A couple of weeks ago, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I found myself in our dark, dingy basement in one of my sporadic efforts to clean it out.
Our basement is one of the old-fashioned kind. Unfinished. Dimly lit. Concrete floor and cement block walls. Periodic water problems.
It’s also a mess.
Every year when I outline my goals for the months ahead, I say I’m going to clean out the basement. And every year I don’t do it. Oh, sometimes I spend a few hours down there trying to make headway against the clutter and disorganization, but it’s never enough to truly get the job done—or even stay ahead of the organizational entropy that always creeps in.
And so on this particular Saturday I was down there once again, halfheartedly trying to make progress against the mess. I gathered up some debris, carried it upstairs, and hauled it out the back door to the garbage can waiting for me by the garage.
And that’s when I discovered what a beautiful day it was.
It was far too beautiful to spend the rest of the afternoon cleaning the basement, and also too beautiful not to take the kids out for a hike somewhere.
So I finished up a few tasks then shared my idea with my wife to take the three oldest kids (6, 5, and 3) out for a walk at a local nature park. She was on board, and of course the kids loved it. So out we went.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking through the woods and playing at the creek. The kids had a wonderful time, and it always does my heart good to see them having real experiences out in the natural world. (As one passerby said when he saw them, “Kids ought to play in creeks.”)
As I think back on that Saturday afternoon, I’m reminded again of the importance of right priorities. Not only that, I’m also reminded how easily we can see what our real priorities are.
Cleaning out my basement obviously isn’t a burning priority for me. It’s been a mess for years, and even though I keep saying I’m going to clean it up, I never allocate enough time in my schedule to finish the job. Sure, the mess aggravates me, and it’s embarrassing anytime someone else has to go down there and see it, but I’m apparently not bothered enough to invest the needed time to get the job done.
And that gives us a clue about discerning our true priorities. Simply put, where are we spending our time? If the basement were a genuine priority, I’d make sure it was getting the necessary time to get the cleaning out it needs. It’s not getting my time, so it’s easy to see that—despite my words and intentions—it’s not high on my priority list.
On that particular beautiful Saturday, taking my kids out was a higher priority. And I’m glad to say that on that occasion, I think I got my priorities right. That’s not always the case, but it was that day.
The truth is, words are cheap. Good intentions are free. We can say we value our walk with God, our marriage, or our children—but are we backing up those claims by putting our time where our words are? Does our schedule match the priorities we claim?
I’m not saying that time with our kids should always win out over a home repair project, or that we should always choose extra Bible study over mowing the lawn. I’m not saying we should never work overtime or enjoy a hobby.
What I am saying is that if we look at our schedule over an extended period of time, it’s going to give us a window into our genuine priorities. We can say that our children are one of our top priorities, but if it’s been weeks since we’ve carved out intentional time with them, it might be time for a reality check. The same goes for our marriage and our walk with God.
But here’s where it gets difficult. When we choose to spend our time one way, we’re automatically choosing not to spend it in other ways. So when we say yes to working overtime, for example, we’re saying no to spending those hours with our family. That’s not always the wrong choice, but we have to look at our patterns over time.
The reality is, we all have more options for spending our time than we can possibly accommodate. And that’s why we have to make choices. If we’re not saying no to some things—even good things—in order to say yes to God, our spouse, and our children, our priorities are out of balance. We can talk all we want about how much these things matter to us, but until we’re reshaping our schedule to reflect those real priorities, it’s just that—talk.
If you were to do a priorities audit based on your schedule over the past several weeks, what would it show you? Do you like what you see? If so, great! If not, perhaps it’s time for some realignment.
In the meantime, my basement is still a mess. Maybe I should plan to spend a few hours down there next Saturday . . .