“People are important, not things.”
I remember my mother muttering her own mantra just moments after she discovered her dresser drawers open and all her good jewelry missing. Our house had been broken into. She was crying and angry, asking questions of one of my brothers because she suspected that it might have been a neighborhood boy who knew our house well, given that almost nothing was disturbed except her drawers where she kept her special jewels. But in between those tears and questions, I heard her mantra, already familiar to my then teen ears, over and over.
People are important, not things.
In my eulogy for Mom, I reminded those who attended her funeral of this mantra. Almost anyone who frequented our home had heard it and had experienced my mother’s priority of putting people first. My mother knew her priorities and kept them straight.
Have you heard it said that no one utters on their deathbed, “Gee, I wish I had worked more”? I can add a few other lines I bet are not uttered on deathbeds.
If only I had spent more time on Facebook….
I am so glad I treated my body badly and ignored my health…
I feel good about not spending enough time with my children…
Taking advantage of my partner was a great decision…
I think it was a wise decision to spend more than I make and live with unending debt….
Most of us have good intentions. But it seems to be human nature to stray from what we say we value and get off the path we know is our heart’s desire.
One of the things that can be helpful is to participate in a value’s clarification exercise. It can be as simple as doing this.
- On separate index cards, list ten things you truly value and that you consider a priority. My list includes things like my relationship with my husband and daughter, my physical health and well-being, quality time with family, quality time with friends, my vocation, my relationship with God, and using my home for the purpose of hospitality and connecting with people. You get the idea.
- Next, put those cards in order of priority, from highest to lowest. YES. THIS IS HARD. But do it anyway, because it matters to what comes next.
- Now, take the first five cards and ask yourself this question: In my life for the past month, how have I, or not, been acting as if these things were my priority.
- The last step is this: What am I going to do to live a life congruent with my values and priorities?
I can promise you it doesn’t happen by magic, or by good intention. Remember, it is human nature to veer from the very things we say we value. Most of us need some form of accountability, a way to remember our intentions. Whether we allow a good friend to keep us heading in the right direction, or we sit in a group that helps us, or we hire someone to help us, accountability almost always makes a difference. Sometimes a visual reminder is helpful. My nephew wears a bracelet that says, “I am second” to remind himself on a daily basis that living a Godly life is his priority. He said it also reminds him to put his wife first.
A few moments of mindfulness can also be a big help. Slow down. Take a few breaths. Ask yourself, “Is this action congruent with the top five priorities that I have in life?” Sometimes we just need a little space from our impulsive nature to allow our wiser selves to show up. If you know that financial stability is a priority, then when you are tempted to charge something you know you cannot afford, walk away, take a few breaths, ask yourself if this is really congruent with what you say you want, give yourself a little space, (a night’s sleep is always a good adjuster) and then make a decision. What boundaries are you willing to give yourself in order to live a life of congruence and equanimity?
Sometimes we just need a little space from our impulsive nature to allow our wiser selves to show up.
I am in the process of introducing a new priority into my life. Rest. It is almost hard for me to type this word. Rest has never been a priority for me. I have a balanced life that includes leisure, fun, friends, vacation, and exercise. But rest is something different. And the people to whom I am accountable are asking me to consider my need for deep, replenishing, soul-soothing rest. I am not exactly sure what rest will look like yet, but I am taking seriously my need to re-order my priorities.
Keep your priorities straight, because life is messy and life is marvelous.