“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first things”.[i]
We live in a world where the attempt to make noticeable progress in countless areas of our lives holds us back from “moving the needle” on the most important things. The truth is, there really are a number of very important things going on in our lives and we must give them ample attention. That said, we have to ask ourselves a crucial question in the midst of these very important activities. Is there any one thing right now to which I need to be consistently giving a disproportionate amount of energy and attention that will have an equally disproportionate effect in the life of my family? Would it drastically affect my overall progress towards what I want the life of my family to look like in the future?
To answer this question we need to have some other, more fundamental questions out of the way – what are the most important things, and what do I really want my family life to look like? The family is an institution like a business or any other organization. Each is a group of people pursuing a common set of goals. The keys to achieving these goals are planning and execution. We plan in our work. For success in our occupation, most of us are forced to plan mid and long-term as well as measure the results. Yet, when it comes to our homes, our longest-range plans are many times limited to family vacations and the next quarter’s homeschool curriculum.
Families should produce. First and foremost they are to produce children who love God and keep his commandments. They are also to contribute in their vocation. If we are dominion-minded, we should have a results-oriented focus in our family. It is not enough to move through life with a vague goal of, “I want to raise my children to serve the Lord”, or “I want to have a good marriage”. What does that look like? What is the most important contribution your family could make and in what area?
I would like to provide a brief recipe that can change the life of your family if implemented. There is a constant stream of good family resources focused on marriage, childrearing, discipline, and other worthwhile topics. Many times, what we need is not more of these resources, but more focus. The following is a four-step, practical approach on how to gain and retain such a focus. Please don’t write this off as some family self-help program for those in search of another silver bullet. These work as four pillars that ideally are concepts integrated within the context of a lifelong plan for your family. They are simple, require thought and discipline to develop and carry out, but they will radically change the future of your family. They are the following:
1) Future Picture
2) Game-changer Goal
4) Focus Talks
1) Future Picture
We should never underestimate the importance of a clear Future Picture of what we want life to look like. Future-orientation is a sign of maturity. Without a clear vision in place for the future, we risk moving through life in constant reactionary mode. Our points of focus adjust as our circumstances change around us. This present-orientation robs us. Just ask Esau. Stew-makers with a clear Future Picture have a distinct advantage.
This first step is simple. Articulate in writing what you want your family to look like in ten, twenty and thirty years from now. This is not an exercise in setting financial goals. The focus here is what constitutes success from a Biblical perspective. Paint a picture of your children when they are seventeen or eighteen years old. This should not center around their interests and applications of each one’s uniqueness. It should focus on the fundamentals you want them equipped with when they leave your home. Brainstorm. List them. List their qualities. Do you want them to be independent, lifelong learners? What books would you like them to have read? How many times do you want them to have read through the Bible? Would you like them to have scripture and catechisms memorized? Which ones? By when? What about their work ethic?
What about your home? Do you want it characterized by hospitality? Joy? Health? What about your marriage in ten years? What about when the kids are gone? Paint a clear, detailed picture of your family in the future.
This takes time, but there is no substitute for putting a Future Picture on paper. There is also no substitute for putting your plan for achieving it down on paper. That is not to say that plans don’t change. They may. Without a doubt, circumstances will change, but the need for a well-articulated plan does not. Clarity on what you want the future to look like, along with a plan to achieve it is vastly superior to having a general direction and rolling along with life’s punches.
Now, once your future picture is on paper, review it. It will seem like a lot. It could seem overwhelming. That takes us to the next step. Stay tuned.
[i] Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York, NY: Random House LLC, 2014), 16.