Preference vs. Priority

Tory Johnson, a correspondent for Good Morning America and owner of Women for Hire and Spark and Hustle–two organizations that support women in business, recently wrote a book about her 62-pound weight loss. In The Shift, she shares how changing her mind helped her change her body. One of her pieces of “shift wisdom” is Preference versus Priority, as in she prefers to eat large bowls of buttery pasta, but her priority is longterm and permanent weight loss, so she forgoes her preference in order to meet her priority.

Last Saturday, about 15 church members gathered on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to embark on Sunday School training so that we can begin a program for all ages after the first of the year. I’m sure it was no one’s preference to be there. In fact, I know that several of them would have strongly preferred to be anywhere else but learning how to share Bible stories and manage children. But they all had a similar priority–to be a part of a church that keeps the promises we make at baptism to educate and nurture children in the Christian faith.

Preference versus priority has offered me the verbage to express something I have struggled with for some time now. Many of our church members know that not wanting to do something is not an excuse I accept for not doing something. I don’t actually want to do a lot of the things that I do. But that sounds bad. It makes it sound like I spend my life (and am encouraging others to spend theirs) in endeavors I don’t enjoy or want to be a part of, and that’s not true. What is closer to the truth is that a life in ministry is one that often involves putting off preferences in order to meet priorities. And in the end, meeting those priorities is far more satisfying than indulging in preferences that would throw those priorities off track.

A life of priorities over preferences is very different than a live lived in martyrdom. Martyrs use self-sacrifice as a weapon to manipulate, and they often become overwhelmed and feel helpless. Prioritizers are not martyrs. When choosing priority over preference, one chooses to forgo immediate gratification for a greater purpose–and one that will ultimately be more gratifying than what was given up along the way.

(I hope this correlation between ministry and a weight loss method doesn’t mean that ministry (or life!?) is like a diet, because I am really horrible at diets.)

So what are your priorities–in ministry, in your career, in your relationships? Are you making choices that support your priorities? Or are you living a life of doing what you prefer at the time and wondering why things aren’t turning out the way you want them to?

As Christians, our priority is to follow the path of Jesus Christ, and we know when we do, the big picture of life is brighter and richer and more colorful. But so often our preference is to ignore that irritating person who always wants to talk about his/her problems, to continue to hold a grudge and bear ill will toward the person who hurt us, to turn off the news so we don’t have to hear about how people across the world and down the street are hurting or to spew angry words at someone else because we’ve had a bad day. Mercifully, we follow the One who is always ready to give us another chance to get our preferences and priorities in check.

May we at First Pres be a community of people who live out the priorities we claim and revel in those times when preferences and priorities collide.

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