My darling wife woke me up in the middle of the night several years ago with an exclamation that shook me awake and shot my adrenaline through the roof.
“The house is on fire!” As I jumped from our bed, my feet hadn’t even hit the floor, and I already had a list, in my mind, of what we were saving first.
- Our oldest son. There was only one kid at this time. Thank goodness! It takes forever for us to get out of the house now. We never would have made it with all four.
- Computer, file box, and car keys. These were all pretty close together, and it would have been difficult or expensive to replace them.
- My wife. Knowing her, she would have tried to clean the house as we were leaving.
- Anything we could throw out the window. Starting with clothes and going from there.
In an instant, I had my list, had a plan, and was moving to execute that plan when my wife chimed in again. “What are you doing? The house next door is on fire, not ours.” We had a very short but a very clear discussion on communication once the sun came up.
It’s amazing how a moment of sheer terror like that provides intense clarity at a moment’s notice. I didn’t even have to consider what was important to me. I just knew.
Imagine if there was an actual fire, and I had to grab everything that mattered to me, but I had a bad case of misplaced priorities. Instead of grabbing my family, as the flames consumed our house, I ran outside and moved the car so no ash or embers messed up the paint job. Or as our file box began to melt and our life’s documents were lost forever, I ran into the family room and boxed up my gaming station. As our son’s clothes smoldered and burned, I pulled the propane grill off the deck so we could grill some burgers as we sifted through the charred remains of the house.
I think you get the point. That would be foolish. There are some things that matter in life, and some things that do not. Things that you can in fact live without and things that you couldn’t imagine a life without.
Hopefully you never have a wake up call like a fire or another emergency that jars you into categorizing things in order of importance. Hopefully it’s something you do on a regular basis. But if not, ask yourself now, “What is the most important thing in my life?”
For me, it is pretty simple.
- My relationship with God. Everything I do and say is filtered by how it affects that relationship.
- My relationship with my wife. Duh
- My relationship with my family. I can succeed in everything else I do, but if I fail in that, it’s worthless.
- My relationship with others. The teenagers I minister to, those I work with, the body of Christ, extended family, neighbors, and people placed in my path.
- Everything else. Fishing, Hunting, and Ice Cream.
Run your list through your day to day activities and see if your actions match up with your words. If a certain relationship makes your top three, what effort goes into that relationship? Do you work to improve it, maintain it, or keep it breathing? Does that relationship exist in word only and not in deed? What activities run your life for you?
What do your priorities communicate to your children?
It’s hard to convince your children that you have a relationship with God if you are hardly in the Word, in His house, or spending time with His people – your brothers and sisters in Christ. What do you say to them when a wife you hardly talked to, or were affectionate with, walks away from the marriage that was a high priority, but was hardly worth your time. How do you rationalize missing another milestone in your child’s life, because a misplaced priority explained their worth far better than you could verbalize.
Actions confirm priorities. As we pick and choose what is important to us, our children watch, learn, and make decisions for themselves for the present and the future.
As a child, I remember getting up in the morning and seeing what my parents prioritized. Coffee, open Bibles, a mother praying for her family, and a father preparing his heart for the day. I recall a husband and wife who walked through a lot together – much that I saw, and I am sure much more that I didn’t see. A mother and father who trained their children to serve their own families. I saw that some things are fun, but not important, and many important things are not fun. They helped me understand and see priorities.
So what do your children see? Are you actively displaying the priorities you verbalize? Could they pick your top three priorities, or would they embarrass you with their conclusions? What priorities will they form out of their exposure to yours? Would you want your child to be a carbon copy of you? Almost every day, I see teenagers with misplaced priorities and parents who expect them to value what they don’t, prioritize what they haven’t, and rise where they’ve fallen. Yet right beside them are teenagers who are working hard on things that matter, pushing towards the bar that a committed parent has set high, making no excuses, and learning from mistakes.
So how do we move forward?
- Model what you are Mandating. If you push a priority on your kids, make sure that priority is an active part of your own life.
- Proof your Priorities. Run them through the filter of Scripture and evaluate if they truly matter in the light of eternity. What matters to God should matter to us. The rest is just vapor, rust, and dust.
- Consider the Consequences. What we emphasize or de-emphasize in our homes will train the next generation. Are these priorities training them for a better relationship with God, family, and neighbors, or will they be counterproductive?
I am forever thankful for the priorities that were imprinted on me at an early age. We have one opportunity with the children entrusted in our care, the family we are called to care for, and the people in our path we are meant to impact.
Let’s make them a priority!