When I was trying to get out of my PhD program with my sanity intact, I started to really assess what my priorities were, and how my life should look to better align with those priorities. I made a list, which I have tweaked and revised to the present version.
The alliteration of five things makes it easy to remember. These are the important things, the foundational things, the first things. For a given situation, one or the other may be most important in that moment. When it comes to a whole life view, however, I strive towards the order as listed.
Faith for me encompasses belief, hope, and spirituality, as well as religious practice. I have faith that God exists, that God is good even when we don’t understand His methods, that God created me with free will, that God loves me, and most importantly, that when I follow God’s instructions my spirit will be filled with joy. I act out my faith by taking time to allow the Holy Spirit to work in my heart. While walking with Christ may appear to consist of the mundane from the outside, on the inside it is inspirational and uplifting.
Prioritizing faith means that I put God first, sometimes practically, sometimes symbolically, and (almost) always with my whole self. In my daily and weekly activities, this can be expressed in a myriad of ways. When I make my calendar, I put liturgical cycles down first, then Eucharist, then other things. Attending church is necessary, as is fellowship, as is ministry. Daily devotions are an elusive goal, but I am finding ways to get a snippet here and there between the chaos of caring for a toddler. Incorporating the Christian disciplines into my life helps me to practice faith and to keep God always at the helm of life.
Family has always been important to me. Family consists of the people who know you at your worst and love you anyway. Most of our family we don’t get to choose; they are gifts to us from God. But there are other people who can become family through choice, such as a spouse. And sometimes our closest blood relations will choose to not love us. You get to define the boundaries of your own family for yourself.
Prioritizing family means that I spend time in fellowship with them daily. It means that I take their needs and concerns seriously enough to take action towards a remedy. It means that I care for them by providing a warm, inviting home with good meals, by standing by their side when they are sick, by sticking by them even when things are difficult. Family fills my life with joy, and so they stay one of my top priorities.
OK, you got me, this was originally Health, but then everything started with ‘f’, so I changed it to Fitness. Caring for my own mental, social, spiritual, emotional, and physical fitness is also important, mostly so that I am able to do the things that I am called to do. Given that we live in a health and fitness obsessed culture, I don’t feel like I need to expound on this beyond pointing out that fitness is not related to appearance but rather to functionality.
I had making and keeping friends as my lowest priority for a long time. But that turned out to be lonely. So, slowly but surely, I have been vesting more time and energy into forming lasting friendships. It has been a challenging practice to learn. I find that the more touchpoints I have with someone, the easier it is to bridge the gap between being acquaintances and becoming friends. The bridge still does not build itself, however. In order to get to friendship, it is necessary to spend time hanging out outside of institutional events. Having the time, energy, and courage to make friends is something that I struggle with. Placing friends on my top priority list pushes me to keep trying even though it is hard.
Some people make money their top priority, and some make it their last. I find that either extreme leads to problems. So having a profession is important, but not the most important thing. Accumulating wealth is not a worthy goal past providing stability for the family. Working to the point of neglecting the people in your life might bring more income, but it is unlikely to bring more happiness. As with most things, the key is balance.
Those are my top priorities. I spend time doing other things, also, but they take a back seat to the Big 5. Much of my time is spent watching television, for instance, but that is not my priority. If John needs attention, or work needs doing, I turn it off. And I have additional goals outside of those priorities, such as getting the house clean and orderly. Except that a clean and orderly house helps me stay calm and collected, and also provides a comforting home for my family, both of which are top priorities. Everything flows together in the end. The best way to make sure that you are constructing the life that you would like to lead is to start by getting your priorities in order.