Today’s question comes from Marcus, a new reader. He asks: “In your position as pastor, what is the biggest challenge you think we face these days in trying to live lives of spiritual meaning?”
There are so many directions I could head with your question, Marcus. Let me see if I can pick just one.
In order for me to get at the question, I need to back into it by saying this. In talking with folks in congregations over the past several years, I constantly hear one concern raised. Folks say there are so many demands upon their time and attention these days – they just can’t tend to everything. Given that, many would probably say that the greatest challenge we face these days is a lack of time.
Here’s where I want to push things a little, and tell you in all sincerity that I don’t think a lack of time is the real problem most of us face these days. The real problem – in my opinion – is people’s inability to prioritize and tend to the things they say matter most.
Let me tell you why I say that.
I think all of us could agree that people today have just as many hours in a day as folks did 200 years ago. While the number of hours in a day hasn’t changed, of course many other things have. Some of those changes have freed up a tremendous amount of time in the schedules of human beings. 200 years ago, for instance, folks had to spend a great deal of time breaking ground in order to raise crops and washing clothes by hand. Today, we have a number of machines that do those same time-consuming chores for us in a fraction of the time. This would suggest we’ve GAINED time in our day.
That’s only half of the equation, though. 200 years ago, folks didn’t have technological advances that brought news and entertainment from around the world that command our attention 24/7. Nor did they have to deal with the consequences of things like cell phones and email accounts: things that grab our attention and threaten to engaged us 24/7. These developments would suggest we’ve LOST time in our day.
So while some things have saved us time – and other things have taken our time – all in all we stand in a place much like the one our ancestors stood: we have to figure out how best to use the 24 hours we’ve been given in a day.
Here’s where things have gotten much more challenging these days – and why I answered the way I did.
I believe that 200 years ago people had a much better sense of the priorities that guided their lives. When a friend or neighbor asked a person over at a time when the individual already had a family commitment, the person had a clear sense of where she or he should be – and could respond to the invitation accordingly. Or when a young child had two places where she or he was needed, the parent could step in and clearly decide which of the commitments was most important in order for the child to become the kind of person the parent hoped she or he would be.
These days things have changed. We no longer have the luxury of picking between just two or three choices in our lives. We have requests of our time (or our family members’ time) coming at us from dozens of directions. We open our email and see three evites to weekend gatherings. We hear a bing and check our text messages only to discover that a loved one is asking us to rush over and help her or him with a pressing problem. We answer our cell phone as we walk down the aisle at Target and get a call asking if we can drop everything and be somewhere in 30 minutes. Every direction we turn, there are voices in our ear asking us to be in a place somewhere other than where we are.
Which voice do we listen to? That – I believe – is the central question of our day.
So many of us get worn down by the number of demands that we lose sight of our priorities and end up being in the place that either demands our attention in the loudest voice – or in the place that send the last invitation. We rarely get to be in the place we might otherwise choose to be.
In order for us to live spiritually rewarding lives, we must find ways to quiet the competing voices long enough to spiritually center ourselves and remind ourselves of our priorities that should be used to create our schedule. Then, and only then, can we begin spending our time being where we want to be – and not simply where others expect us to be. That – I believe – is the key to living lives that have deeper spiritual meaning.
So what do you think is the greatest challenge we face in trying to lead lives of spiritual meaning?