Protecting What’s Most Important
By LESLIE LUDY
As a mother and ministry leader, time management is probably my single greatest challenge. There have been many seasons in which I’ve longed for at least another two hours in my day, or seriously considered a new wake up time of 3:00 a.m. in order to get everything done. But when I start reasoning this way, I know that something in my perspective has gotten off track. God hasn’t given me more tasks than I have time for. He designed each day to be twenty-four hours, not twenty-eight. He created humans to need a certain amount of sleep in order to function. Therefore, if I feel overwhelmed by my workload or to-do list, then one of two things must be true — either I’ve taken on more than what He intends me to carry, or I’m not effectively managing the hours that I do have available to me. More often than not, it’s a combination of both!
I have found that being purposeful and strategic in my time management is a huge key to helping my family thrive. For one thing, it helps me stay totally focused on the task in front of me, instead of being distracted by ten other things I need to get done — because I know that I’ve already planned a different time to deal with those other things. If I’ve planned to spend the morning playing with my preschooler, it really helps to know that I have set aside two hours later that afternoon for errands or household tasks. That way, I can devote my full attention to playtime, without worrying about when I’m going to go to the grocery store. This principle brings a lot of security to my kids, because I’m not scattered in my attentions when I’m with them.
I’ve known many women who feel restricted by having a schedule or specific game-plan for how to spend their time. They’d rather “go with the flow” each day and see where the wind happens to take them. Personally, I can’t function that way. When I don’t plan my day, I’m completely ineffective. I end up wasting time on “this and that” instead of maximizing each moment for the things that matter most. This doesn’t mean that I run my life with the rigidity of a military boot camp. There are times when I need to be spontaneous or change my plan because of unexpected circumstances. But mapping out a time-management strategy for each day and sticking with it as closely as possible is how I function best!
Ephesians 5:15-16 exhorts us, “See that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
To “redeem the time” means to seize each moment God has given us and use it for His glory, and not our own personal whims. Especially in this age of modern technology, there are so many potential distractions that can pull us away from God’s priorities. Effectively managing our time is one way to avoid wasting our lives on temporal, meaningless things. I see time management not as a task master, but as a tool that helps me build my life around things of eternal value.
My specific schedule changes from season to season, depending on a variety of variable factors—like the specific needs of my children or a specific ministry role I’m fulfilling. However, there are a couple of key principles that help me tremendously in effectively managing my time, no matter what season I may be walking through.
1. Protect What Matters Most
No matter what tasks or opportunities may be sitting in front of me, keeping my relationship with God, my relationship with my spouse, and my relationship with my children at the top of my priority list is of utmost importance. It’s tempting to think that spending time on these relationships can just “fit in” here and there around the hustle and bustle of daily life. Ever since I surrendered my life to Christ in my teen years, it’s been my goal to live according to the principle, “Don’t just fit Christ into your life; rather, build your life around Him.” And the same is true for my family relationships. I can’t just expect to fit meaningful family relationships in here and there — I must build my lifestyle around these relationships to make sure they remain my highest priority.
This requires sacrifices on my part. I have found that I must often say “no” to many seemingly good things in order to say yes to God, my husband, and my children. Several years ago I made the decision to stop traveling and speaking on a regular basis, so that I could protect my relationship with my husband and kids. And even though I write books and run a ministry, my goal is always to spend the majority of my time on my relationship with God and my family. As a result, I often find I don’t have as much time to spend on a writing project or ministry task as I might feel I need. However, I have learned to rest in the fact that as I protect God’s priorities in my life, He can supernatural multiply my time and effectiveness when I am working on ministry tasks — just as He did the fishes and loaves. There have been many times when I was surprised to find that a writing project I expected to take five hours only took two — simply because God multiplied my time supernaturally.
Right now, I have designated times in each week in which I fit my writing and other ministry tasks — I place boundaries around my ministry work so that I can spend the majority of time on my family. If I can’t accomplish my writing and ministry tasks in those allotted “work times,” then I know it’s time to cut back on what I’ve committed to in ministry. Yet surprisingly, I have found that I can actually accomplish quite a bit in the amount of time I’ve set aside, by simply staying focused on the task at hand and leaning on the supernatural, enabling strength of God.
Protecting my relationship with God often requires me to get up earlier than I’d like. But again, when I seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, everything else in my life just somehow works, and I find that He gives me the grace, strength, and energy I need to put Him first, even if that means I can’t sleep in!
Another area that I’ve had to make sacrifices in is the social dimension of life. If I’m involved in time-consuming friendships, spending large amounts of my time at coffee shops, or shopping with girlfriends, I know I won’t have enough time to meet my family’s needs. In this season of my life, I can’t expect to have a thriving social life and a thriving family. It’s not that I shun all friendships or that I never spend time enjoying fellowship with the Body of Christ. But for the most part, I say no to cultivating a social life in order to say yes to my family.
By the same token, our home is not “open” for friends to swing by whenever they want. We do practice hospitality as a family, but we are strategic about when and how we do this. We don’t have a revolving door at our house where people can come and go as they please, because we know how crucial it is to protect time together as a family.
I’ve known too many ministry couples who failed to put healthy boundaries around their “people involvement” and as a result, lost their children. Ministry needs and opportunities can easily dominate all of our time if we are not careful. So Eric and I have chosen to make clear distinctions between “family mode” and “ministry mode.” When we are with our children, we do our best to be with our children. When we are spending time as a family, we put our phones away, put our laptops in another room, and don’t allow ministry distractions to come into our home. We also make a purposeful effort to keep our conversation centered around our family and not merely what’s happening in our ministry.
To some, this approach has seemed “unspiritual.” But 1 Timothy 3:5 says that if we do not care for our families well, we will not be fit to care for the Body of Christ. Eric and I have found that protecting our marriage and our relationship with our children is what gives us strength to “go the distance” in ministry instead of burning out after a year or two. Our goal is that our kids would never resent the fact that their parents are in ministry. And the only way for that to happen is for our children to receive the focus and priority they need in these early years!
2. Remove Time-Wasters and Distractions
How many times have you sat down at the computer to quickly look for something on Pinterest or check your Facebook page, only to realize that two hours has gone by? It’s true that kids and other circumstances often bring interruptions into our daily life, but I’ve found that modern technology poses a far greater risk of getting me “off track” than just about anything else.
Financial consultants often recommend that their clients keep a record of exactly what they are spending their money on. Often, as the client really evaluates his spending habits, he is surprised to learn that he’s spending far more in various categories than he would have guessed. The same principle applies to the way we spend our time. If asked to guess how much time you spend each day on social media, you might say, “Oh, probably a half-hour or so.” But if you were to set a timer each time you are on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter, you might be surprised to learn that you are actually spending far more time in those arenas than you had assumed you were.
Or how about texting and phone calls? I’ve never been much of a texter. But about a year ago, a friend of mine started texting me daily with various updates, comments, and ideas. I felt obligated to text her back whenever I had a pause in my work or family activities. After a few weeks, I began to realize that texting with my friend was taking up at least an hour of my day, and I knew it was not the best way for me to be spending that time. A lot of our texts were nothing more than idle chitchat. It was amazing how much of my time freed up once I put an end to this unprofitable habit.
Television is much the same — it can rob your precious time before you even know what’s happening. You might sit down with the intent of watching one episode of your favorite decorating or cooking show, but once that remote is in your hand, it’s all too easy to click around from one show to the next for hours at a time. Eric and I have not had television in our home for quite a few years. (We just use our computer to watch family-friendly movies with our kids every now and then.) The peace that we’ve experienced by removing the distraction of TV has truly been palpable.
If you find yourself frequently wondering where all your time has gone, consider keeping a diary of your daily activities — especially the things you spend your free time on. For a week or two, write down exactly how much time you spend on the phone, emailing, texting, on Facebook, on Pinterest, posting on Instagram, watching movies, channel surfing, reading magazines, etc. Don’t just guess at how much time you are spending on these things. Set a timer or monitor the clock as you do them, and write down the exact number of minutes or hours being spent on each activity. Then, prayerfully evaluate whether there are any time-wasters that need to be cut out or reduced from your daily life.
Remember, it’s not that spending a little time on Facebook each day or watching an edifying movie now and then is sinful. The problem is devoting the majority of our free time to these things and allowing them to pull us away from a Christ-centered lifestyle and our ability to serve our husbands and children well.
A good rule of thumb is this: leisure activities should be an accent to our lives; not what we build our lives around! Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created to do the “good works” that God has prepared for each of us. When leisure and selfish pleasure becomes our focus, we miss out on the world-changing opportunities that God has in store for us each and every day.
The Bible says that a woman who builds her life around the pursuit of selfish pleasure is “dead while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:16). What an incredibly poignant challenge to our souls. May we not waste the precious time that God has given us here on this earth!