I once knew an overseas worker who begged her organization, “Please, please don’t make me go on a home assignment.” She had spent so long fully investing herself in her host country that she admitted, “I have nothing to go back to; no life, no friends, no family, no community that would be my home for home assignment. There’s nothing there for me anymore. Just let me stay.”
I’ve also known an overseas worker who lived in her host country without ever really living there. She spent hours a day on her computer to the neglect of the relationships and service surrounding her. She counted the days, the hours even, until she would get on that plane back to her “real life.”
Most of us are caught living in the tension between these two extremes.
How do we live life where we are while staying connected to the life and people we’ve left behind?
We are no longer the pioneers of the past, packing luggage in coffins, saying forever goodbyes, likely never to return. We are the people of today straddling the distance that spans between two worlds. We are trying to stay connected to both of our homes and to the people dear to us in both places.
How do we do this well, so that neither is neglected?
The first step is acknowledging which extreme you tend to lean towards.
And then we look to Jesus. How did he handled his relationships? Sometimes I think we forget that Jesus spent thirty of his thirty-three years with his family and “home” community. So there’s that. And we see him making sure his mother was taken care of when he knew he wouldn’t be there for her anymore.
Then we have the detailed account of how very intentional and strategic Jesus was with his relationships during ministry years. We see how he gave sometimes himself to the needs of the masses, and other times when he didn’t. He often withdrew to be alone with his father. And he withdrew to devote himself to certain people. He very intentionally identified a group of twelve, and then even a group of three, to whom he would prioritize his devotion.
That’s great for Jesus, right? But what does it practically mean for us? What does it mean when I look at my schedule, when I look at all of the plates and priorities and people that are spinning in this life of mine? How do I prioritize my time and energy?
Let me share an analogy I heard this past summer that is shaping and changing the way I think about life.
Imagine you have a jar. Someone points to a pile of rocks, pebbles and sand, and says, “Put all of this in this jar. And know that ALL of it is important, so fit it ALL in.” Anyone who understands basic physics will know to fit the most in the jar, you will have to put the big rocks in first.
What are the big rocks in your life? What are those non-negotiable, absolute top priorities in your life? I could tell you mine, but I don’t want that to skew your own soul searching process. Once you’ve determined what your big rocks are, put them (and the time they need) into your life and schedule first. Without those in place, nothing else will work.
Let me say that again… NOTHING ELSE WILL WORK.
How many lives have fallen apart because the most important things in life got crowded out by good but lesser things?
So after the big rocks are firmly in place, then put in the pebbles, the other good and important, but no so important things in your schedule. Because if these things are not in your schedule, then either A.) They won’t happen, or B.) They will fill up all your time and push out the more important things of your life.
Finally, pour the sand into the margins of your life. The beauty of it is that the rocks create margins. But then realize that not every thing is going to fit. The jar will be full. But now it’s just the sand and maybe some pebbles are that are left out, not the big rocks.
In this whole process you’re going to have to determine what kind of space in your life you will to devote to your long distance relationships and what kind of space you will devote to your in-person relationships. Prayerfully and intentionally mark those spaces in your life.
Then realize that each of those spaces then becomes a jar in itself. Are you following? You now have a clearly defined and designated space in your life that is your “long distance relationship” jar and a jar that is your “in-person relationship” jar. Now, apply the big rock principle to your relationship jars. Who are your big rocks right where you are? Who are your big rocks on the other side of the sea? Put time and effort into them first. Then the pebbles and then the sand.
Confession: I have neglected some of my big rock relationships. I have let other good and important (but no so important) things crowd against relationships which in the whole grand scheme matter more.
And I repent.
As I get up off my knees, I long for these prioritizing and carving-space disciplines to come more naturally for me. I find that people and life don’t all fall into neat little blocks of my time.
But without intentionality and discipline, without prayerful stewarding of life, it all becomes a blur, and I end up distant from the One who matters most.
Only when that biggest of rocks centers in my jar do the other pieces fall in place. Only then do I have a fullness to offer anyone. Only then can I gracefully dance in the tension of life between two worlds.
What about you? Which extreme do you tend to lean towards? Too connected with life back “home” or not connected enough?
What helps you in prioritizing your time and relationships?
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