Success Requires Knowing What is Most Important

I love pictures.   My wife sometimes tells the kids, “Your Dad loves pictures more than anyone I know”.   I enjoy beautiful pictures of sunsets and things God made, they remind me of His wisdom and power.   If you looked at all the pictures I have, though, those would pale in comparison to the others.

Pictures are important to me because of the people that are in them.   They remind me when we are apart of good memories and how special they are to me.   My loves grows when I look at the photos of my family and friends. 

If you were to browse through my Bible you would find pictures of people that are important to me and influenced my life.   On the dresser beside my bed is a picture of my best friend whose life was taken by a drunk driver when he was only 22 years old.   On our hallway are pictures of our children as on the wall of our living room.   My piano is cluttered with pictures of my parents, children and their spouses, grandchildren, and extended family.   Each is a sacred reminder. 

A very special date with Ashley.

A very special date with Ashley.

Here’s a sad fact: it usually takes the end of a relationship before we realize how much it meant to us.  We live with regrets of things we didn’t say, but should have and things we did say that we wished we had not.

Over twenty years ago I was working through a project that involved developing a personal life mission statement.   It involved a lot of writing exercises, answering questions.  Finally, it came down to writing a brief sentence that described the purpose of my life.   That took a while, to contain what was important to me in an economy of words.

Then I went to the next section and I was instructed to reduce the sentence to three words!    That took even more thinking, evaluating and introspection.   Eventually I came up with the most important three terms from the sentence.

I turned the page and I was told to select one word of the three that most described my mission in life.   I looked at the three words I had scribbled and wrestled with it.   Not from which word to select, but the fact that I knew which one it was and I didn’t want to write it down. 

The reason was that I was a leader and I felt it made me look soft to other people and no one wants a weak leader.   It was a good word for my walk with God and with my family, but not in my work, or so I thought.   It was the word “love”.   

The irreducible minimum of my life was love. After a while of pondering and weighing the alternatives I not only agreed with it, but I embraced it.   To me, that was the ultimate purpose of my life.   (I had already tried to live that way, but had never thought of it in those terms).  As I have studied the Bible I have come to the same conclusion.  Love is the purpose of our lives (I Corinthians 13;1-3).

Since we only have a limited amount of time we can’t do everything and we must identify that which is most important.  For me, that was ultimately reduced to my relationships.  That means that the way I spent my time ought to reflect that fact.

Whatever you give your time to is what you love.  We can get more money, but we can’t get more time. When we give time to someone we never get it back so it is more precious than currency.    (When I receive a gift I’m always mindful of the time they spent in thinking about me, time they gave in earning the money to purchase it, and their time they gave in buying it.   That is more endearing to me than the gift itself).

Have you ever noticed that Jesus was never in a hurry though he lived a life of intense purpose.   It was centered around the relationship with His Heavenly Father and ministering to people, especially investing in the twelve disciples.   He was busy, but He was unhurried.    That is a challenge to me.   Whenever I’m busy I almost always feel hurried.

When our priorities are not relationships (with God and people) vacations do not help us to enjoy rest.   A new destination or locale will not change a problem that is fundamentally one of the heart.   Treating symptoms never gives long-term relief to a deeper problem.  

This issue is one reason taking a vacation won’t solve the problem of being unfulfilled. We are unable to enjoy resting or being with our family because the root issue is still there in our hearts.  I’ve read how people are addicted to urgency (busyness) because of the rush it gives (short-term) in the brain.  Remove the busyness of urgency from their lives and they feel like they are wasting time.

Many finally arrive at their vacation site in such a hurry to have fun that they are unable to enjoy what is happening in the present because of their expectations of having fun in the future. (Read that last sentence again.)   Our inability to relax keeps us from enjoying the gift of leisure time.  Then we return home back at work and wonder why the time away didn’t deliver the rest and fun with the family we expected.

If I’m to live on purpose and experience God’s joy I must know what is most important.  The joy is not in finally arriving at the destination, but taking the journey!    The joy is not in a place, but in the people with whom we are traveling to that place!

This is why goals alone won’t satisfy your desire for fulfillment.    When the goal is accomplished you need another goal.  And the cycle continues….until you die….empty and feeling alone.   Someone wisely wrote, “Many have climbed to the top of the ladder and realized it was against the wrong wall”.

As a pastor I have counseled unhappy people that were successful by the standards of most people.  They had a nice income, a beautiful home, new cars, and were moving upward in their company or job.   However, they had a nagging feeling that something was missing – and it was.   Their goals failed to address their relationship with God and with people (family and friends).

I think even setting goals in the area of relationships can be a trap.   We cannot manage a relationship like we manage time.   Projects at work tend to be static and have a standard process with which we approach them.   Relating to God and people is anything but predictable and routine.   God designed relationships to be dynamic, not static.

Stephen Covey wrote, “You can be efficient in how you use your time, but you cannot be
efficient in your relationships, you can only be effective”.   That is a powerful truth.   Yet, we tend to allow our work to define us and to measure success in relationships by marking time or crossing off a to-do list.

When I am working on projects at work I allocate a block of time to the issue and stay at it until the time is over.   My thinking is, “Let’s get this thing moving and get ‘er done”.  Then I take a break.   And I make progress using this method.

Try that with your teenager.   “Hey, son, come here in the living room so we can talk.   Alright, I’ve only got fifteen minutes, let’s be close”.  (Actually parents are often thinking, “Let’s get this thing moving and get ‘er done”).   It’s ludicrous to even read that statement, but that is the way we live.  Remember advice that was frequently given to parents years ago concerning their children?  “Quality time is more important than quantity time”.  

There are two flaws in that logic.   First, quality time flows from a quantity of time and comes unexpected and spontaneous without planning.   Second, the child (or spouse) is the one that determines if it was “quality time”, not the one granting it.

It is better to give chunks of time to your walk with God, your family and friends and quality of life experiences emerge from that.   The focus must be on the relationship and not the clock.  I have discovered that what I thought was an insignificant time with my kids was very meaningful to them.  I had no idea when I was engaged in it. 

Here’s typically what happens to us.  We tolerate relationships being secondary in our schedules, but in our minds we think one day we will have the time to compensate.   The ugly truth is that we will have regrets sitting in a graduation ceremony or a wedding watching a child that is now a young adult and wondering, “Where did the time go?   I wanted to do so much more with her”. 

I learned from Tim Hansel that pragmatism robs us of joy.  We look for apps and techniques that can help us to multi-task and be more successful, but there isn’t a “relationship app”.   A utilitarian approach to time management is based on the belief that everything must be useful.  (That means it must be able to be measured and quantified).   We know we are utilitarian when sitting and talking is a waste of time unless it has an objective.

Hansel says, “We read for profit, attend social gatherings for contacts, exercise so we can have more energy on the job, and rest in order to be more effective. Prayer time becomes a time to ask God to help you be a better worker; the purpose of spending time with God simply to know
Him is considered unproductive”. 

He continues, “Pragmatism impacts your home. Marriage degenerates into a functional business – what one person can do for the other. The husband is the source of income, the wife is a house
keeper and the kids are unsure of their role since they are not “useful”.  At some point they see
themselves as worthless and intruding into the “business” of the family.

This impacts the way we see God and the church. When we lose our love for God we become religious and focus on a system of rules to govern our behavior rather than our personal relationship with God”.

All the while there is no joy.   We don’t have peace in our hearts, we aren’t happy in our family, and being a Christian has degenerated into maintaining a lifestyle.   But we are really busy.

I have learned something about myself that I don’t like.   I enjoy busyness.   I can be addicted to urgency and the rush it brings to me.   It made me successful in a few areas, but not in the most important one – my relationships.    My relationship with God suffers and with my family, too.   The struggle to neglect relationships for the sake of being utilitarian is still present in me.

I hate to go shopping.   However, my wife enjoys it.   To me the definition of shopping is identifying the needed product, paying for it and getting home as soon as possible.  It’s like a race!   Steve Chapman nailed it in one of his lyrics when he said, “I like wearing hunting clothes and my wife likes hunting clothes to wear”. 

One day, I had a great idea when Paula and I went “shopping”.    (Ladies might want to skip the next few paragraphs.  You might get angry with me).   As we pulled up in the parking lot of the mall I gently suggested, “Hey, what is our goal today at the mall?”  

She looked confused and told me she didn’t have a goal.   I tried to narrow it down to a specific objective, but alas, I failed!   In all seriousness, I was doing this in fun, but I truly don’t enjoy walking around the stores looking at scores of shoes, clothes and other things and going home without anything in hand.

I do like spending time with my wife though.  Even if it means doing something that is tough for me.  My problem was one of being task-oriented and not relationship-oriented.  I was keeping score, trying to craft a finish line, and was missing the blessing of her presence without any strings attached. 

She knows it’s a struggle for me and expresses appreciation to me for trying.   Sometimes she will apologize and start to hurry and not pause to go through the racks of clothes.  I remind her it’s fine and that I just like to be with her.   When she sees me break out with hives she graciously heads for the car.  (Pray for me; I haven’t gained the victory in walking through Wal Mart, yet!)

God summarized the entire Bible into two commandments – love Him and love people (Matthew 22:35-40).   Everything God has given to us falls into one, or both, of these categories.  The ultimate meaning of being a Christian is found in love.   If our obedience to the Lord isn’t born of love and motivated by love (I Timothy 1:5) we will become busy rule-keepers that have no heart for the Savior or for people.

My life purpose is simple: to love God and to love people.   When my children and friends walk by my casket those would be the words I would most want them to say, “Rick truly loved the Lord and he loved people; I know he loved me”.   This doesn’t preclude my obeying the Lord, but is the motive of it.   I’m not speaking of a mushy, sentiment that is without application, but if obedience is absent my heart and affections it doesn’t mean anything to my God or my family  (Revelation 2:4-5).

For me this means when I’m spending time with God I’m not wasting time.   It means when I’m spending time with the people God has placed in my life that I’m not wasting time.   The reality is that we say we believe that relationships are important, but we don’t practice it.    Someone said, “We really only believe what motivates us”.  

I read a story about a  successful attorney that illustrates this perfectly. He said, “The greatest gift I ever received was one I got on Christmas when my Dad gave me a small box. Inside was a note that said, ‘Son, this year I will give you 365 hours, an hour every day after dinner. It’s yours. We’ll talk about what you want to talk about, we’ll go where you want to go, play what you want to play.  It will be your hour!’ My dad not only kept his promise, but every year he
renewed it – and it’s the greatest gift I ever had in my life. I am the result of his time”.

His last statement grabs me, “I am the result of his time”.   The quality of my marriage, my relationship with my children, and my friends are the result of my time.

I’m 56 years old and here is where I stand.  I want my legacy to be that I loved my Savior and I really cared about people.    I want to be the best husband, father, son, brother, and uncle I can be and the quality of each of these relationships will be the time I have given to them.   I want to be an effective pastor, a helpful counselor and a good preacher and those areas will be enhanced by how I love our congregation and the Lord.   I want to be the kind of friend that encourages and adds value to those with whom I journey through life.   To do so I need to have quality, unhurried time with them. 

It’s sad that it takes us losing what is precious to us to realize it’s value.   How much better we would be if we enjoyed and valued our relationships now.   (We would enjoy our vacations more, too!)

A pastor wrote the following poem the week after his son had been married and he walked into the bedroom where his son no longer lived remembering how the little things that annoyed him were insignificant in comparison to not having his son there any more.   As we grow older we learn the truth of these lines.   Oh, that we might know this truth before it’s too late. 

“He Got Married Last Week”

At last! His room is neat and clean;
No clothes are on the floor.
The pennants gone from off the wall;
No marks are on the door.

The messy bed is finally made;
The carpet’s clean now, too.
For once, the closet door is closed;
No underwear s m view.

Bath water, now, is seldom cold;
I never have to wait.
No dirty ring’s around the tub;
The towels are clean and straight.

I’m never wakened by the sounds
Of bouncing basketballs;
They never fray my lonesome nerves,
By hitting on the walls.

No fevered brow now mars my rest,
Or midnight sickly groan.
No fighting for the one sport page;
No, “Dad, I need a loan.”

No baseball shatters windowpanes;
No base paths mar the grass;
The car top never gets a dent
From a wayward forward pass.

No heel prints run along the wall;
No, “Dad, I need the car.”
No more, “‘Cause he is not in yet,”
Do I leave the door ajar.

The water pitcher’s always full;
The bathroom floor’s not wet;
And when I want a piece of bread,
The heel’s not all I get.

Methinks the floor is lonesome, though—
It never has been bare.
The chairs are homesick now, it seems,
For dirty underwear.

The towels aren’t happy being straight;
The bathtub wants some rings.
The floor is sorely saddened by
The silence cleanness brings.

The bed is lonesome for the guy
Who kept it such a mess,
‘Cause when it’s smooth and all dressed up,
It cannot seem to rest.

I’m gettin’ mighty nervous too,
Just waitin’ for the noise
Of basketballs thrown ‘gainst the house
By him and all the boys.

And how about his Dad?
(The guy he used to fleece)
I’ve learned a truth I’ve never known—
The heel’s my fav’rite piece.

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About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 37 years with seven children and six grandchildren.
This entry was posted in Affirmation, Children, Encouragement, Family Issues, Father, Friends, Generosity, Giving, Gratitude, Happiness, Kindness, Leadership, Legacy, Love, Marriage, Mother, Parenting, Speech, Time. Bookmark the permalink.

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