Every day we make decisions about where to direct our focus, our attention, our time, and our efforts. Some are small and inconsequential. But others are huge and life-altering. Or maybe not life-altering, but day-altering, or week-altering. The consequences of making an unwise decision can propel us into overcommitment and overwhelm with a simple “yes.” But it’s not always easy for us to accurately predict how our decisions will play out.
How do we decide what to do, when we don’t know what to do?
Today, I’m giving you six questions to ask yourself when faced with a new opportunity. If you are on the cusp (I love that word) of making a decision, but you don’t know which way to lean, these will help you sort through your options.
You won’t need to ask yourself all six questions every time. But working your way through these questions will help you narrow it down, and will lead you in the right direction.
Question 1: Is the opportunity a form of loving God and/or loving others?
“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:29-31
Admittedly, this is a very broad umbrella. And most of us can creatively make almost anything fit here. But if something we are questioning does not somehow directly relate to us loving God with our entire being and loving people, then we need to drop that thing. It is not a priority. It is not worth our time.
For example, Prioritizing time I spend reading and studying the Word of God and in prayer falls squarely under this umbrella. In fact, it’s so important to me that I try to do this the very first thing every single day.
Prioritizing my husband and my children falls squarely under this umbrella—right now the things I do for them and with them almost always trump other things. For me, these things are non-negotiables.
It gets dicey when we start talking about loving other people, because there are approximately 7.5 billion people in the world and we cannot possibly love all of them in the same way. Right? Right.
Notice, Jesus used the word “neighbor.” Well who is that? A Teacher of the law asked that same question in the Gospel of Luke, again to test Jesus and to justify himself (the bible says), and you may recall that this is where Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
We don’t have space to launch into a full Bible study in this post, but, I believe when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, he’s talking about those who are closest to us (family, friends, literal neighbors, etc) and also those whom God places in our path, whoever that might be.
Question 2: Is the opportunity loving toward myself?
Notice, when Jesus explained loving people, He said we need to love others as we love ourselves. This implies that we are loving ourselves well
So, is the opportunity healthy? Or will it make me sick or dependent or addicted or overweight? Will it deprive me of sleep? Will it prohibit me from properly resting or from properly exercising? Will it isolate me from life-giving relationships? Will it compromise my physical or emotional health in any way?
If what I’m considering is not healthy for me, then it should not be a priority for me.
For me, this means that making time to exercise daily, disciplining myself to get to bed to get a good night’s sleep, and budgeting my time and money in such a way as to allow our family to eat healthy whole foods most of the time are top priorities for me.
Question 3: Is the opportunity a clear yes?
In Greg McKeown’s best selling book, Essentialism, he describes a simple technique for making choices. He says, if the answer isn’t a definite yes, then it should be a no. In other words, if it isn’t a clear yes—abso-freaking-lutely YES–then it’s a clear no.
This one test helps me distinguish between good and very good. Or as Charles Spurgeon put it, “between right and almost right.”
Chaperoning the field trip? Clear yes?
Taking the optional business trip? Clear yes?
Dinner with the friend from high school you haven’t seen in 20 years but is in town and called you last minute? Clear yes?
If not, then let it be a no.
Question 4 Is this an emergency?
In most cases, emergencies trump everything. In March, my husband’s brother had a horrible accident at work, and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Jon dropped everything and drove six hours to be with him, over two different weekends. Normally, his brother would be way down the priority list, but not that day.
In an emergency, you stop your normal routine, you call in to work, you ask a friend to watch the kids, you stay as late as you need to.
A little sidenote about emergencies: not only do they trump everything, but they bring instant clarity. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been confused about something—maybe a complicated dynamic in a friendship or what direction to proceed with my work or my ministry, or maybe my husband and I have been in a fight and I’m all frustrated with him and am letting myself stew about it for way too long. And then an emergency happens, and instantly, I can see it all clearly. All the stuff that doesn’t matter, falls away and I see with perfect clarity what does matter.
So, while we all hate when emergencies happen, I’m so thankful for the way God redeems them and uses them for our good.
Question 5: What season am I in?
I’m sorry. I know the analogy of “seasons” is so overdone—almost as much as the use of the word “journey.” But knowing and understanding your season is super important in determining your priorities.
When we talk about literal seasons, there are certain activities and practices that are appropriate in one season that would be downright life-threatening in another. Swimming in the lake, for example. In the summer when it’s July and the temperature outside is 89, then swimming in the lake is perfect! But when it’s February and the temperature outside is 2, and half the lake is frozen, then getting in there for a swim, will kill you.
But here’s the thing about seasons: they are temporary. When you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to believe it will end—like winter in Kentucky this year—but I promise, the seasons end.
Because I’m a mom, I’m going to focus on mom seasons for a second. And I’m going to sound like the old lady in Target who’s going to remind you how fast it all goes (hold on while I pull up my knee-high stockings).
- Do you have babies and toddlers in the home? Are you breastfeeding? Do your kids take naps? It’s a season. When you’re in it, it feels like you will always be tethered to a small child. But I’m here to tell you, you will not. It ends.
- Are your kids in school? Are you homeschooling? Are your kids playing sports or in after school activities? Are you in the “drive my kids all over creation” and “I hope I don’t forget to pick one up” season? It’s temporary. It will end.
- Do you have kids transitioning out of your home? Into college? Or into marriage? Are you looking at colleges or apartments or wedding gowns? It’s a season. They actually do become real adults with lives outside of us. (snif.)
Each season of motherhood–of life!– requires a unique set of priorities. Just like literal seasons, what I do in one season could be perfectly fine—great, even. But if I try to do that in another season, it would be dangerous.
I don’t know you or your circumstances, but when my kids were babies and toddlers, most things got put up on a shelf for later. Literally and figuratively. It doesn’t mean I never did anything away from my kids—I did—but 90% of the time, if I had the choice between my babies and doing anything else, I chose my babies. It was a short season. Was that always easy? Nope. Did I miss some great opportunities? Yep. Do I regret that? Not for one second.
If you’re a Momma, lean in here for a second: when you make choices to love your kids based on the season they are in, you will need to make some hard choices. You will miss some great opportunities. It’s true. But you must trust God that when the season passes, He will bring you some new opportunities. Better opportunities.
I know many of you choose to work outside the home, and you LOVE what you do. That’s awesome! If you are not wrestling with this as a balance issue, then this next little part is not for you…feel free to scroll. I’m talking to the mommas who feel trapped and confused and don’t know how to reconcile what they want to do with the season their kids are in.
Many awesome moms I know, for the short season their kids were babies and toddlers, chose to work part time, or they worked from home, or they tag-teamed with dad so that they could use childcare as little as possible. You are so smart and amazing, and you are super creative. Use your creativity to figure something out so you don’t have to be away from your little ones all day every day. It only needs to be for a short time. And it won’t be easy, I get it. BUT you only get one shot at raising those little ones. One shot. And then you can go and do all those other things you’re awesome at and that you love.
I can promise you, there are things that I wanted to do 15 years ago when I had kids swarming everywhere and I was wiping bottoms and cleaning up spit up and spoon-feeding kids in high chairs, but I couldn’t do them because I couldn’t balance both and do either well. And, quite honestly, it was frustrating, because I saw a lot of other moms pursuing their dreams with kids and I couldn’t figure it out. They were writing books and speaking all over the place and I was always like, How are they doing this?
(Ironically, many of those same women have since come out with books about how they practically killed themselves during that season and how they have since learned to pull back, set better boundaries, and say no. So, maybe it wasn’t as easy for them as it looked from afar.)
This year my kids will be 20, 18, and 13. I promise you, I can do things that I absolutely could not do 15 years ago or even 5 years ago! And I can do them completely guilt free. Because I’m in a different season, entirely.
Question 6: Does this opportunity align with my goals?
First of all, this is assuming you have some goals and that you’ve prayed and asked for direction from God concerning those goals. If you don’t know what your goals are, then step back and pray about that first.
Is your goal to get healthy this year? If so, then eating and cooking home-cooked, whole foods meals should be a priority. Also, daily exercise and rest.
Is your goal to get out of debt? Then cutting coupons and shopping deals and limiting spending will be your priority.
One of my goals this year was to get my podcast up and running, and also preparing for two writers conferences I’m attending later this year. I’m running all other opportunities through that filter.
Some opportunities will be great or terrible based on your goal. For example, maybe your girlfriends asked you to go on a trip to Cancun and you are trying to decide if this should be a priority. First of all, your priority should be to keep those awesome friends. And also, invite me into your friend group.
If your goal is to get out of debt and you don’t have the money budgeted for a Cancun trip, then you absolutely should not go. But if your goal this year is to connect deeply with your closest female friends, then this trip could be a clear and definitive yes!
You will not always get it right. That’s okay. God is full of grace and, if you do things with a pure and humble heart, motivated by LOVE for God and your family, God will use even your mistakes for your good. A lot of this is trial and error and requires wisdom.
Wisdom is a byproduct of
- Prayer/asking God
- Life experience
- Time on this earth/age
So as you get closer to God and older, you will gain more and more wisdom and make better and better choices concerning your priorities and ultimately your balance.
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