News and Tribune

August 1, 2013

May: Beyond the 'see': doing what’s important

By TOM MAY
Local columnist

— Two days left on vacation and I am up before the crack of dawn. Too antsy to sleep. Not enough hours left.

The coffee house at the only crossroads in town opens in two hours with a blend called “Southern Pecan” that has been luring me inside its doors all week. Steps take me past a bakery, across an already busy street and onto sand that pushes separation between each toe. The jelly donut seems to make its way to my mouth all by itself. Good thing this article isn’t being written for the fitness magazine.

Two days left on the vacation and the unfettered mind begins to do strange things. The Gulf seems to want to wrap its arms around me; stretching to give a salty hug, each wave inching closer to where I sit. There is no noise but the water, no smells but the sea. Sand and surf are the sole items my eyes can see. Surely I could make a living selling pencils along the beach.

My gaze takes me past the shore to the little fine line between heaven and earth. A Cracker Jack-sized toy boat makes its way from right to left and somehow my own life seems even smaller. I am fixed on its journey and somehow on my own. What things are important — on the last days of this vacation, and the remaining days of life? What things are urgent — that need to be done and done now? Are there things that combine both? Are there things that I should be doing because they have value and because I don’t know how much time I have left to accomplish them?

Most of our lives are spent only on the urgent. Deadlines at work. Appointments to be kept. Meetings to attend. School activities. Children’s sports. Our lives are filled to the brim with things — most of them good things — that capture us because now is the only time we have to do them. The busyness of our lives requires our presence and our attention.

Charles Hummel, in his small book “The Tyranny of the Urgent,” says, “Several years ago an experienced cotton mill manager said to me, ‘Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.’ He didn’t realize how hard his maxim hit. It often returns to haunt and rebuke me by raising the critical problem of priorities.”

If we took a page from your calendar — snuck a peek at your smartphone — what would your appointment schedule tell us about the things in your life? Would we be looking at a reflection of what is important to you, or would we be looking at the things that are just urgent?

Rick Warren begins his best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” by asking the question, “What drives your life?” Everyone’s life is driven by something — problems, pressures, deadlines, urgent things, important things. He lists what he sees are the five most common things that drive a life: guilt, resentment or anger, fear, materialism or the need for approval. He concludes that section by observing that none of those drivers speak to who we really are — none will touch the things that are really matter.

The small boat has vanished off the left edge of the horizon. My eyes pull back to again take in the entire picture of my view of the Emerald Coast. The sea is splashed with just as many of shades of turquoise as there are splashes of water on my feet. The same God who has splashed those colors has splashed talents and gifts and passions on the canvas of my life. Those intricate acrylics guide me to my purpose — to the things that are really important.

This vacation I will return home with sand, memories and a resolve. Do what is important in life — and do it with urgency.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.