Priority.

“Don’t waste your time at college with your friends…”

The Jewish word for the first five books of the Bible is Torah, and people commonly call it the law. However, it’s better translated as “instruction,” and it was meant to be something of a guide to life for the people of God. I’ll be the first to admit there’s some weird stuff in there, but when Jesus was asked what the most important part was, he said (basically) love God and love people.

You see, the fundamental nature of God is love, and so it makes sense that the main point of His guide to life is basically love of God and people. I think there’s a third implicit part of it that I call “sharing the story”. Not everyone knows the love of God. The love of God and the life it creates is inherently invitational, and I think Christians ought to shout how great it is on the proverbial mountain. That way, others can join in.

If the IRS asked me my employment status, the answer wouldn’t be lover of God, nor lover of people, nor sharer of my story. Instead, it would be student. This past fall semester, a friend asked me if I wanted to go with him to watch the sunrise on top of a radio tower. It would have taken getting up at 5:15am, and I had a paper to write that day. I chose to sleep in instead of going. Contrary to what the IRS might say, that was a mistake.

In a class earlier this week, I had a professor say, “Don’t waste your time at college with people. Spend it reading and ten years down the road you’ll be more thankful for what you learned.” Honestly, I adopted that philosophy last semester. I set the goal of getting a 4.0 GPA despite taking six incredibly hard classes, and so often I used that as an excuse to hide myself from people.

I did all my work, but I also allowed assignments to balloon out of the time required for them. There were essays I could have easily finished in four or five hours total, but I spent closer to ten on them. For one, that’s a lot of unnecessary work, but on a deeper level, it served to separate me from the community I want.

I think it’s easy to use the pursuit of accomplishments to escape being with people for fear of rejection. I did the former this whole semester. For a lot of reasons, I grew up just thinking people didn’t want me around, and that’s carried over into my life today. I felt the need to earn the ability to be around them, and I did it by trying to become the most successful person I knew. That led me to spend all my time making sure I was an exceptional student with great extracurriculars, an awesome job, and a killer resume.

I started a book this winter break that made a really helpful distinction between effectiveness and efficiency. In general people prioritize efficiency, or just getting the most things done. The author thinks it’s more important to be effective, and do the most important things, even if that means technically doing a smaller number of tasks overall. In his mind, those most important tasks will have a larger effect than an exponentially higher number of less important ones.

By the end of last semester I realized just how quickly my time had disappeared. I was incredibly efficient, but I still felt empty by the end of the semester, so I spent some time trying to figure out my priorities. The idea was that I would use a list of my priorities to organize what I do, and filter through any demands on my time. That way, I could direct my time to it’s best possible uses, and shoot for my highest effectiveness as a human being. My current list goes like this.

  1. Loving God.
  2. Loving people.
  3. Sharing your story.
  4. Living a good one.
  5. Showing your work.

Loving God means showing up to church on Sunday, trusting Him with my tithing, and spending time in prayer with Him and in His Word daily. Loving people isn’t meant in a romantic sense. It’s actively creating opportunities to hang out with my friends, trusting them enough to show my imperfections, and being the type of person that they can show theirs too. Sharing my story has two parts; I think sharing my story requires living a good one first. In my mind that could be anything from organizing my finances to reading a neurosurgeon’s autobiography to diving in a lake in Canada when it’s 29°F out. Then I show the work I’m doing and the progress I’m making as a person. This blog and other social media outlets are a major avenue for that.

I have such a tendency to focus on achieving stuff, but I have to believe there is something valuable about literally just being with people as a means of showing love. At the very least, I know that I was incredibly unfulfilled last semester when all I did was focus on my classes and my work. There’s still stuff I’ll have to do, but I want to design my life such that I spend as little time doing it as possible. Right now that means every time I start an assignment, I estimate how long it’ll take, cut five minutes off that, set a timer for that long, and literally race the clock to get it done.

The reason why I have my priority list is because I need reminders of what matters most. I find it so easy to shy from people, but I can’t keep doing that. I don’t think Jesus would have listed these commands as the most important if they weren’t the most important things we could spend our time on. In college, I’m constantly bombarded with options for really good things, but they can become so overwhelming that I miss out on the great ones. School and grades are both important, but there’s a reason they didn’t make the greatest commandments.

By no means is it easy to change the habits I’ve ingrained over an entire semester. In fact, it’s darn hard, but I think it’s worth it. Even after just a few days back at this semester I know it’s going to be hard finding the right balance where I still do all my homework. I just know that my time is a nonrenewable resource. It makes sense to spend a little bit of it right now so that I spend it more effectively going forward, so I’m gonna try.


Originally published at theforlornemoose.wordpress.com on January 11, 2017.