What’s A Typical Day Like For You? (Priorities, Change, and Random Thoughts)

by Jim on 3 March 2011

Someone recently asked me what an average week looked like for me.  So, since it’s kind of a common question, I thought I’d put it in a blog.  But don’t get too excited.

This person was asking because they had taken on some new responsibility and they’re looking for counsel – a great thing to do.  So that’s the angle I’m coming from.

For starters – why I’ll be no help at all…

So here’s why my experience probably won’t help all that much.  I’m living in some unique situations… but then again, everyone is, aren’t they?

  1. Chronic Illness Makes Life Unpredictable:  My migraine disease, and to some extent Nathanael’s health, make life very unpredictable.  That means that one week I may spend half the time in bed.  The next week I may work for 80 hours.  If I make an appointment tomorrow, I may be too sick to make it.  You just never know.
  2. A (Constant) Time of Change:  We live through constant change.  We live in a culture we didn’t grow up in, and are still learning to do many very basic things.  It takes time.  Then we leave and travel and live in another different culture and have around constantly.  Then we have to go to a conference, travel to a meeting… these aren’t things that are regular (ie 2 conferences a year, a week off in the summer, and travel every three years…), but things that are always different.  There is no typical week, month, or even year.
  3. Growing and Learning:  Related to what I just said… we’re on a learning curve.  We didn’t come to Mexico to transform the country in 6 months (not that we could do it anyway – change is God’s department!).  We try to pace ourselves, learn, grow, and build for the long term results.  That means we’re nowhere near where we’d like to be – we have goals that we’re aiming for, but we’re taking things one step at a time.

Why Missionaries Laugh at You when You Ask What Their Typical Day is Like…

Oh – most of them are too polite to laugh?  Oops…

Our lives may be more unpredictable than many, but I expect many/most missionaries, particularly those in two-thirds world nations, are in the same boat.

Today I made an appointment for myself and my son.  I wasn’t expecting to be so sick today.  But also, someone came to install an electricity meter on our house, I got stopped by the police (don’t worry, I didn’t do it), I took a wrong turn…

That was a mild day.  Someone comes over with a problem, the van won’t start, the power goes off, there’s no internet connection, water’s leaking through the roof, there’s an unexpected meeting, paperwork rules change and I need to drive into the city, there’s no water so we can’t do laundry…

Some people go to work from 9-5, I hear… they take predictable holidays… they do this or that "once a week" or "once a month" or even every day.  When they turn on the computer, the stove, or the washing machine – it always works!  Imagine!

I can’t imagine a life like that.  All right, I like variety.  At the same time, it’s hard when you can’t plan to do something every day or every week – those traditions and that consistency is hard to live without.  Some consistency without the monotony would be great.  😉

So – Have I Learned Anything Helpful At All?!

Good question!  I’ll take a crack at it…

  • Even a "Predictable" Life Isn’t:  One good thing about all this insecurity – it’s reality.  Sometimes people with so-called regular schedules get a rude awakening when a crisis arises.  I hope that we’ve learned… just a little bit… that there really is nothing in this life we can trust completely – except for the Lord.  And He is 100% trustworthy all the time, in season and out of season.
  • The World Won’t Fall Apart Without Me:  It’s actually all about Jesus, not me.  He really does have it under control.  If I do great, or if I do terrible, or if I’m in bed and unable to do anything at all – He still has a plan, He’s still in control, and His work will move forward.
  • Don’t Base Everything On Your Plans:  I’ve heard it from missionaries many times.  They arrived on foreign soil, with a great plan for ministry.  A few years later, they wonder what hit them!  Things didn’t work out the way they expected.  No, things won’t.  Don’t put all your trust in your plans and your goals, even if you feel they come from God.  Actually, He hasn’t revealed every detail of the future to you.  Make wise goals – but hold them loosely.
  • Build What Will Last:  Maybe I’m just a plan-ahead kind of a person.  Well, sometimes.  But one thing I’m thankful for is that I’m starting to learn to build things that will last.  That sometimes means starting slower than everyone else.  But I hope God will use something I do in the years ahead, and in eternity.  What impact will my actions today have?  Am I doing something that will last, or is it a flash in the pan?  That means investing in people (they’re forever), submitting to God (he’s forever), and thinking about how I can leverage what I do today for the future.  (Note:  Sometimes taking time to rest is a long term strategy).  Sometimes it means getting training.  Spending an afternoon with a friend.

Yeah, but how do you actually spend your time?

Here are some things I’ve done in the past couple of weeks.  But remember, these aren’t typical weeks – any two weeks could be drastically different!

Preparing to lead a Sunday service; Updating the preaching schedule; Meeting with a pastor about having joint services; Visiting friends; Sending out a newsletter; Going back to Office Depot to do the paperwork they forgot so that they could mail the newsletters; Meeting about fundraising; Another meeting about fundraising; Music practice; Leading a service; Date with my wife; Trying to get a hold of my doctor; Trying to find the drugs my doctor prescribed; Preparing for keyboard class; Teaching keyboard class; Preparing for Tuesday Bible Study; Several days home schooling Nathanael; Watching the kids; Family worship time; Cleaning up papers; Emailing people about official policies; Financial paperwork; Ixtapaluca team meeting; Teaching my Bible study; Pay the phone bill (drive to the phone company office and pay it); Make doctor’s appointments; Take Nathanael to have a medical test done; Fix problem with household technology; See my doctor; Do dishes; Prepare agenda for next CAM team meeting; Plan for time in Canada; Check on mailing issue with CAM; Write blog posts; Give people rides; Do paperwork requested by CAM (prayer requests); Try to fix an issue that’s not my fault but costing me a chunk of change; Approve fellow team members’ travel plans; replace water jugs; Have needed chats with Hannah and Nathanael; Make plans to travel to a conference (more on that later); Discuss how to help someone in some way that you don’t need to know about but you get my drift; Getting ready for tax season; Other attempts to help people – not sure how successful!; And so on….

I’m not always happy with the priorities in my life.  I’m not there yet – but I want to aim for something better.  Here are some of the things I’m aiming for, right or wrong.  But these are not things I’m necessarily succeeding at:

  • Spend time with God.  I have a theory.  I don’t think we’ll ever find we’ve spend too much time in prayer, and in the Word.  Why?  Because those things drive us to do what we should be doing.  They rearrange our priorities.  If we’re open to the Spirit’s leading, it’s not likely that He’ll teach us to ignore our friends and family and shut ourselves away 24 hours a day.  Prayer and Bible study should lead to life!
  • Share God’s Word.  I’m not ashamed about the hours and hours I spend preparing to teach God’s Word.  No, I wouldn’t want to get too "academic" and start losing touch with the real world.  But assuming I’m in contact with people and trying to let the God speak to them through His Word – I’m going to take the hours to do it.  It’s a two step process: (1) Learn what the Scripture is saying (2) Teach it clearly.  Nothing fancy.  But it takes work.
  • An Integrated Family Life:  Wow, I have a lot to learn here!  But isn’t that what families are for?  To keep us humble?  Anyway,I don’t want to put family life in a separate compartment.  You know – "ministry" (whatever that is) over here, family over there, and never the twain shall meet.  No, my family is part of my ministry.  My family is in ministry with me.  Not because I’m a missionary, but because I’m a follower of Jesus.  He’s the priority – not my friends, or family, or work.  Under Him, we’re working together…
  • Reach Out – In Big Ways and Little Ways:  So, they say I’m not an extrovert.  But I love people, and love spending time with people.  Still, whether people are introverts or extroverts, we all need God’s help to not be selfish and to really reach out and help people – especially those who can’t help us back.  Visiting someone who’s leaving the church and who may insult you one more time?  Visiting the dying?  Someone in prison?  Giving to someone who just can’t give to you?  Spending time with widows/widowers?  Helping a single Dad?  These things really are not about building a big church, extending your influence, increasing your financial security.  Remember James 1:27.  Spend the time with people – and enjoy it!
  • Basic Time Management:  Time management is a whole different ball game for a missionary with chronic illness.  I really must write a book on it someday.  When I figure it out.  All right, that could be a few centuries.  But I do spend a lot of time in paperwork, official documents, getting repairs done, fixing that broken whatever, doing errands… I want to learn how to minimize the time spent on some of these things, and yet not get frustrated with them because, like the poor, they will always be with us.  God can teach us a lot through laundry, kids with skinned knees, broken water pipes, and that error our bank made.

But we always come back to this…

It always comes back to living life in the light of the Gospel – what Jesus did one day 2000 years ago.  Why?  Because in the end, the world doesn’t rise or fall because of me.  In the end, nothing will be built unless the Lord builds it.  In the end, my stupidity and sin will not ruin God’s plan.  In the end, even I can be forgiven.  In the end, I can be free to plan, strategize, make long and short term goals, dream, imagine, try harder, reach out more, take risks, take rests, worship, love, and cry.  I’m free because of the Gospel.  Free in my planning, my success, my failure – because I’m in Christ.

It may sound cliché to some of you.  But if you’re a believer, there will come a time when it’s your anchor.

Maybe that’s no help at all.  But if nothing else, remember this.  Like you, I’m learning as I go.  And I’m glad I’m following someone who knows where He’s going.  And who comes back to grab me when I wander off in another direction!

With that in mind, I’m actually the one who needs the help!  How do you prioritize your time?  What are your thoughts?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Shari Cottrill March 4, 2011 at 5:08 am

Wow…good post. I think I even learned something by reading it! ;O) It is definitely a hard thing to balance all that…never mind trying to communicate it to others! ;O) (You’re such a great blogger! ;O) …And I’m not biased or anything!)

Grandma C. March 4, 2011 at 11:22 pm

I agree with Shari: this is a very good post. And I certainly learned lots from it. You ARE a great blogger.

Prioritizing has been difficult for me, more so since I finished my post-secondary education and have had to make more of my own decisions. It’s on my mind especially right now as I know my “to do” lists are way beyond my means to accomplish. My doctor has asked me to think about where I want to be in 5 years, which is helping me. I also read recently that it’s good to pick 5 priorities and go from there. I haven’t done that yet; too many things seem like they should be priorities.

One thing I have learned is that this is an ongoing issue. I try to submit my day to God and then ask Him if I’m still on the right track throughout the day. Some nights I feel like I’ve accomplished His will for me and other times I don’t. But, as you said, it’s all about Him and, as I read at the bottom of some suggestions for Christians dealing with stress, I’m not the General Manager of the universe. The latter is strangely freeing to me.

Jim March 5, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Well, thanks for your votes of confidence! 🙂

Gary & Ardys Winger March 7, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Hi Jim, Great blog, if nothing else it helps us to better pray for you guys in the twists and turns of life in Mexico. We live here with some of these things, but no where near your volume of pressure and decisions. We do love and appreciate you 4, and pray for the Lord to give you much wisdom as you serve Him. We do really look forward to our family time in July. God bless, and hang in there together. 🙂 Love Dad and Mom.

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