Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important

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This essay first appeared on The Daily BS on June 22, 2024.

It fell so quickly from his lips. There he lay, “starfished” on the floor, exhausted. His face with those blue eyes was pressed into the carpet. He was listening to us talk, and then it came. “Mom. Everyone else is feeling like you are feeling right now.”

This week, the caboose on our crazy train had a birthday. He was a God drop, this kid. Unplanned by us, he was dropped by God into our family at the perfect time. Now, 18 years later, he was an answered prayer on two strong, running legs. His very presence in the world made folks happy, and we heard it often. The effect of his life upon others was real, powerful, and far reaching. And his wisdom…oh, how Mother loved to hear his wisdom.

The other evening as I sat on the porch, watching the setting sun, my reverie was broken by his sudden appearance. He plopped down beside me, and we dangled our legs against the warm cement, riveted by the orange glow in the west. And that’s when I brought it back up.

Some time ago, life had handed me an unwelcome turn and, feeling the whiplash, I’d considered quitting, pausing a thing that I loved doing on behalf of others in favor of the urgent. My husband voiced hesitation. “I’m not sure you should do that.” Then a close family friend chimed in. “I think you should reconsider it.”

Lastly, The Cub, overhearing our conversation, piped up with the words above. “Mom. Everyone else is feeling like you are feeling.”

Now, on this warm summer night, I remembered his words, and I thanked him. “You mean,” he said, “when I was ‘starfished’ on the floor?” I nodded. “It just came to me like this (and here, he made a motion like an arrow hitting a bullseye). I thought, ‘If Mom quits, the last little bit of encouragement that we’re getting will go away.’”

I was stunned. His insight had been timely, and upon thoughtful reflection, I’d decided that the increased load was worth the sacrifice. Now, weeks later, I knew the rightness of that choice.

“Your greatest danger,” Charles Hummel said, “is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.”

Surely, one of the great challenges in life is to decipher which things are important and which are merely urgent. The urgent can appear to be the most important, and the important doesn’t always seem to be urgent. In the rush and burn of daily living, it is easy to mix the two up.

The truth is that we were all made with purpose and for a purpose. Understanding that we were created with divine intention brings a solid peace and confidence that can’t be shaken. Knowing what we were created to do (i.e., our purpose) brings rich meaning to our lives. We can endure many things if we know that we are doing what we were made, created, and wired to do. We are making a difference, and that’s rewarding.

Yes, the urgent can crowd out the important. The voice of urgency shouts. It distracts. It seeks to draw our focus from the dreams and desires of our hearts given to us for the good of others. When the pursuit gets unbearably hard, we give up, hope-colored dreams falling by the wayside like dry petals on the wind.

Another voice that calls us to quit is fear. Years ago, when I sent my first query to a newspaper editor, I was nervous. When he replied with, “Yes, we’d like to use this,” I was downright terrified. All at once, a big door had opened, and I was jumping into the deep end with no floaties. How on earth could I sustain a weekly newspaper column? What had I just done? This might be the shortest-running column in the history of newsprint, and it would have my byline. The fear was overwhelming.

I simply started writing. One piece, then the next, and then the next. For seven years, I sustained a weekly column. I wrote approximately 350 newspaper columns precisely that way—one story at a time.

Many weeks, I never heard from a single reader. Then an email would come, or someone would see me out in public and let me know how much it meant to them; how much they looked forward to that weekly piece and how it kept them going. “You make us laugh, and you make us cry, but mostly we laugh.” Over and over, I heard those words, and so I just kept writing.

It can be a fearful thing to exercise your gifts. What will people say? How will it be received?  To this, I say, “That’s not your business.” If you are faithful to use your talents and your heart is right, then the way that others receive it is none of your concern.

It can be an exhausting thing to exercise your gifts. Is it making any difference? Is it worth it, all the time and effort you’re expending? To this, I say, “It is so very worth it, even if you can’t see it right now.” Your presence in this world and your gifts, they are needed.

Now, you. If you are tired or fearful, weighing the urgent against the important, then let me paraphrase what a teenage boy said to me. “What if everyone else is feeling like you are? What if you quit? Who will take your place?”

“Don’t give up. Carry on.” I’d like to say that, too.

You can hear America’s small, caffeinated mom every Saturday morning on the newly-syndicated James Golden Show. It can be found afterwards on all major podcast platforms. Tune in for your weekly dose of encouragement.

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