Protecting Our Priorities
Part 2: Boundaries
You determined your priorities, examined your schedule and made a plan for how you will realign your life with your priorities going forward. That was the easy part. What you already know is that this week there will be 100 people and things vying for your time and attention. Old habits die hard. So how do we protect our priorities from being encroached upon?
Realize that you are finite and doing anything means saying no to other things. This is difficult to do for many reasons. First, for many of us, we worry about disappointing others, or failing to meet their expectations. Second, sometimes we genuinely want to do more than we have the capacity to take on. Having healthy boundaries requires the acknowledgement of our limitations and acceptance of what is beyond our control.
Managing The Reactions of Other People
Did you know you are not responsible for someone else’s feelings? Let that sink in for a moment. It is not your job to please the entire world or make everyone like you. As if you could achieve such a standard even if you wanted to! Furthermore, you are under no obligation to subscribe to anyone else’s expectations of you. You do not have to adopt the expectations of your parents, your boss, or even society as a whole.
Before we get too far into this, I want to be clear that I am not advocating for treating people disrespectfully. All of this is to be taken within the context of honoring God and others. There is a kind and honorable
way to say “No.” Yet, that doesn’t mean it will be well received. This is why it is important to recognize what you are responsible for and what responsibility belongs to others. You are responsible for managing your reactions, tone, and speaking kindly. The other person is responsible for their own feelings about what you have to say. So, be kind, and leave others to react as they will without guilt. Remember that just because someone is unhappy with your choice does not mean you have wronged them.
With those caveats in mind, here are some practical ways you can protect your priorities:
1. Realize that you are not the savior of the world. Do your part but stop trying to do everyone else’s. Jesus rested, folks! (And He actually was the savior of the world…)
2. Realize that just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Recognizing our limitations doesn’t mean we sink into slovenliness and fail to steward what God has given us. Ditch the “all or nothing” mentality and set limits. Rather than cleaning your whole house, commit to cleaning the bathroom today. Maybe you clean something else tomorrow. Or set a 15-minute timer, clean as much as you can, and then stop when the timer expires, regardless of how much or how little you’ve done. Get comfortable with leaving things half-done and completing them another time.
3. Understand that (almost) everything will wait. There are very few things that are as urgent or as important as we make them out to be. Ask yourself, what if I don’t get this done? What then? What if that happens? Let yourself go there. Keep asking until there are no further consequences. Most likely, the worst-case scenario will be pretty mild, and your mind will be put at ease. (This is also a great strategy for dealing with anxiety!)
4. Accept that there will be consequences. A client may find someone who can respond to them more quickly. A friend may make other plans if you can’t go out Friday night. Some people might think you’ve slacked off. Remember that other people’s actions, feelings, and opinions are not your business. Humans are self-interested. We are inclined to pursue our own good and happiness. You will not be the best fit for everyone. You will not be everyone’s favorite person. Not everyone will understand your decisions. You also weren’t called to any of that. You were created to be in relationship with God and to follow him. Setting boundaries can be a God honoring way to care for your health and to give yourself space to see what He has placed in front of you. If you live a life of distraction, you will miss out on the divine. Boundaries are not only permissible for a Christian; they are necessary!
5. Recognize the season you are in and be patient. You may have one million dreams and goals, and they may all be good and achievable. However, you can’t do them all at once. Get a calendar or a planner and write down all of your goals. Decide which goals are most urgent to begin now. Which ones can you realistically take on during your current season of life? Which goals are long term
and which goals are short term? Make a weekly plan, yearly plan, and 5-year plan and decide where your dreams and goals best work. Then, you can make better decisions about how to prioritize competing passions. Just because something isn’t right for you now, doesn’t mean you can’t plan for it and pursue it in a different season.
Caveat: This is where you may realize what’s most important to you and what is most urgent do not fit in your current season. If that happens, you have to make some difficult decisions about what to let go of and how to make room. You may have to go back to your priority list and redefine. This isn’t so much a step-by-step process. You may constantly go between defining your priorities and making room for them. They will probably change throughout your life and that’s okay!
Caveat: WRITE IN PENCIL. In case you haven’t noticed, sometimes God has other plans in mind for us. It is possible to give your best effort and still fail. There are things that, try as we might, are not ours to control. Make your plans but hold them loosely in your hands and keep your heart open for God’s redirecting.
Prioritizing is hard! Really hard! It’s hard to let go of things we dream of, and its hard to be patient and trust God’s timing. Find comfort in the truth that, sometimes, God calls us into a period of waiting on him. Our self-help society will convince you to be a “girl boss!” “Get off your behind and go after what you want!” Sometimes, we need to hear that. Other times, we need to be reminded that waiting on God is not being passive or lazy, but rather a time of preparation while he equips us to better achieve our goals and participate in his good work prepared for us. Be honest with yourself about why you’re waiting and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in both the work and the waiting.