The Urgent and the Important
I will admit it, too often the urgent in my life crowds out the important. I am sitting at the table having dinner, and I get a message from someone that needs a response at that moment. I get distracted with an email that comes in that I must respond to at that moment. As organized as I try to be, I still find myself falling behind on things because I let the urgent dominate the important.
This week was a week of self-reflection. I was trying to evaluate where I was with my work life, family life, and spiritual life. The last few months, I have fallen behind on pretty much everything. The main reason for falling behind was Taryn's time in the hospital. At that point the important thing was to take care of my family and get Taryn out of the hospital. It impacted my studies the most (I am sure my supervisor, James, is sick of me saying to him, "I will get you that chapter that I promised to you at the end of the week."). When Taryn got out of the hospital, I thought everything was fine, and I could turn my attention to the urgent need of moving forward in my studies. However, we didn't plan for Taryn's recovery to take a while (we should have known, I mean she had surgery). The important thing was my family, but my thesis and deadlines were urgently pressing in on me. I felt the stress of having this urgent thing weighing me down, but at the same time knowing that the important thing for me and my family was being home and taking care of Taryn. It was like spinning plates and trying to decide which one needed to attention so that it wouldn't fall down. Ultimately, I had to make a decision. The decision was to slow down the progress of the PhD for the sake of taking care of my family. The PhD plate may wobble, but for the sake of the caring for my family, I had to be okay with that. I still have my thesis hanging over my head, but the plan has to adjust. Things have to change for the sake of the important.
This long convoluted story brings me to chapter 3 of Brooks' Precious Remedies. Chapter three Brooks deals with how Satan tempts us to give up and turn away from the means that the Lord has placed in our way for our growth and sanctification. The Reformed tradition, of which I am a member, would call these things 'the ordinary means of grace'. They would list them as prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments. These are the important matters of the Christian life and, yet, how often do we let the urgent crowd them out? How often do we become complacent regarding them? The interesting thing about these 'ordinary means of grace' is that they are principally practiced in the church. When we come together as Christians on the Lord's Day, we pray, hear the Word of God, and we receive the sacraments. The Bible does not speak all that much to the Christian's private personal study, but makes much of the corporate gathering together (not to put these two in competition with each other; it isn't an either/or). Yet, how often do we neglect the Lord's Day (even in our showing up to worship)? How often do we neglect our time with the Lord and the other saints because we have more important things to do? How often do we think that our own personal study is enough and we don't need to be with the saints on the Lord's Day? Thomas Chalmers speaking of Scripture said something that can apply to all the 'ordinary means of grace':
We have to make the Bible our Vade Mecum, our book of reference, our book of trust. Let us be convinced more and more of the prodigious fertility of the Bible. How much lies hidden and unobserved, even after many perusals; and surely if it be true that a man may read it a hundred times and find something on his next reading which he missed on all his former ones, oftener recourse to this means of grace bids fair for multiplying our blessings. Therefore, let us be quick to be in the way of grace.
When the urgent is piling up, mustn't let that crowd out the important. We must be quick to put ourselves 'in the way of grace.' As I read Brooks this week, I was reminded of this again. When the urgent is crowding out those important means that God has given us for our growth and sanctification, we must fight the urge just go with the flow. We must be quick to put ourselves in the way of grace. When the urgent is crowding out the important, it can be easy to just rest and float at those times in life. However, Brooks reminds us that our works are never a good place to rest. He lays before us our true resting place, saying we must:
[D]well much upon the necessity and excellency of that resting-place which God has provided.... Above all other resting-places—he himself is your resting-place; his free mercy and love is your resting-place; the pure, glorious, matchless, and spotless righteousness of Christ is your resting-place.
The urgent too often in my life boxes out the important in my life. Whether it be in my family or spiritual life, I find myself being pushed toward that which is urgent and ignoring the important. I need this reminder. I need the reminders that I get from Chalmers, Brooks, and even here from Bavinck:
That which is unknown is unloved. One learns and only truly knows that which is loved in the depths of the soul.
When we put ourselves in the way of grace, when we allow the important to be our priority (while not neglecting the urgent), when we find our resting place in Christ alone, we grow in our knowledge of God. As we learn who God is and what God requires of us, we grow to truly love God and God's priorities become our priorities. That which is important for God becomes that which is important for us. The urgent no longer becomes our slave master, but we can put the urgent in its proper place.
I still have a lot on my plate. I still have a lot that needs to get done, but I am being reminded again of that which is important and that which only wants me to think it is important.
I am currently reading through Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. If you would like to read along, next week we will cover chapter 4.