I’ve told this story before about a road trip that Nan & I took where we were first married. One leg of our journey required that we cross over the Sierra Nevada mountains. Rather than taking the well-traveled route, I looked at a map and determined that I could get over the mountains quicker if I made a couple of changes. The result: Nan & I almost got stranded on a precipitous and deserted dirt road, and ended up at our destination much later than expected. I was worried. Nan wasn’t impressed. I repeat this story because it is still so vivid in my memory.
As I go through life, I am tempted to procrastinate or take all kinds of shortcuts. I like to rationalize those choices as smart or efficient sometimes, but often it’s just laziness. Why wash the dish or put it in the dishwasher now when there will just be more piling up soon. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to deal with them all at once? The same logic applies to the mail, or bills, or anything else. No, the truth is that really I just don’t want to put out the effort in the moment. So I surround myself with a bunch of delayed or half finished tasks. And later I feel overwhelmed by all that needs attention and how much extra time it actually takes because of the postponement. When I procrastinate, I may limit myself in what’s possible to accomplish in the remaining time. When I take unnecessary shortcuts I may eventually make life more stressful.
We can do the same with our relational life as well. I think of someone that needs to hear from me, but I tell myself that I will send out emails all at once – later. But often later never comes, or the important moment has passed. Perhaps I am anxious about a confrontation that needs to happen but I wait until it is more difficult or painful. Or just the opposite, I have kind words, loving words, or affirmations that would mean a lot to someone, but I think I have all the time in the world to speak them. But again, the moment may pass.
Look around yourself. Does your environment give you peace? Are you afraid to open closets, drawers and cabinets? How about mail, snail or electronic? If you left the earth today would the people you care about see the person you would want them to remember? Or would they discover a person who lived in chaos as they settled your affairs?
I must confess that there are a lot of undone things in my world. Not all of them are because of laziness. Some are because I am undecided. I am not always sure what holds value for me but will not for someone else. Will someone else see the value in the books I have collected or the Christmas ornaments that were given to us as gifts over the years. Should I keep them, dispose of them or pass them on? But sometimes it’s just an excuse for not wanting to expend the necessary effort to complete the task.
I think we can live a “Cliff Notes” kind of life if we are not careful, just doing the minimum necessary to survive, but not experiencing enough depth to add richness to the journey. That’s a shortcut, for sure. The result might be that I build a negative self image that prompts me to self sabotage some really important things.
I also want to extend grace and caution those who are perfectionistic by temperament. You are already too self critical, so this post is not for you. For you, I would have you evaluate other criteria. If everything seems essential, then you need perspective. You need to be more selective in your diligence to manage everything or everyone.
When faced with any decision or task, ask yourself this question: “Could I follow this through to the end and make life less complicated?” If the answer is “YES”, then be your own best friend and just do it!