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At this stage of my life, I find simplicity to be the spiritual practice I most long to do well. I often feel so busy that when I have a few moments to get things done, I am so paralyzed by the sheer length of my to-do list that I don’t manage to make a whole lot of headway on it.
Take today: the dishwasher is broken, the car needs an oil change, I’m co-leading a study at my church tonight—the chapter for which I have yet to read. I have spent the morning getting several things done, but I suspect they were not necessarily the things that most needed to be done. This weekend’s schedule is a complicated diagram of baseball and soccer games, some of which are in direct conflict.
It’s on days like this (and let’s face it—most of my days are like this!) that I most need to do what I call a priority shuffle.
That’s where I take my to-do list and try to look at it with God’s eyes rather than my own.
No matter how many times I do this I always find myself making some changes to what I thought were the number-one priorities for the day, or even the hour.
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Some of things I had felt were vital fall to the bottom. For example, I am reminded that my older son is only 7—not exactly at an age where we need to commit to a career in athletics—so his soccer schedule is secondary to the larger needs of the family. And the number of Twitter followers and Facebook likes I have is almost certainly not the big deal I sometimes think it is.
Even serving a home-cooked meal in which I have made clever and kid-friendly use of fruit and vegetables is less important than just sitting down to eat it together.
When I try to look at my to-do list through God’s eyes I see that so many of the things I had felt were so important were actually about how I would look to others—about looking like a good mom or, even better, an organized and stylish mom with a tidy and thoughtfully decorated home whose kids were engaged in all the activities they were supposed to be engaged in (or at least the ones that their neighbors and friends were engaged in).
Along the way I often lose sight of what’s really important, so absorbed have I become in what people around me or the magazines or TV or radio have told me are priorities. Here are some of the things that rise to the top of my to-do list (many of which were sadly languishing at the bottom) after this exercise:
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- Taking time to write or talk to friends, especially those who are struggling
- Serving by making a meal or otherwise helping someone in my church or community in need
- Spending daily time with my boys, especially when it involves not doing much of anything
At the same time, I also realize that God often calls me to do less, to not commit to so many things that I’m always rushing somewhere. When I start feeling overwhelmed with the things I NEED to do, I’ve found the best response (as counter-intuitive as it seems) is to set down the smartphone or turn away from the laptop, to turn off the radio or TV or put away the book or magazine and just pay attention to what’s going on in my life. The real life, not the one I live online, which is really just my sort of life, cleaned up for general consumption.
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That’s what I’ve learned simplicity is about. Paying attention. It’s amazing how much other stuff becomes clear when I just begin with this.
I try to do this priority shuffle at least once a day. Some days I need to do it a lot more than that. And of course I need God’s help to keep me focused on the right things, but I’ve found that when I turn to God for help, I have yet to be turned away.
All I need to do is remember to ask.
Julia Roller is the author of Mom Seeks God, the story of her journey to reconnect with God through ten essential spiritual practices that she did her best to fit into the chaotic life of a mom with small children. She lives in San Diego with her husband, two sons, and miniature dachshund. For more information about Julia Roller, visit her online home at juliaroller.com, become a fan on Facebook(JuliaLRoller),or follow her on Twitter(@julialroller).