It was the end of the week and I looked back at all that happened only to realize that I didn’t make a dent in my to-do list that I made at the beginning of the week. I thought I wasn’t going to do this again. This happened last week and it seemed not to just be my to-do list, but in everything I was running around to put out the next fire without ever addressing the cause of the fire. I felt so behind in every area of my life.
This is how I felt mid-November, like my life was one big reaction. The inbox never emptied, but I kept reading when a new one came, the projects that I was supposed to be working on were put on the backburner for the immediate need (again), and I felt like I was trying to just catch up at home, to help get the dishes done or the kids ready for bed, but wait I hadn’t been able to spend time with them!
Given some time to reflect and discuss this with my wife and friends I realized I was living a reactionary life, that I had even gotten to the point that I wouldn’t give something my time unless it was a red flag and needed my immediate attention. Just waiting for the next shoe to drop, hoping it wouldn’t be too bad and then rushing to fix it.
As I thought about this, I realized that this is how a lot of people I know live their lives. They feel busy and overwhelmed, with a packed schedule because they kept saying yes without planning their calendar first. They feel like their job controls their every move and every hour because they’ve never set boundaries or the immediate need prevents the completion of the project so every Friday is leaving with things undone.
So if the failure of the reactionary life has been preventing me from pursuing excellence in all areas of my life, how does this change? I’ve come to realize that when I’m not proactive, I’m by default reactive and find myself in the same cycle of incompletion.
So how does this change at work? The last few weeks, I’ve schedule out large blocks of time for the week. I have specific times to meet with people, specific time to work on projects, and specific time to answer email. It has provided a ton of freedom at work to accomplish what actually needs to be done in order to get ahead of the fires.
When I worked as Engineer, I worked for 2 different private consulting firms. The first consulting firm felt like they owned me. There were Friday afternoons where I was told to be in another city that Sunday night to work 16-18 hour days for 2 weeks straight. I stayed at this job and worked long hours for fear of being fired, but finally I chose to pursue a new company. During my interview and after they hired me, I proactively stated and kept to boundaries for my family and my commitments to ministry. In order for me to do this I had to prove my ability to produce quality work in the time I was there, but also show by words and actions that I was keeping to my commitments.
It finally provided that elusive work/life balance and I was better at work and at home because of it.
Reactionary Home Life
But this isn’t just a work reality. This can happen in your home whether it is with your relationship with your roommate, your spouse, or your family. In your marriage, the reactionary life becomes only working on your marriage if there’s a problem or only interacting with your roommate for conflict resolution. In parenting, it becomes reacting to every emotional shift in your child rather than developing a vision for each child that you are pursuing every day.
At home you can maintain just fine by getting all the chores done, but maintaining is avoiding joy in relationships. Nothing happens unless it is planned, so we have a monthly calendar, we’ve developed a fluid schedule that has an ideal that can shift if necessary to make sure there is time with the family, but also reserved time and energy for our marriage.
I’ve also realized that no one is standing by to help you figure out how to lead your wife and family, so unless I am proactive in thinking out ways to care for my family or learn how to teach my children, no one else is going to do it. The reactive life is selling my family short and my hope is that this becomes a year of proactively caring for their needs.
Reactionary Church Life
In my job as pastor I see the reactionary Christian life everywhere. Where there is a professed desire to have a quality devotional life or prayer life, but lacking a plan it never happens.
The biggest area I see it is with reactionary accountability. Accountability is supposed to be a group of people working together to prevent sin from occurring, but unfortunately it has become something of a confessional only sought when people feel guilty from sin.
If Christians began to see accountability as an opportunity to challenge people to see Christ as more valuable and more to be treasured than the pleasures of this world, it takes on a proactive role in the lives of Christians instead of reactive. The failure of reactionary accountability is the assumption that everything is fine in someone’s life until a massive failure and eventually the failures must escalate to get our attention. Reactionary accountability fails the Christian in their pursuit of living and loving like Jesus did.
So as people assess New Year’s resolutions, I’ve only become resolved on one. To be proactive in the way I approach the different areas of my life. I’m a procrastinator by nature, so this will be a welcome (and likely difficult) shift. I’ll try and keep you updated as it goes.