Have you ever rushed through your day at a frantic pace, crossing off as many things on your to-do list as possible? Have you ever finished a busy day, collapsed into bed, and wondered what you did of value that day? Have you ever sensed, deep inside, that you’re getting a lot of “stuff” done, but something is still missing? It’s easy to do a lot of good things with our time and life, but to miss the really important things—the things that matter most. And when we do, our conscience is unsettled. Perhaps you feel that way right now.
Over the past six months, my family and I have been facing a very different season of life—a battle with cancer. This article isn’t about that battle, but about an experience that happened within it. Needless to say, cancer and its related dynamics have changed our schedules and our lives dramatically. Chemo has its way of vastly limiting your capabilities in life—effectively reducing your weekly output by 60% (or more). This experience has required that I refine, refocus, and remain fixed on the things that truly do matter in my family and ministry.
About three months into this battle, on an evening when I had some energy, I said to Dana, “I really believe the Lord wants me to take Haylee out for a date tonight. I can sense in her heart and spirit that she needs time with me.” I have felt bad that my kids have had to watch me suffer through the effects of chemo, and often more so for Haylee because she’s the youngest. It must be hard for a ten year old to process all of that.
Later that evening, to her delight, I told Haylee I had a surprise! She smiled and, of course, asked “What is it?!” “I can’t tell you. Just go get ready for a date!” With that, she excitedly began to prepare. She loves to look her best for our dates. Her delightful anticipation assured me that this was a very good decision!
A few moments later, we were in the car, hand in hand, looking forward to time together. We started at Macy’s to look for a dress—no luck. Then we made our way to a restaurant in the mall where we shared a meal. Already the look on her face implied a peaceful heart, a settled spirit, and great contentment in being with her father.
We talked, and talked… and talked. We talked about the problems of growing up, the challenges of fifth grade social politics, and understanding hard things in life. We talked about cancer and how she was doing with this. We even talked a little bit about boys (Uggh!). After dinner, I had some bone pain from some shots I have to take and was finding it a little painful to walk. “Come on Dad, you don’t feel well, we can go to the car and go home.” I think Haylee had been clued in by mom to “take care of me.” “No, no… I’m fine… come on, we gotta go find a dress.” And so we went to Dillards.
It was almost closing time, but Dillards was a gold mine of new little girl’s dresses, and within about twenty minutes the dress was purchased and we were beginning our long, limpy walk through the mall and back to the car. As we left the store, I gently put my arm around her and said, “This is one of my very most favorite things to do in all of my life—take you out to eat and buy you a pretty dress!” She sweetly said, “Thank you.”
Haylee was very quiet for the next ten minutes of our walk. I wondered what she was thinking. Then, out of nowhere, about halfway to the car, she let go of my hand, hugged me with both arms, closed her eyes, and said with a long sigh, “I really, really love you…” It was precious. Unforgettable. The look on her face and the sweet tone in her voice seemed to say, “My heart is SO OKAY right now, I can’t even put it into words!”
It was then that the Holy Spirit said to me, “This is the most important thing you did today!” I thought back through my day. The morning was spent in bed, trying to answer emails and feign productivity amidst feeling sick. The afternoon enabled me to get into the office for a couple of hours to sign letters, have a couple of meetings, and try to get a little work done. But the value of the day—the real significance of the whole day was found in these final few hours with Haylee. Why?
Well, first because she is dependent upon me. She’s my daughter. She, along with the rest of my family, is my most valuable, most significant, most precious ministry. My four family members truly are the only people on the planet who are actually dependent upon me. The rest of the world is not. These precious people are dependent upon me in many ways. Simply put, the most important things any of us do on any day are those things we do to love, care for, nurture, and provide for our family. How can we expect our kids to fall in love with God and grow in His grace, if we aren’t falling in love with them and showing His grace?
Second, because she is a person. Her heart, her emotions, her struggles, her feelings, her questions, her burdens matter; and her mother and I are God’s gifts to her to walk her through all these new life experiences. She’s never been there before! It’s called parenting, and what a gift it is! Sometimes I think that we forget that our children are people—new people—and their life experiences are their first! They are people who matter to God, and they are the most important people in your life, if you are a parent. No one else and nothing else should trump your relationship with your family. I don’t care who it is, what they demand, or what kind of pressure they place upon you. Nothing trumps your family!
When we got home that night, Dana instructed Haylee to get ready for bed. A few moments later, Dana came into our room and said to me, “She’s a different person! She’s at peace. She’s whole. She’s gentle and responsive. It’s like these last three hours with you untied every knot in her heart!” I could sense it also. Haylee was a different person, because Dad spent some time loving her. (And by the way, it wasn’t about the dress, it was about the connection of hearts.)
We live in a really busy age! This is a day when most people live with little to no margins in life. The spaces on our calendars that jobs and commitments don’t fill, we quickly fill with everything else—from soccer practices to music recitals to bowling leagues. And for all of our urgent busyness and frantic pace to “get it all done,” we end our days with a nagging conscience that we missed the things that matter most. A lot of things were “checked off the list,” but in the process we paid a high price in neglecting people.
I read an interesting book recently. It was called Chasing Daylight. It wasn’t a Christian book, but it was written by a highly successful CEO who was diagnosed with three fast-growing, cancerous brain tumors. Sadly, he was given three months to live. The book chronicles how he decided to live his last three months of life.
Here was a man whose life was consumed with success—earning money, making his company successful, and enjoying all the perks of wealth. And he was good at it. He had multiple homes, chartered private jets, and enjoyed everything his heart desired. He provided well for his family. But from the moment of diagnosis, none of that mattered. When given three months to live, there was only one thing that mattered—relationships. He spent his last three months doing what he called “unwinding relationships”—spending time closing his relationships with people he loved and appreciated. Suddenly, money and success faded, and life was all about relationships—people!
You want to know what really matters in life? People. Study the life and ministry of Jesus. His days weren’t spent processing projects or checking off His to-do list. (Though most of us must do some of that.) His days were spent touching the lives of people. He lived in balance—resting when necessary, walking with His Heavenly Father, and giving Himself to people. He was never in a hurry. He lived with plenty of margin. (He walked nearly everywhere He went.) He never let urgency determine His agenda. His life, ministry, and daily agenda were driven by the leading of His Father and the lives of people. With Jesus, on a practical, daily level, people mattered the most.
Do people matter most in your life? Begin with the people closest to you—for they are the ones God has given to you. Then work your way out from there. Focus your life on loving, serving, and investing into people. Connect everything you do—even the task list and the projects—to the needs of people. When you plan your day and your week, begin with people. Make sure that every relationship in your life is healed, restored, right, and healthy. Work to keep them that way. No matter what you accomplish in life, if your relationships are broken or neglected, you are failing at what matters the most to Jesus.
How did you live your life today? What’s your plan for tomorrow? Are you neglecting people for the sake of “more important things”? Take a good look at tomorrow’s plan and then next week’s plan—and make it people-centric. Jesus said, next to loving God, there’s nothing more important in life than loving people.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).
Someone within your reach has some knots in their heart or emotions that you can help to untie. Now go and do what Jesus would—untie those knots and truly love that person. In the end, how you lived for and loved God and people is what matters most!