Prioritize Ruthlessly

Teresa-21For those who are unemployed or self-employed, figuring out how to spend time wisely can be a real challenge. There is always more to do than time to do it. And so, last week when my friend Jennifer Fulwiler had an online “web event” to launch the paperback edition of her memoir  “Something Other Than God, I logged on and asked Jen how she manages to do everything she does: She homeschools her kids, hosts her own radio show, writes books and keynotes at practically every major Catholic gathering across the country.

Her two-word response was deceptively simple: prioritize ruthlessly. “When I wanted to write a book, I had to set aside everything else except my family. I couldn’t attend every church function or do the other things I wanted to do, because there wasn’t time. I had to prioritize ruthlessly to get it done.”

I knew she was right. Door-testing takes time. Once people heard I was looking for work, I suddenly had a L-O-N-G list of invitations of (unpaid) things well worth doing (and likely couldn’t have done had I still been employed). This weekend, for instance, I helped to host the Franciscan profession of the Immaculate Conception Fraternity here in Mishawaka, whipping up large pans of my signature chicken and rice dish to feed nearly 200 people. I also baked enough gingerbread to make 10 houses with the YDisciple group at church. It was fun, and it got me out of the house. On the other hand, if I got in the habit of doing these kinds of grand-scale projects, what would it do to the job hunt?

This morning I was on Relevant Radio, talking with Kyle Heimann about my new book  Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  Servant’s publicity team, Kennedy-Brownrigg, has done a great job of lining up interviews for the book, and so I am talking about Mother Teresa a lot these days. This morning, I got to thinking about how she had to prioritize ruthlessly as well. With thousands of lepers lining the streets of Calcutta, how did she know which ones to help? How did she find the strength to EXPAND her work to other countries, given the level of need right where she was?

I found a nugget of insight in her book One Heart Full of Love, in which she describes what it was like to accept an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Cambridge. At first she protested. “You know full well that I have not studied theology. I just simply try always to live it out.” And yet, ultimately she accepted the honor. Why?

In reality, the event was a gift from God. And it was not just for me personally but for you, for the sisters, and for our poor. We must appreciate and accept it with all humility of heart, so that we can offer it to Jesus. After all, it belongs to him. All glory and honor are his. We must let Jesus use us as he sees fit. In that way, every aspect of our life of prayer, of fundraising, and of feeding and clothing the poor complement each other. They cannot be separated. One cannot be done without the other. None of them can be done without prayer. Your generosity and your sacrifices must be the fruit of your prayer life. (p.67-68).

In good times and bad, the measure of what is to be done is the same: all is the fruit of prayer, done for love of Jesus. The harder tasks keep us humble and trusting. And the “fun” things need not be written off as distractions, so long as we can offer them to God (that keeps the true distractions at bay, such as the big-screen time-suck in the living room). It becomes easier to prioritize when I ask myself not, “What do I want to do today?” but “God, what do YOU want me to do today?”

Excuse me, now. A little angel is calling me to go clean the carpets, a little prelude to the Thanksgiving celebration ahead.

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