desperate hope of being able to meet all the expectations of others.” Not simply those others who hold life-and-death power over your job or personal relationships, but also the advertisers, self-help writers, popular example-setters, fundraisers, and everyone else whose business is to assure the world that their method, product, or cause is indispensable to everyone‘s professional success, personal satisfaction, or spiritual growth.

They usually don’t even have to say, “This will work perfectly for everyone”; we convince ourselves. Something in us wants to believe there is one perfect formula that, once we find and follow it, will keep our lives stress-free from that day on. And anyone whose life looks great on the surface is a potential example to imitate–slavishly.

When we don’t see the quick and thorough results we pictured, we either try harder to the point of insanity (like the anorexic who lives by the idea “how can I be too thin when I still have problems?”); or we rush on to something else leaving the first “system” inadequately tried; or, perhaps most commonly and worst of all, we start believing that everyone is right and that our only option is to make sure we miss no option. That can be a shortcut to insanity; in a world of mass communication and high technology, no human being, perhaps not even a supercomputer, can possibly read every book, use every social media option, and attend every event that might conceivably help our careers and self-development.

Even a “do the Priority A items first” approach is small help once we convince ourselves that the real Priority A is to cross everything off the list.

The sad irony–and the mark of another contender for the top “everybody endorses it but nobody does it” spot–is that many things we know are Priority A wind up at the end of the list because they have no deadlines, little inherent sense of demand, and little obvious sense of forward progress. Spend more time with the family? Take an hour for serious prayer? Get some rest? Exercise daily? Yes, of course these things are vitally important; but surely they can wait until we finish the latest To-Do checklist.

Such is the stuff of which deathbed regrets are made.

Perhaps the root cause of all this is that we forget God creates us as individuals, not as interchangeable parts. Your temperament won’t fit like a puzzle piece into someone else’s system. You weren’t made to find room for every option, nor to live a smooth-running and efficient life. You were made to find and fill the unique place God has for you–the “good works He prepared in advance and created you to do” (cf. Eph. 2:10). More than that, you were made to enjoy a fulfilling relationship with Him and your fellow humans.

We’re reluctant to seek out that path because it doesn’t fit the “follow the instructions and pile up the accomplishments” mindset we cultivate in ourselves. And because it takes time, concentration, and often long periods of waiting. But it’s the only path to true peace and satisfaction.

(For more Christian perspective on overload, check out the writings of Dr. Richard Swenson. Also look up Dale Carnegie on “prevent fatigue and worry.”)

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