Last Things First

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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It was the end of a hard week, and I was trying to remain professional and composed as I presented the facts about our team’s workload. Across the table, my boss, Jerry, couldn’t seem to grasp the gravity of our resource constraints and our need to adjust the timelines of several important projects.

And important projects they were. As one committed to greater alignment of our company’s systems and practices with Christian values, I was proud that our team was influencing the culture at one of the nation’s largest banks. A greater focus on serving customers and employees. A fresh commitment to skill development at all levels of the organization. A new emphasis on the manager’s role as coach. A more equitable and team-based reward system.

Our team was doing exciting work for the Kingdom and for the bank. We just couldn’t do it all at once.

“I want you to take some time off,” Jerry interrupted suddenly. My initial astonishment at his response turned quickly to anger. Had this man not heard one word I had said about the unrealistic demands on our team over the coming weeks? How could he make such a ludicrous suggestion at a time like this?

“You’ve lost your perspective, Sandra. You’ve been working too hard and not taking care of yourself, and it has taken a toll on your sense of priorities. These are all important projects, to be sure. But what I’m most concerned about is you, and you need a break.”

Here was my boss—of all people—confronting me with the hard truth of my distorted priorities, and there was no point in denying it. “How long?” I asked meekly.

“Until you’re back to your old self,” Jerry replied. “Then add another three days.” He closed the folder we had been reviewing. “Everything here can wait.”

Forty-eight hours later, I was watching in reverence as the sun set over Florida Bay. In the days that followed, I slept, exercised, read, wrote, sang, and prayed. I initiated conversations with strangers. I listened carefully. All the things I had put “last” on my list—behind my unhealthy and idolatrous focus on work—now became the most important things for renewing my soul.

While that was nearly ten years ago, the experience and the lessons remain fresh in my mind. During times of stress, it is still easy for me to lose sight of what’s most important, but I have developed practices and personal relationships that help me stay focused. When I do veer off course, I have learned to recognize God’s subtle interventions—either directly or indirectly through the words or actions of others. Finally, my own experience has given me courage over the years to lovingly confront others whose souls were adrift and help them back to a safe harbor—as Jerry helped me.

Now when I reflect on my priorities, I carefully consider tasks that have been lingering the longest on my “to do” list or relationships that I have been neglecting. Because often, the last thing I think I have time to do is the first thing I should.