Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Exercise in Priorities

"It is hard to begin to move when you don't know where you are moving, how to move, or if you are going to get there." ~Peter Nivio Zarlenga

"Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work." ~H.L. Hunt

"Action expresses priorities." ~Mohandas Gandhi

Our house is emptying quickly. The walls are becoming bare; the counter tops are clearing; the bookshelves now have more space covered in dust than books. As expected, the act of purging brings with it some amount of sadness, but I never dreamed I would find myself fighting back tears when deciding what to do with a copy of Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who. I felt a little silly.

Despite their lingering hesitations, the kids have been wonderful troopers through this process. I gave them each a box last week and asked them to put into it books and toys and sentimental items that they would “definitely want to have in PNG.” Once they had done this, we carefully looked together at everything that was left over and multiplied our garage sale pile. Neither one of them ever complained.

Our furniture is for sale. In an effort to maintain normal for the children, most things are available "at the end of May," but just the fact that people are laying claim to them makes my tummy feel strange at times.

“It’s just stuff,” I remind myself.

And then I remind myself that I'm right.

Priorities. Certainly this process is an exercise in priorities. Which kitchen gadgets are important enough to pay to ship halfway around the world? Do we leave those two shirts behind to make room for the numerous sets of underwear and socks that my son will need for four years? Bicycles, baseball gloves, basketball, or some of each? Which towels and sheets will dry fastest in the tropical breeze? What pictures and nick-knacks will make a foreign country feel like "home?"

Last week I received word that the sister of one of my students had committed suicide.

There is a lesson in priorities there, too. I mean, seriously ... we could go overseas with just the clothes on our backs and be happy as long as we had each other, right?

What about internal priorities? Which grudges and frustrations are important enough to permanently raise your blood pressure? Can we leave behind outrageous self-expectations to make room for the truth that God loves us unconditionally despite our shortcomings? Friends, job, family, God, or some of each? Which attitudes and passions will bring the most freedom and grace to our lives? What relationships and experiences will make it all feel most worthwhile?

Maybe we need to empty our "houses." Take the pictures of the past off of the walls; remove not only the dirty dishes of hard times, but the bowls and spoons that stir up trouble for tomorrow; clear the bookshelves so that there is more space for peace and simplicity than chaos. The act of purging brings with it some amount of discomfort, and even sadness. You may find that you never dreamed you would have a hard time working through and letting go of what you used to think were "normal" experiences.

For some reason the act of "getting rid of" can seem very difficult in the moment, but after every garage sale, when I drop the last few bags and boxes off at a charity center, I experience a sense of freedom that never ceases to surprise me. Even my gait is lighter. It is as if I am released from the weight of those items. Literally.

Could it be that purging emotionally, establishing priorities and sticking to them in our emotional, spiritual, and relational lives, could bring a similar release? Would it be worth it to find a spring in your step again?

"One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple." ~Psalm 27:4


  1. When I packed away my oldest son's room last June (as he was headed toward West Point and would only be home in short spurts from there on out)I was fine until...I got to his bookshelf. Something about packing away his books made me cry. Even as I type this, the mention of his books makes me tear up. I nor really sure why.

  2. "Normal experiences"...seems like a wise godly woman told me I had to rewrite normal. When I started doing that, yes, it was liberating! So, glad I listened to you!

  3. I read your words and I'm amazed at your insight and clarity. I am touched by the wisdom and Christian witness you share. And then, I let the reality of the words and their impact seep into my heart, and I recognize what it's really going to mean to have you go. I thank my God for you, and I thank Him for giving me a calm and certain assurance that He has called you to this work, and that you will be in His care always. And, then I thank Him that I live in an age of Internet and email (and not in the days when letters took weeks at sea to arrive home to waiting family members). I love you all!

  4. Oh my goodness! You have spoken to my soul! How true your words are! I found myself eager to read each paragraph and love how you phrased things so carefully! I hired an organizational consultant to help me organize my office and I found myself crying about getting rid of stuff that had been long cluttering my office. It is freeing though. I found that getting rid of stuff reminded me of my walk with Jesus. He freed me of the clutter that had littered many parts of my life. I think you are so brave and faithful to be making this journey and leaning on the Lord! I am privileged to know you. You are one of my heroes!

    I haven't tackled Nate's room yet. My plebe at West Point but like Hillcrest Cottage, I know it will be very emotional.


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