I’m a morning person, but there was a day, years ago now, when I rolled out of bed only to feel every ounce of energy drain from my body. I had no way to retrieve it, nothing to go on, and a whole day ahead of me.
Defeated and depleted, I plopped down on the chest at the foot of the bed. That’s when the Holy Spirit sidled up next to me and whispered sweet somethings in my ear.
“Do what leads to life,” she said.
I know a good word when I hear one, so I scrawled the instructions on a piece of paper and tucked them safely in my back pocket as a reminder. All day long, one step at a time, the Spirit (and the scrawling) reminded me to do what leads to life: take a nap, phone a friend, let it go, go outside, give thanks, find beauty, count to 10, cry your tears. Breathe. Do what leads to life.
This little mantra has seen me through something like 3,672 days, and I am grateful.
Today, a new mantra arrived: Do what matters most.
I’ve been thinking a good bit about the word “matter” lately. One way I can tell what matters to me is by how much space I give it in my life. I was recently engaged in a creative project that took up so much room in my schedule it elbowed other things (and people) to the periphery. Should it have, though? Especially when I suspect it wasn’t the project itself as much as my perfectionism that was mattering so much.
My mind turns to Jesus addressing the religious leaders on what was, to him, no small matter. He minced no words:
“You are obsessed with peripheral issues,” Jesus said. “These matters are fine, yet you ignore the most important duty of all: to walk in the love of God, to display mercy to others, and to live with integrity. Readjust your values and place first things first” (Matthew 23:23, Passion Translation).
Jesus told these leaders they were “focusing on minor matters, while neglecting the weightier ones.” They were “consuming [themselves] with minuscule matters” (Amplified Bible).
Consumed with the minuscule. Now there’s a picture for you. Their time and attention, and the days of their lives, eaten away by minor matters.
Am I doing the same? Am I obsessed with peripheral issues? Do they take up too much space in my life? Is there room for what matters most?
Um . . . yes, yes, yes and, sadly, too often, no. Which leads me back to Jesus’ suggestion that we readjust our values.
I’ve found that readjusting values requires readjusting vision.
When I go to the ophthalmologist, the technician lowers a machine before my eyes and asks me to look through a series of lenses at small letters posted across the room. “Which is clearer A or B?” she asks as she clicks through the lenses. “And how about now, A or B?” We do this a dozen or so times.
This experience is what comes to mind right now. It’s as if I’m sitting with Jesus while he clicks through a series of situations and scenarios and asks me, “What matters more Jenny, A or B?” Click, click, click. “And how about now?” Click, click, click.
We do this, Jesus and me, until I can see more clearly.
There are a lot of things to do, yes? A lot of things that matter. It’s easy to get obsessed with the peripheral, pulled far from the center.
I hear Jesus again saying: Don’t worry about what you will eat/drink/wear/say. Goodness, don’t even worry about tomorrow! And dear Martha, calm down with all that fixing and fretting. Choose what matters most: trust, presence, love, justice, compassion.
Jesus, how is it that pride, performance, perfection and the perception of others didn’t make your list? And what of primping, proving and well-laid plans?
Oh, and hey there, Good Samaritan, you who stopped to tend your injured enemy. I see you.
This new word is challenging me.
My focus today was on finishing this column. However, when someone needed my time and attention, the Spirit was present whispering sweet somethings again: Do what matters most.
This column matters, but love and compassion matter more. And perfection just doesn’t.
It’s not just what matters, it’s what matters most.
When there’s much to do, do what matters most.