Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Most Important Thing I Do Today

I have a lot of things to do today. I've got to go to work, keep appointments, prepare (and consume) meals, and attend a rehearsal. In fact, I probably want to do more things today than I will actually be able to get done, so I need to mentally prioritize my list. Perhaps I can run some of my errands tomorrow or put off a couple of tasks until later. I have to decide which things on my to-do list are the most important so that I can prioritize them.

As I sort through my mental list, I'm stopping now to ask myself a question. What is the most important thing I need to do today? I realize that at any given moment, I might give a different answer to that question. If I'm thinking of the tasks listed in my daily planner, I might pick the most pressing or time-consuming thing on the list and call it the most important. If I'm looking forward to doing something fun later today, I might choose that. If I'm thinking of the people I love, I might prioritize interactions with them. Or perhaps I will think of the quiet time at the end of the day when I say my nightly prayers. Writing this post could even be the most important thing I do today.

We're all inundated with a lot of different ideas about what's most important in our lives. Some people urge us to put God first and some prioritize families or friends. Others promote careers and vocations or power and wealth. Society urges us to think about what makes us feel safest, happiest, and most comfortable and to make that the most important thing in our lives. So our priorities change to match whatever we need most at the moment. When we need help or direction, we focus on God. When we need love and support, we focus on relationships and community. When we need fulfillment or financial stability, we commit ourselves to careers or other tasks. We change our minds frequently about what's most important.

Still, as a Christian, I know that the most important thing I have to do today never actually changes. I need to love God and love my neighbors. Everything else is secondary. Of course, love isn't a task that I can just get done and check off my list. If I truly want to make love my priority, then I need to support that goal through hundreds of choices I make throughout the day. Each act of love is the most important thing I can do in that moment. Maybe when I get up one morning I will think that completing a really big project at work is the most important thing I have to do that day, but at the end of the day I might realize that the words of encouragement to a coworker, letting someone go ahead of me in the shopping line, and the dinner I shared with my husband were all actually more important.

I need to be willing to change my preconceptions and to alter my plans to make room for the most important moments in my day when they appear. Perhaps I'm in the middle of running an errand and I need to get to another store before it closes, but I'm stopped by an acquaintance who starts talking about a sick relative. Is it more important that I finish my shopping or that I graciously listen to this person's concerns? That answer may not be the same every time—maybe the shopping itself is an act of love that needs to get done promptly. Still, I need to be willing to pause and ask myself these questions as choices arise throughout the day. I shouldn't blindly stick to the priorities I set when I get up in the morning, because something more important may come up. Sometimes the most important things I do seem mundane or inconsequential on the surface, so I need to be able to pay attention so that I don't miss them. The rest of the world might not think it matters much whether I take time to chat with someone or to give a quick compliment or word of support, but as a Christian I recognize how important these things can be.

Every moment I spend focusing on God and acting in love will be the most important moment of my day. I may have hundreds of "most important" moments each day, and I don't want to miss any of them. Even though these choices may not look very important to the casual observer, I have learned to see them for what they are—chances to reflect the beauty and goodness of God into ordinary life. When it comes down to it, receiving God's love and sharing it with others is the most important thing I do, and I get to do it every day.

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