"Will I see you on Thursday?" Two days ago, the instructor of the fitness class I normally attend on Tuesdays asked me this. While I'm reliably at the gym on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, I can't be counted on to show up other days. Sometimes I make a Thursday. Sometimes I squeeze in a Friday morning workout.
"I'm not sure," I said hesitatingly. "It's hard, you know, with work and kids. It's sort of unpredictable for me."
"Well, the important thing is that you get here when you can!" And I'm sure he walked away thinking that I was lousy at excuses.
The truth is that though I want to exercise more regularly (and am getting to the gym fairly predictably these days), bootcamp isn't always my highest priority. Sometimes I trade my time in the gym for lunch with a friend or for chaperoning a field trip. Last week, I skipped class and cleaned my house.
So maybe my "work and kids" answer wasn't an excuse after all. Maybe it just meant I had limitations.
It's already mid-January, which may mean that most of us us have already run out of resolution steam. But in the event that you are still reflecting on your goals for 2015, I want to recommend Greg McKeown's great book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. In this book intended for a more corporate kind of reader, McKeown isn't necessarily saying something new. In fact, his message is pretty straightforward: if you want to do the things that are most important, you have to eliminate what isn't. That's obvious, maybe - but the courage required for living "essentially" isn't. I suppose if there is one take-away for me personally from McKeown's book, it's this idea of emotional courage. It takes courage to admit to yourself that you can't do it all. It takes courage to bear the pending disappointments of the trade-offs we must make to live essentially. It takes courage to say 'no' to other people.
It takes courage to live into your limitations.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
"If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will" (10).
"We simply cannot have it all. An Essentalist makes trade-offs deliberately [and asks] 'Which problem do I want?'" (55).
"Courage is key to the process of elimination . . . Anyone can talk about the importance of focusing on the things that matter most, but to see people who dare to live it is rare" (132, 133).
"Saying no is its own leadership capability" (143).
"What's important now?" (220).
Again, none of this is rocket science, but the simplicity of the advice is actually what's best about the book. Figure out what's important. Define your priorities. Start courageously saying no to everything else.
I am a complete coward when it comes to saying no. But I'm trying to get better at it, and I think it's its own kind of spiritual discipline. If you're interested in the ways I'm applying some of these "essentialist" ideas to my life, I hope you'll click the links to some of these pieces below.
First, I wrote a piece for Christianity Today's her.meneutics blog entitled, "You're Not Too Busy for the Bible." Here's a little peek inside:
"Research commissioned by the American Bible Society shows that more than half of Americans want to read the Bible more often. Only 15 percent read our Bibles daily. (The oldest Americans and those living in the South are doing better than most.) While more than 60 percent aspire to greater diligence, we all cite the same reason for our laxity: we're too busy.
There may be good reasons for reconsidering the resolution to read the entire Bible this year, but citing "busyness" as the reason for not attempting any daily Bible reading is, in vernacular of my twelve-year old son, "a dumb old" excuse. So why aren't we reading? And how can we make a more enduring resolution to read the Bible in 2015?"
Second, I wrote a guest post for Charity Singleton Craig's blog. She features a regular series called, In Your Own Words. My piece was about leaving things undone:
"Setting priorities and living faithfully by them is never easy. There's no breeze in life that carries us effortlessly to the shore of the meaningful life. Rather, what will be required for new ambitions is the muscular motion of rowing into the wind: of other people's expectations, of self-imposed obligation, of inner demons like fear, apathy, and laziness. Priorities require both the strong yes as well as the brave no. Priorities depend on resistance as much as thrust, pull as much as push. To set a priority is to decide what will be prior-first; in this way, it requires leaving something undone."
I hope you'll pop over to Charity's site and find the rest here.
Courage, friends - for faithfully living into your God-given call and commission.