I was sitting with a friend eating cheese dip and pico de gallo. We've done this once a week or so for the past twenty years. We make it a priority. We've called for a sabbatical when she's nursed sick parents, or I've had unidentified toddlers who did not belong in the public eye. We eat our Mexican food and solve the world's problems.
(We're a little fuzzy on why, exactly, the world still has problems.)
As we chatted, Anna asked me about a household issue. "It's just not a top priority," I said, "and -- you know what? -- I don't think it ever will be."
That thought has stayed with me for a week or two.
Some things will never make it to the top of the priority list. We all suffer from the tyranny of the urgent -- the ringing phone, the nasty, nasty, nasty bathroom, the Boy Scout laundry that screams for attention. But wheels that don't squeak? Those jobs that need to be done, but don't smell, threaten to mold, take up half the hallway, force us to execute the running long jump to get past them? They don't get the grease, i.e. they don't get done.
A friend of mine has one of the loveliest houses I've ever seen. The layout, the decor -- tasteful and soothing. And in the middle of her well-appointed living room, this friend had a toilet. Yes, a toilet. Just past the Waterford lamp and to the left of the sage velvet couch. And there it sat for eighteen months. See, the toilet was headed for the second floor bathroom, and the wife, well, she couldn't lift it, and the husband, well, he had other priorities. So there it sat.
When I stand at the sink and wash dishes, I look out a small window -- a small window that for a l-o-n-g time has looked like it's speckled with yogurt. Something opaque and sticky exploded some time back and left a thick residue all over the screen and window. But that window? I don't trip over it, and it doesn't reek; ergo, it will never rise to the top of the to do list.
Last week I decided to move one long neglected task to the top of the to do list everyday.
I washed the window. I dusted the window sill. I washed a few other windows.The next day I cleared off the clutter on my desk. The day after that I folded an air mattress and put it away. These trifling jobs each took about fifteen minutes and gave me a little lift all out of proportion with the task itself.
In Ephesian 5, Saint Paul writes, "Defer to one another out of love for Christ." In the nitty-gritty world of marriage and family life, this means shifting out priorities out of love for the other person.
Like most people, I tend to be faithful to the household jobs I like (or at least those I don't positively loathe). I do the laundry, but I invariably put off matching the socks. I clean the bathrooms, but ignore the ironing. I am really, really bad about entering receipts and checks into our budget program. During the weeks Dave was out wandering the Far West, I had a print out of our bank statement sitting on the desk. Balance me!, it screamed. I think I put my hands over my ears.
I don't actually set out to be so negligent. Homework and dinner and, um, blogging and, er, eating cheese dip with my friend Anna, well, priorities, people!
So Thursday I sat down with not one but two months worth of statements to tackle and, my goodness, what a jumbled mess. I couldn't find the May statement, so I decided to dive right in and tackle June.
Note to self: um, no.
After two hours of entering figures and crossing off numbers and squinting and pondering what in the world that charge was for, I had succeeded in reducing the discrepancy from $965 down to a mere $300 or so.
Dave does a stellar job of handling our bills, a job that formerly fell on my side of the ledger, a job that I am perfectly content to pass off to him. And, you know, it's tough to pay the bills when your spouse says, "Okay, this is what we have in the checking account . . . or maybe $300-900 less than that. I think . . ."
I need to make his priority my priority, enter my receipts, and then get back to blogging and cheese dip.
Dave would probably spend less time travelling than I would. I say, "Let's go to the beach!" And he usually says, "Okay with me." I say, "I really want to go to Hannah's graduation." And he says, "Alrighty." He makes my priorities his priorities.
Meal planning is another big one for me.
I'm a snacker. Given the option, I would rarely sit down and eat a meal at a table with silverware and a napkin and the whole deal.
But snacking is not good for a growing family. It's not cheap, not healthy, not efficient. Hence the need for meals. Have you seen the cartoon with the wailing woman, book on the floor, crying, "Why do they have to eat every night?"
That would be me.
But they do eat every night, and it all goes better if I plan on that rather than ignoring it.