By Peter Amsterdam
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Something that has come up repeatedly in my life and in conversations and correspondence I’ve had with others is how busy we all are. The demands on our time can be overwhelming.
Unfortunately, when there is so much to do, it’s often the most important things that get pushed aside and suffer the most. Sadly, they are the things we feel we can temporarily neglect in order to take care of matters which are urgent. It seems to be a quirk of human nature that the urgent often trumps the important. Many times, those things which get set aside are our primary relationships. The cares and concerns of everyday life often cause us to focus on matters which, though important, are not vital to our true happiness and fulfillment in life.
Recently I realized that I had been seeing less and less of a very dear friend of mine. I always enjoy his company, benefit from his practical counsel and spiritual fellowship, and can really relax when we’re together. As much as I benefit from meeting with him, I noticed myself repeatedly putting it off due to my work and other duties. It finally dawned on me that I needed that time with him and those lively discussions on topics that aren’t related to my work. I was missing them and him. I made a decision to keep in closer touch and to get together regularly, even though it’s not always convenient. I came to the conclusion that I’ll always have more work than I can keep up with, but I may not always have my friend close by, and I should value the time we have together.
As I see it, there are three primary relationships which we need to be very careful to not relegate to lower importance.
1. There is the relationship we have with ourselves. In the tumult of life, we often neglect taking care of ourselves. With so much to do, we under-sleep, over-caffeinate, and under- or overeat, depending on our personality. We stress and worry, which damages us both physically and mentally. We set aside things which will benefit us in the long term, like exercise, preparing healthy food, or taking time for relaxation. These are sacrificed for the expediency of the moment, even though this neglect causes us damage in the long run.
Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. While the focus of His statement is on loving others, without expressly saying it, He made the point that we are supposed to love ourselves as well.
When you love someone, it’s natural for you to want to care for them, to protect and nurture them. You feel a responsibility for their well-being. This is how you are meant to love and care for yourself as well. You are responsible to take care of your physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being. You need proper rest. You need time away from your work, diversion from your daily duties, some recreation. Everyone needs time to regenerate, to step back from the busyness that is life. When we do this, we are renewed. When we neglect it, we suffer for it.
2. Another is with our loved ones. These are the people who are closest to us—our spouse or significant other, our children, our parents, our close friends. These are the people who need our love, care, attention, and fellowship, just as we need theirs. They are members of our lifelong team, a team which should not be neglected or set aside, no matter how busy we may be.
3. Our primary relationship—and of course the most important, as this relationship is the foundation of all others—is with God. Since He is the one who made us, who has blessed us with life and purpose and loved ones, maintaining a strong relationship with Him is paramount. It is within this relationship that we nurture our spirituality and grow in faith and love for others, and we draw close to Him and become like Him. Both material things and accomplishments will pass, but the relationship we have with the giver of life will remain throughout eternity.
The busyness that we each encounter is a fact of our daily lives. For the most part, it’s something that we must cope with. But in order to cope, we need to protect and invest in our primary relationships so as to have proper balance, live in a loving atmosphere, and be spiritually and even physically renewed. Having healthy primary relationships is vital to a fulfilling life. Allotting time, energy, and focus to our primary relationships is a commitment and can be a sacrifice. It’s simply not an easy thing to do.
While God deserves top billing in our priorities, the time we spend communing with Him is sadly often the first thing to be jettisoned when we become overwhelmed with the myriad of other happenings which are calling for our time and attention. We are meant to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, with all that we are. If we regularly commune with Him and read and meditate on His Word, if we pray and express our love for Him, we strengthen our relationship with Him. And from within that strengthened relationship, we derive the power to build and maintain our other primary relationships.
As human beings, we are made in God’s image. He’s a triune Being, three persons in one. He’s a community of loved ones. As His image bearers, we are also meant to partake of and enjoy the community of our loved ones, our family, our friends, and fellow believers. Strengthening the connections with those you love and who love you is important.
Your family, your friends, and those you gather together with to pray and worship are all important to your overall well-being. The deadlines, pressures, responsibilities, and the overall hustle and bustle of this life, as important as these things may be, or seem to be, should not be allowed to crowd out those you love. It can be a challenge to give enough time to your loved ones, but it’s a key to living a truly happy and fulfilling life.
Taking care of yourself is also a key to finding joy in life. This isn’t a call to selfishness; it’s a call to be a good steward over the life God has blessed you with. There are times you need to protect yourself, often from yourself, as for many it’s difficult to say no to work or potential commitments that encroach on the time which should be given to our primary relationships, and particularly the time taking care of ourselves. Eating right and exercising both play a role in this. So do hobbies or interests outside of your normal responsibilities. Spending time nurturing your spiritual life is part of this as well. Maintaining healthy relationships and severing unhealthy ones, being around positive people, and cultivating friendships in which there is both giving and receiving, develop a healthy you.
Life is busy, there’s no doubt about it. While we may not be in a position to change that fact, we can more easily cope with it if we make the commitment to devote proper time and attention to our primary relationships—to God, to our loved ones, and to ourselves.
Originally published April 2013. Adapted and republished January 2017.
Read by Jon Marc.