Priority Check: 3 Questions to Ask Ourselves When Doing Too Many Things

We may have a good sense of our priorities, but why does it seem like schedules are hard to manage, work spills over at home, and comprises are made which negatively affect the family? It sounds like we are doing too many things, without enforcing our priorities.

My family and I were watching The Greatest Showman, where Hugh Jackman played P. T. Barnum, the guy who invented the Circus. Spoiler alert! At the start of his marriage with his wife Charity, all they wanted was to be together, and have a happy family. They lived simply and they were content. When Barnum lost his job, the situation became desperate, and so he started a business and gave his best to build up his wealth. Barnum went through a lot of failures and struggles, until finally a breakthrough idea came along — which is the concept of an American Museum of curiosities and later coined as the American Circus. At the height of his success, he went to a lot of tours around the world and was reaping a fortune. But then along the way he lost his family — missed very important family events and was caught in intrigues that broke his wife’s heart. In the end, Barnum came to his senses, fought to win his family back and made adjustments to his priorities. In the final scenes of the movie, his partner, Philip Carlyle asked, “What will you be doing?” Barnum replied, “Watch my girls grow up.”

The movie made me reflect on life’s priorities amidst the pursuit of our career goals and service. In my mind, priorities ought to be ordered in the following: God, family, work, and service. Friends are inserted in the context that we have friends at work (our activities in the world) and service.  I want to propose three questions that will help in checking our priorities.

  1. Is God present in my priorities?

We often hear: God first. A lot of people will equate this with Church service, to the point that their family just gets extra of their time. I believe when we say God first, it means putting God in our families, in our work, in our friendships, and in our service. St. Ignatius espouses, to “Find in God in all things”; that we ought to be “contemplatives even in action.” We do not exclude God in anything we do, and therefore, putting Him first. In our endeavors, when there is the absence of God in our actions, it implies that we have not prioritized Him. Sometimes, even at prayer, God is not made priority, since our minds can wander. Our priority check then would be a self-awareness if God is first in our activities. When we are led to sinful acts and start to “rationalize” our process as “part of work,” then we may be separating God in this aspect of life. This is a sign of a disordering of our lives, and we want to bring it back to the order of God, through honest dealings.

     2. Will this help me fulfill my vocation?

As baptized, we are all called to different states of life: single blessed, religious life, priesthood, and married life. These vocations are what help us in our pursuit of reaching Heaven. If our endeavors build up our call to holiness then we know that we are doing the right priorities. When Church or community service negatively affects the family, then we might want to evaluate our involvements and discern our commitments. It is the same with decisions regarding work. Will my work help my marriage and family? Will my work commitments help me become a better spouse, a better parent?

3. Am I contributing to the spread of the Gospel?

Whether in family, work and service, our primary duty is to be a witness. While service at Church or in a prayer community may so be evidently the venue to practice this, the bigger world out there also needs to hear the Gospel lived by the example of our lives. Service may also mean public service like helping the poor or being involved in organizations that help society (not necessarily being part of a prayer group). So, a priority check would be: Are the choices of my involvements contributory to the spreading of the Gospel? I think that serving at Church (or society) should always lead to serving our families better and becoming better workers or business persons.

If made to choose between activities that fall on the same date, let’s say, whether to attend our kid’s school activity or an event in service or a work commitment, we go back to “God-family-work-service” model, using the context of “Will this help me fulfill my vocation?” and “Am I contributing to the spread of the Gospel?” Of course, if you’ll lose your job by not attending your work commitment, definitely it won’t help in fulfilling your vocation. So, we strive to get a work excuse from our bosses so we can attend to our kid’s event. If you’ll miss your service, surely someone can take your place. An irreplaceable role is that of being parents, and by being good ones, we become good witnesses — and therefore help in spreading the Gospel.

When we decide to spend all of our time for family and work, without rendering service at all, we forget that our vocation is also meant for mission. Perhaps we can ask ourselves, “What is the greater purpose behind the Lord blessing me with my work?” “What is the mission that God has called my family to do?” Having a good grasp of our priorities may help us in eliminating certain activities that eat up our time but are not fulfilling our mission as individuals and families. We therefore learn to say “no” to seemingly important things, so we can say “yes” to more important things.

Let us then be discerning — always seeking to put God first in all we do, fulfilling our vocation, and spreading the Gospel in our own ways.

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