“I don’t have time!”
“I can’t; I’m too busy!”
“You’re [reading, exercising, cooking, vacationing . . . ]? Must be nice. I don’t have time for stuff like that!”
Have you ever said things like that? Yes? Me too. But in reality, each of these are lies, or at least imprecise or inaccurate. The truth is, we typically find time for the things that matter most to us. We make choices. We set priorities.
For example, If I am in the middle of a gripping novel when I fall asleep at night, the next morning my priority will be to finish the book, even if that means I let other important things go. Likewise, I will never be so busy that I cannot take my dog out when I know the alternative is her leaving evidence of her urgency on my hardwood floor.
See what I mean? Our priorities are the things we . . . well . . . prioritize.
Exception–sort of. . .*
There is an important exception to this rule. If you are suffering from chronic illness such as fibromyalgia or depression, it’s hard to achieve basic function. Just because you can’t get out of bed one day (or week) doesn’t mean you don’t value education, your family, or employment. It means your health is preventing you from enjoying the things you love most.
Beating yourself up over that will only make the problem worse; so cut yourself some slack. Offer your hurting self the kind of compassion you would a friend who is struggling. Say things like . . .
- “Self, I’m so sorry you’re having a hard day. Here, have a snack,” or
- “Oh Self! Don’t you worry about turning that report in by the deadline. You’re unwell! That can wait. Here, have some water,” or (my personal favorite)
- “Self, you poor thing, you need a nap. Put rest on your to-do list and tuck yourself in with your beagle. I’ll turn off the light for you.”
In a sense, though this isn’t really an exception to the rule. You are making self-care your top priority so you can get back to other valuable concerns later.
Okay, back to my point that we only have time for our priorities . . .
“But I HAVE to work”
People like to argue with me on this, saying things like, “I have to work overtime or I would lose my job!” To that I say, “So that means not losing your job is a priority.” I think we can all agree this is valid.
Often, though, the choice is not black and white; we’ve just reduced the problem to two opposite outcomes to simplify our decision. So let’s say you feel obligated, but not strictly required, to work extra hours. What do you do when that obligation conflicts with a personal one?
You may choose to work late this time because of outstanding financial responsibilities or work needs. Maybe your child has events like this frequently and everyone involved understands that your employment obligations occasionally interfere. Perhaps you’ve worked out a substitute for attending the main moment: playing catch while you hear all about your nephew’s game, watching the livestream of the graduation you didn’t get to attend, or a plan to visit the family the week following the funeral when things are a bit less hectic. Just saying, “I have to work,” is fuzzy and sometimes flippant. Instead, try, “I’ll be working then. Can I get the schedule for future events so I can work something out?”
“I really do NOT have time”
Another argument I’ve heard is, “You do not understand! I cannot add anything into my schedule!” I believe you. Indeed, your schedule is already full of other priorities. No judgment about what those are, either.
For example, let’s say you work from 7-3, so you get up at 5 to get yourself and others you have in your care ready for the day. You go to work and afterwards have physical therapy, counseling, grocery shopping, or other errands. With commute time and allowing for transitions, that puts you home at 5:30. At this point, you prepare and/or consume nourishment for whoever requires that from you–yourself primarily, but also toddler types.
So let’s be generous and say you manage to get all that accomplished by 7:30. At that point you work on your online class which you are taking to increase your opportunities in work or in life. By 9, it’s time to get ready for bed. You do a bit of yoga to get in a little intentional exercise, take care of your skin, teeth, and hair, and you finally lie down at 10:00 pm.
On top of that madness, someone has the audacity to ask you to attend a regular Bible study during the week. You clearly do not have any wiggle room in your schedule. Right now, your priorities are working and going to school, along with other life obligations.
But what it you truly want to incorporate spiritual formation into your life and your feel like this Bible study would be helpful? Maybe you could reorder some things or at least set a time in the future when you could do so. Until then, stop feeling guilty about it. Your honest responses could be, “I’d love to do that. I’ll need to shift my priorities to make it happen,” or “I’m not able to make that a priority right now. In the future, I’ll be able to devote time to it.
The point is, we all have choices to make and we all have stuff that gets in the way. If we can learn to be honest with ourselves and others, it seems to me that we can be more understanding with each other. Saying, “I can’t,” is just not true. Saying, “I choose the downside of avoiding this thing over the upside of doing it,” is so much more empowering.
And good news! Your priorities don’t have to be set for all eternity. You can change them. It’s your choice.
*Actual real exception
Some readers are in situations where they do not have autonomy over their circumstances. Oppressed people have a lot fewer choices than those who are living in their own power. Consequently, those of us who have agency are honor bound to bring about change. In those cases, St. Frances of Assisi can guide us beautifully.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Amen. –St. Frances of Assisi