By Joyce Long
After grabbing two granola bars and my purse, I literally pushed my 10-year-old daughter out the door.
“Get in the minivan, NOW!”
“But Mom, these shoes don’t fit.”
“It doesn’t matter. We’re late! Besides you won’t need to stand much.”
Valerie looked pretty in her pale blue dress tied with a big bow. Climbing into the van, she clutched her piano music. I loaded her softball gear and uniform into the back hatch. We would barely make the 9:00 contest start time. I prayed that traffic would cooperate, and that the piano judges would stay on time. Her softball game would begin at noon. I was now worrying about how much time the drive-through would take for lunch.
Twenty years later during our family vacation, I asked Valerie if she remembered the times we prayed before her brother and she left for their activities or for school. My son-in-law was listening so I was hoping for a devout response.
“Yes, Mom, but I also remember you setting the kitchen timer so we wouldn’t be late.”
Revealing Our Motives
Overcommitment means always being on the clock. Why do we say yes too often? When I get real with God, my motivation starts with pride and morphs into people pleasing. I forget a super woman doesn’t equal being super busy. All of us need to ask ourselves the same question Paul posed to the Galatians: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people?” (1:10).
As Christians, we need to be Christlike in all that we think, say, and do. But behaving to avoid others’ disdain is not the same thing. Consider King David’s wife Michal. She was mortified when her husband danced in the streets to celebrate the return of the ark of the covenant. “And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16).
We don’t know why Michal reacted that way. She may have resented her husband’s joy or was concerned how his lack of dignity would affect how people viewed her. It’s easy to assume other people’s motives, but how often do we ask God to reveal our motives for what we choose to do? In both the church and community, I’ve accepted responsibilities, not because God called me to them, but because I needed to be respected—or in other words, because of my pride.
In striving to do too much, we often forget God loves us for who we are, not for what we do. He is most pleased when we prioritize being with him. Two sisters, Mary and Martha, illustrate this well. When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister wasn’t helping, he said, “Martha, Martha, . . . you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41, 42).
God promises to reward us if we prioritize him. King David shared this truth in Psalm 37:4: “Delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Overwork and overcommitment are not included in this blessing.
Redeeming Our Time
As a mother of two 30-something adults, I cringe seeing them exhaust themselves in an overly busy schedule. Who did they learn that from? I know the answer, and it’s not their father. But as a 61-year-old woman, I’m beginning to understand that my time is more valuable because it is disappearing quickly. I get what Paul says to the church in Ephesus: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17, New King James Version).
The Greek word for “redeeming” (exagorazo) conveys more than “buying up.” According to Strong’s Concordance, it also means: “to rescue from loss, to improve opportunity.” The word “time” (kairos) implies “a season, a time in which something is seasonable” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).
The conclusion is simple: On this side of eternity, time passes quickly and expires. God expects us to make the most of it. But what that looks like in his eyes does not always translate into the world’s view of productivity. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened. King David danced in the streets, delighting in the Lord. The more time we spend with the Lord, the more he multiplies our joy and our efforts.
The key to managing our time is found in the last sentence of Ephesians 5:17: “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” God’s will for each of us is personal and perhaps seasonal. When my children were babies and preschoolers, God’s will for our family was that I would be their primary caregiver. Decades later when my parents had to leave their home due to poor health, God’s will involved my husband and me taking care of them. God’s will for our family may differ from his will for yours, but the wise thing is to seek it, asking for personal discernment.
Appropriating Our Activities
One of the greatest gifts God has given me in seeking how to use limited time and to choose my activities with the right motives is this question: “What is it that only I can do?” Answering that helps clarify what is important, especially during busy seasons of life. If my family needs me—wedding planning, babysitting, illness, or long visits—my friends take a backseat. When there are no deadlines or pressing family and personal needs, I can spend more time with others. Usually they understand. If they don’t, I reconsider the mutual respect of our friendship.
Now that I’m 98 percent retired, I still make choices in how I spend my time and what motivates my plans. Do I spend a calm Friday night with my husband or do I go to a women’s conference at a nearby church? For me, I look at the entire weekend’s activities, pray, and then let the Holy Spirit nudge me in the right direction. This time, I stay home because I’ve had a busy week, I’m tired, and we’re busy on Saturday. Next time I may go. Context is key in appropriating my activities.
I’m a scheduler. That’s why I often overcommit because unexpected things interrupt my schedule. However in time management, scheduling is not a bad thing. For the past 27 years, I’ve reserved the first 30 minutes of my day for a fresh air walk with two of my neighbors. That helps my body and my need for godly counsel. Afterward I eat breakfast and spend time with God in the Bible. When the kids were young, I got up earlier. Reserve time and energy for God—and yourself.
God has made each of us unique with our gifts, spheres of influence, and personalities, but his will is not for us to live as people pleasers. To leave the bondage of fulfilling people’s expectations, we need to discover what pleases God. To do that, we need to be in his Word, reading, reflecting, and remembering. Only then can we focus our lives on his perfect, pleasing will.
Joyce Long is a freelance writer in Greenwood, Indiana.