Prioritizing Life

My oldest daughter has our family embarking into the world of competitive soccer this year. Before we signed up, we sat down with her and talked about the time and money commitment it takes for her to play. We made sure she understood that this was a year-long commitment, so she needed to be sure she wanted to make it a priority in her life. She decided to play, and she loves every minute of it. She never wants to be late to practice, she likes to practice her skills and she loves playing in the games (even when it's 104 degrees outside). She knows that to play, she has to work hard in school and have all her homework done before practice. She's made it a priority to play soccer.

Priorities in your family are based on your values. If you value something, you will put a priority on it. My oldest values soccer because it lets her be active, make friends and play on a team. She prioritizes it by making sure her homework is done, practicing her skills and being on time to practice.

Too often, our family's schedules are dictated by what is urgent and not necessarily what is important. Today, I want you to take a hard look at your schedules and decide what is on your schedule that you truly value and what is on your schedule that doesn't emphasize your values. Start by looking at the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Martha had let the urgent take the place of the important, and Jesus called her on it. He pointed out that Mary had put a priority on the more important thing -- spending time with Him. When we let all the urgent things in our lives push out the things that we say we value -- time with God, time with family, creating strong relationships with friends -- then we're really saying that we don't value those things at all.

I'm not here to tell you to not let your kids play sports or do dance or take piano or take swim lessons. I am saying, make sure whatever your family is involved in reflects what you value. For example, as you know, my youngest daughter plays ice hockey. That may not seem like it reflects a value in our family, but it does. Hockey has taught my daughter that sometimes you have to work really hard to get what you want. Hockey is a tough sport to learn. Not only do you have to be quick, smart and agile, you have to do it all on ice skates. In learning to play, she has learned valuable lessons about character qualities on which we, as a family, place value.

Make it a family process to decide on what things your family places the most value. Your kids need to learn that everything in life has a place, and sometimes we have to pass on good things so we can focus on better things. Don't make all their decisions for them. Even young children have an opinion about what is important to them.

  • Have a family meeting where you have listed out all the activities in which members of your family are involved. Lay out a piece of posterboard and work with your family to come up with four or five values on which you are going to judge your activities. Your values will be unique to your family, but they might include things like: Friendships, God, Family or Health.
  • Look at your list of activities. Put each activity under the value to which it relates. You may have some that don't fit a category. Set these aside. If an activity fits under more than one category, write it down under each one.
  • Prioritize your values. Does God come before friendship? Does family come before health? Direct the conversation but include your kids. Ask for their opinions.
  • Look at the activities that don't fit under a value. Talk about why you are doing that activity. Decide together whether that is an activity that needs to be on the schedule.
  • Explain to your kids that these are the values on which your family will be basing its decisions about activities. The priority goes to whichever value your family has decided is the most important one.
  • Set limits. There are so many good activities out there, that even when you have set your priorities there can be too much on the schedule. Limit your kids (and even the adults) to whatever number of activities fits your family. In our house, our kids can do one sport and one activity per season. Right now my oldest is in Girl Scouts and soccer, and my youngest is just playing hockey.

When you decide on your values and priorities as a family, everyone is moving in the same direction when making decisions. When a birthday party conflicts with a planned family event, you can simply point out that you all decided together that family is a higher priority than friends. Specific situations may require game-day decisions, but your values provide you with a place to start. Not all decisions are easy, and some require sacrifice on the part of each family member, but in the end, you know you're all moving toward the same target.