When Competing Priorities Conflict

Have you ever done one of those mini surveys that asked you to list in order what is the most important part of your life? The categories are typically something like this: Children, Work, Husband, Church, God, Friends. At first glance, it seems pretty simple.

1. God   (now guilt conscious because I didn’t get in the Word today)
2. Husband…or is it kids?   (probably depends on the day!)
3. Kids   (yes, that’s the better spot)
4. Work   (well, it takes more of my time than church)
5. Church   (no wonder I’ve not seen any of my friends lately)
6. Friends   (but then again, many of my friends are at church!)

When doing the exercise with a group there are always different answers. Some individuals rate 1-6 based on what is pressing on their mind. Others number the way they think they should prioritize things. Still others choose to order their sequence in regard to how much time they spend with the person or at the location. So, what’s the real answer supposed to be? Is there really a right answer?

All of these areas are important to our lives. If not married, we might substitute husband or kids for a sibling, parent or another relative. Eventually, as we compare lists and work down through why people numbered things as they did, we come to terms with the reality of what we claim to be important in our life and what we are really spending time doing each day. Those categories are likely very different!
Work obviously consumes a tremendous amount of our day – whether that work takes place at home or off-site. For moms, kids are the 24/7 expenditure even if they are able to take care of themselves or be off on their own. (You never stop being a mom!) Husband, God, Church, Friends. Nobody’s life looks the same in these arenas, even if you’re not a pastor’s wife.

But, what about when we get beyond the daily routine? What about when life’s events change the norm. It could be a job change, a health crisis, a new baby (or puppy!), moving to a new house or changing churches. The possibilities are endless.

How well do we cope with competing priorities?

Is there a difference between conflicting priorities and competing priorities? I’m not sure what Webster’s Dictionary might say about that, but what my mind hears with the word, conflicting, is pressure. It’s a negative in my life that I have to solve, or possibly battle through. Likely, there’s really not a good solution. Someone or something is not going to be happy. There will be a price to pay in some way or another.

Competing priorities for me (probably because I’m not the competitive type) describes those moments when there are two good things, and I have no solid reason or argument for which way I should go. Do I please my husband or my kids tonight for supper? (His favorite meal, but their favorite dessert?) Do I help out at the church event, or do I show my support at the community ball field? Do I work overtime to help out a co-worker or keep my date with a friend for coffee? None of these choices are life-altering in any way. They are the simple things we face as we go through life. Sometimes, we make our decision in a fraction of a second, while at other times we ponder and stew over what is the right thing to do.

You chose whether the word competing or conflicting suits your personality best and describes your stress-free or stress-filled choices in life. The point is: Knowing what our priorities are in life is one thing, making them a priority is another. It is all too common that we don’t take time to carve out those special moments for many of our most precious priorities. We put off making the phone call to a dear friend. We spend extra time with our husbands or kids in the morning, but neglect to take even the briefest moment to say ‘Good Morning’ to our Heavenly Father. The list is endless.

The guilt can be endless too.

So, let’s focus on guilt-free priorities from now on! It’s okay to give up the good for the good (or best) at times. It’s okay to walk away from work on time so that you can be less stressed at home. It’s okay to share God’s love to your neighbors at the community park instead of attending every event at church (whenever we can have those events again!). It’s okay.

Embrace the seasons of life, because God never meant for us to do it all every day, every year, always.

When my mother was near the end of her life, much of my life went on hold. Whenever my brand new puppy whined, I needed to stop whatever I was doing and take a trip outdoors with her. When I’m at work, I need to do my best. When I’m at home (when possible), I need to be fully present at home - and with those I love. And, when I need rest, I need to take a nap, read a book or take a walk.

Bottom line: Our priorities need to be in line with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:37 when He said “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Most of our competing (or conflicting) priorities can’t be just simply resolved with a quick recitation of the truth found in this Scripture, but it does help to bring our focus back to the best priorities that we can have in life. Loving God and Loving Others!

As we go through life trying to define what loving God and loving our neighbors looks like, don’t forget to consider what Micah 6:8 has to say on the subject: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”…and then say a little prayer asking for wisdom (James 1:5-6). Then, just do the best, to do the best, with whatever time and energy you have!

“May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16


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