That might seem like an odd question. Does your spouse rank before or after your pet? But humor me for a minute. How would you answer that?
I cannot answer for you, but I bet I can relate to what you might be thinking. Years past, I would have wanted to say: “Of course, my spouse ranks before my dog.” But if I were to look at my behavior and actions, they would say a different story. My behaviors and actions would have said hands down our dog ranks higher than my spouse. It was my ego that wanted to avoid the truth when I said: “Of course, my spouse ranks before my dog!” It would be difficult and revealing to admit that my spouse did not rank very high in my list of priorities.
The business of this world makes it difficult to prioritize anything besides our work and our children. Let’s take a look at the life of Kara and Harry: We leave the house in a hurry in the morning while multi-tasking between our shower, the kids getting dressed, brushing their teeth, feeding the dog, getting the kids breakfast, etc. There is no time for our own breakfast, let alone for our spouse in the morning because honestly, they can take care of themselves. Throughout the day we are busy with work (meetings and phone calls) and if we take a break it is to run a quick errand (maybe groceries, or a costume for little Tommy’s play) or maybe we work out over lunch a couple days a week. Oh, and don’t forget the dog has been in her kennel all morning, so I better run home and let her out for a quick minute over lunch. Once work is over, we rush from one activity to another. One kid has Scouts; the other has ballet and piano. Dinner? Well that is usually in the car, running from one activity to the next. By the time the evening activities are over, it’s time for the kids bedtime routine (bath, book, prayers) and don’t forget the dog needs out of her kennel, fed, and played with because she has been cooped up all day. The house is quiet and I finally have 30-45 minutes to study for the weekend course I am taking at the local college. So, my spouse? Sorry, there just isn’t time.
Can you relate to Kara and Harry’s description of their daily schedules? This was the rat race of my life for so many years and I am guessing some version of this might describe your life right now.
It wasn’t until I took a hard look at my life that I realized my priorities were all out of whack. Nothing against Kara and Harry or even you for that matter, but I do not think any of us want this daily rat race. We just look up one day and this is the reality of our lives. How did we get here? Is this the only way?
Many years ago, our lives were similar to what Kara and Harry had described if you added an extra long commute to work. One day I was driving home after a long days work, down the long and lonely road of the Hardy Toll road (if you live in Houston, you might recognize this road). Usually, I would be with my friend carpooling but this day I was alone, as he was out of town. I was passing the time listening to KSBJ (the local Christian radio station), the DJ began to talk about a poem he had read that morning that had touched his heart. Then the DJ read the poem titled: THE DASH by Linda Ellis. The poem was about priorities and the value of our life when we are gone (deceased). Her words moved me to really think about how I was spending my time.
At the beginning of the poem, tears started rolling down my face and by the end I could hardly see to drive. My mind was racing so fast yet my heart was beating so slow. If I were to expire tomorrow what would they say about my dash? …………. What would they say about my dash?
For a long moment, I could not think of anything. Then I realized what they would say. I think they would say: I worked a lot and I was good at what I did. I made a lot of money and I shared the money I made. I was a mom who rarely saw her son. I was married but was I a good wife? My husband would say he didn’t see me much and that we were really just roommates. So was that what I wanted them to say about me? Was that what I wanted my legacy to be? It did not take long to know that the answer to that question was an infatic NO. I desired more for the legacy of my life, the life I was supposed to be living for God.
Hearing that poem made me think about what needed to change. Should I make a drastic modification to my work? I am really talented at what I do, it seems to come naturally, but was it in the way of my happy marriage and family? Those thoughts would haunt me for months to come. I did not make a change at work but I did start trying harder at home. I chose my husband and my son more and really tried to be present when I was with them and not be distracted. I cut back on the volunteering I was doing for the church, hoping that incremental time would help build the strength of my family but deep inside I could not help but wonder if I was choosing wisely if it caused me to cut back on the time I was giving to the church? Of course making more time for my family was a good decision, but I couldn’t help but wonder if taking time away from the church to create that family time was still me having messed up priorities. I couldn’t help but feel that my work being my number one priority was a bit mixed up? But I had to work, I was the primary earner in our house, we needed the money to pay the bills; work was a necessity and therefore so was the commute and long hours from home. Weren’t they?
Does any of this seem familiar? Do you feel caught in a roller coaster that just won’t stop? Do you fear your priorities are all messed up but there seems to be no way to fix them? I remember thinking that same thing, but I also felt this strong urge to not let the world define me. I wanted more out of my dash. When my life was over and they pondered about my dash, I wanted them to say: I was a loving Christian, wife, mother and friend. That I was generous not just with my money, but also with my time and my heart. I also wanted them to say that the work I did made a difference in the lives of others; that I had built something worthy of remembering.
When I looked at where my dash was and where I wanted it to be, there was a canyon, a large canyon, separating them. How do I cross the canyon or at least narrow it? How do I close the gap? What if I cannot close the gap? How do I choose? Do I have to choose?
The worldly answer was to choose what made me happy and let the rest fall however they may. The world would say: stick with your job, you love it, it makes you happy. The world would also say, make time for your kid(s) whenever you can, make it quality time so the quantity or lack there of, won’t bother you so much. And for your marriage, if you are really meant to be it will all work out. If you drift apart then that’s just too bad, at least you have the ability to support yourself and your kid(s). Somehow that just did not sit very well with me. There was a part of me that loved that message from the world; the idea that what I desired was what really mattered. That I could do the work I enjoyed and have it all. And if my marriage lost steam in the mean time then it really wasn’t my fault, it just wasn’t meant to be. There is an attraction to pursuing personal happiness, it is like a hypnotic drug; it lures you toward level after level of personal achievement and lets you believe that putting yourself first allows you to better take care of your spouse and kids. That the better I am personally, the better I will be in all the other ways that matter.
The problem with that quest for personal happiness, is that it makes us believe that we are pursuing something good, something Godly; boy how the devil has weaved his way into our intimate lives with his lies; he is slowly winning with his weapon called “personal happiness”. How could pursuing personal happiness not be a good thing? I cannot speak for you, but maybe you recognize a little of what I saw happening in my life. I was pursuing my personal happiness and only my personal happiness. The pursuit of personal happiness seems like an innocent and noble thing. It doesn’t seem to be a “wrong focus” and that is the beauty in the devil’s plans; you will never see him coming. While we focus on personal happiness he is slowly destroying our marriage and marginalizing our kids.
I really enjoyed my work and I also seemed to have a natural talent for it. I was a commodities trader for an oil company, so I was also paid very well. Not just salary but bonus too. The more I worked and made successful trades as part of a team, the more I would be paid. So spending extra time at work was a natural priority for me. I also had the very long commute so it made a lot of since to go into work extra early and stay extra late, all to avoid the terrible traffic. If you have ever been a commuter, you get it. I also had a wonderful commute partner. I met Bill right after he and his family moved to town. Not only did we work for the same company, on the same floor of the building, but we also attended the same church. So we had work and church in common. Matter of fact it was those long car rides where I learned how to be a trader. Bill became my friend and mentor. Our car rides were one long question and answer session; me asking and him answering. As I look back, he was so very tolerant of me. Here he was tired from a long days work, and here I was making him re-live it so I could learn. So I left the house at 6am and returned about 8pm, Monday through Friday. I loved every minute of it. I saw no reason to change that but you can imagine why my husband felt neglected and why I missed my son terribly. So my pursuit of personal happiness is a great example of how that pursuit was excessive and neglecting of the other parts of my life. And as a result, my marriage was dangling on a thin string, straining and stretching, about to bust!
So after hearing the Poem and trying to be more attentive at home, I realized the problem was greater than just a focus of attention. The problem was I valued work above everything else. My list of priorities were upside down and all mixed up. Here is what my priorities looked like at the time:
There was no time for a 6, leaving my spouse (and ultimately my marriage) nowhere on the list.
It took a lot of soul searching, praying, and discerning for me to realize that the order should be:
5) other things (dog, friend, volunteering, etc)
I know this order might seem very foreign to you; it is the opposite of what the world values and the opposite of what we were taught growing up. But if any of this post speaks to you and you too want a DASH that matters more than the dash you might leave today then changing up our priorities is the best way to accomplish that. Also, if you want a stronger marriage, one that withstands the test of time, changing up your priorities to this order will also help accomplish that.
Putting God first means making time for daily prayer and looking to God for wisdom and guidance in every part of my day. Also, my daily living (all aspects including work) should be lived in a way that points others to Him. Devaluing my marriage, talking down about my spouse, and not making time for and serving my spouse did not honor God or point others to Him.
Putting my Spouse second, before work, would have been the biggest change for me. I had not approached my marriage in that way and it never dawned on me that I should. If I wanted a marriage that mattered, that flourished, and was joy-filled I needed to elevate my spouse way up the list. This required me to literally re-train how I thought about my work and my spouse. My work had to decrease in importance and my spouse had to increase in importance. When my spouse called me at work, I should make an effort to answer the call and be present with my spouse even if the call lasted for just a minute or two. If my spouse did not call me, I should make an effort to call them; just to check in and to let them know they mattered and I was thinking of them. Ending my work at a reasonable time and managing my hours was also important. There would always be plenty of work to do; I was never going to get everything done on my list. I needed to learn to prioritize my spouse and manage my work hours to something more reasonable. Yes, that meant I was not going to be the first to arrive and the last to leave which also meant I might have to delay an outcome or not commit to completing projects so quickly. And as a commodity trader that also meant I might miss some opportunities to make money for the company I worked for and for myself and family. For those of us that have been wired and taught that work is the most important thing in our lives and we have naturally excelled at it, making these changes would seem ridiculous; it would feel like putting our pants on backward, or drinking spoiled milk, or choosing to fail. Some people would say that God wants us to be happy and if decreasing my work made my unhappy or made me feel awkward then that is not what God is calling me to do. But they would be wrong. The reason it feels so awkward is that it is contrary to what the world values, not because God isn’t calling me in that direction. God calls us as spouse’s to lay down our lives for each other. The pursuit of personal happiness is not laying down our lives for each other; laying down our lives for each other actually means we must often times sacrifice our personal happiness for the good of our marriage and family. It is in sacrificing the worldly things that bring us happiness that we truly lay down our lives for our spouse. The marital bond between husband and wife might be considered temporary or optional to the world, but to God it is permanent and indissolvable. I learned the hard way that if my work was getting in the way of a happy marriage then I needed to choose my marriage instead of my work.
When our marriage was in terrible shape, I eventually left my demanding trading job for working a job that I could do at least partially at home, with flexible hours, and little to no commute. This was a huge sacrifice, but one I made to save my marriage. Once my marriage was a little more stable, I did return to the commodity-trading world (one with a short commute of just 10-15 minutes), but with a slightly different attitude. Of course, I still expected to be great at my job and I worked hard while I was there. But I arrived at 8am and left at 6pm. I made sure my boss understood that while I was grateful for the job, my family was very important to me. I prayed everyday that God would bless my efforts and my new priorities, and I gave my mornings and evenings to my spouse and kids instead of to work. This wasn’t always easy and sometimes I fell back into my old habits; when that happened I had to wrestle with my ego and remind myself that my personal happiness was secondary to my marriage and family. The interesting thing was that by giving the workday to God, I was even more productive than usual. Miraculously, I always seemed to have time for the really important, pressing matters and even more surprising was that when I left at 6pm each day, I had accomplished more than when I worked the extra long hours. It took a leap of faith and belief that if I changed up my priorities, elevating God and my marriage above work, that God would help me balance it all. This leap of faith, while necessary to save my marriage and ultimately my family, was very hard for me. I am naturally very controlling and it was beyond hard to release that control to God.
Putting my children third, after God and my spouse, also took some getting used to. When I share these priorities with couples I am mentoring, this one seems to get the most resistance, especially from moms. It also gets significant resistance with crisis couples for obvious reasons. Like in Kara and Harry’s story our spouse can take care of themselves, so it is hard to imagine that our spouse should be ranked above our children on our list of priorities. My next post will address this in detail so try not to focus so much on this but on your work relative to your spouse and children.
I chose the title “Does your spouse rank before or after your pet?” because I thought I might get your attention and like Kara and Harry’s lives you can see how our pets can often get more attention than our spouse’s if we are not intentional in our efforts to care for and love our spouse.
Keeping my priorities in check is a daily struggle. At times I find myself anxious, worried, and jealous of the life I once had. When I feel that way, it is a sure bet that if I evaluate my priorities I have slipped back to my old ways; my prayer life seems to be lacking or non-existent. Prayer and my relationship with God is the anchor that allows me to live the priorities that I desire.
A lot has happened since that day in the car when I heard THE DASH poem for the first time, and I am now a very different person than I was that day. While I am constantly growing and changing, I pray that by changing my priorities I am living a life that will leave a legacy I can be proud of. What I want them to say about my dash today: I was a loving Christian whose heart grew stronger and larger every year. That being God’s servant daily pointed others to Christ; almost like I was invisible. That I loved my husband and children more than anything and daily gave my life for them as Christ has asked of me.
Lord, only you know the value of my dash and whether or not my life today will result in the dash that you desire for me. Help me to release the things of this world that don’t help me achieve the dash you have planned for me. Give me the courage to prioritize my life in a way that glorifies you, my marriage, and my family, even if that means denying my personal happiness for something better. Help me to deny my ego and avoid selfishness as I strive for a dash that honors you and a life of humility and grace. Send me your holy sprit to guide and direct me everyday toward your will! Amen!
- What do you think people would say about your DASH? Is that what you want them to say?
- Evaluate your priorities. Are they helping you achieve the DASH you desire? Are your current priorities different than what you desire them to be or what you believe God wants them to be for you?
- Choose one thing that you can do today to improve your priorities or your DASH and implement it today!
Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Luke 9:23-24– And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.
Luke 12:22-24 – And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
John 12:24– “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Romans 8:17-19 – and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;
Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
1 Peter 4:19 – Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.