What Matters Most

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Matthew 13:45-46

Some of the most helpful life rules are counter-intuitive, in that they invite us to go in the opposite direction from where we assume we’re supposed to go, or must go given the circumstances we’re facing and the demands before us.

One my favorite examples of this comes from the author and journalist Sara Miles. In her 20s, Miles worked as an assistant to a short order cook in one of the busiest restaurants in New York City. Things in the kitchen could get really intense, with as many as a hundred orders coming through in a matter of minutes. The cook, a seemingly ageless man who had worked in kitchens all his life, had a series of rules for the kitchen’s staff. And one of them was: when things get busy, slow down.  

“You gotta go slow to move fast,” he’d say when Sara and the others were inclined to panic under the pressure and respond with speed. Why is slowing down a good idea when things get busy? Because when you start running in a crowded kitchen with a lot on your mind, you’re far more likely to drop a plate of dishes, spill a vat of boiling oil, slip on wet floor.

Where else is such a life rule helpful? I was on my way to a meeting in Southern Maryland, running, as usual, about 15 minutes late. And what was I tempted to do?  Drive faster–way beyond the speed limit. I had to say to myself, “Better to arrive late, Mariann, than not arrive at all.” When it’s busy, slow down. When you’re running late, stick to the speed limit.

Here’s another counter-intuitive life rule, made famous by then-First Lady Michelle Obama, as she described how her family coped with personal attacks made by political adversaries: When they go low, we go high.  

There are many of versions of this one, all calling us to take the proverbial higher ground, “I shall never allow myself to stoop of low as to hate any person,” said Booker T. Washington. Why not? For his own soul’s sake. Moreover, as a way of combatting the evil in the world, hatred on our part often serves to give evil more energy to work with: “Hate cannot drive out hate,” Martin Luther King, Jr. would say. “Only love can do that.” We hear such counter-intuitive teachings throughout the New Testament:  “Render to no one evil for evil.” “When someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek as well.”  

Here’s one more re-directing life rule: When you’re feeling pulled in a thousand different directions at once, tend to the one or two things that nourish your soul. Said another way, when the demands of your life and the pressures of this world  have the effect of scattering your thoughts and energies, leaving you perennially exhausted, go deeper with those few things that matter most.

What matters most to you?

I’d like to make a case for the priceless value of your local church. I believe, as Bill Hybels once said, that the local church–your local church–is the hope of the world. I expand on the reasons why the church is of priceless values here, but for now, I give what is probably the most important reason of all: We are Christ’s body in the world.   

Quoting St. Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body here but ours
No hand and feet here, on earth, but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which he look on this world with kindness.
Ours are the hands through which he works, ours the feet on which he moves.
Ours are the voices through which he speak to this world with kindness.

What could be more important?

So remember: when things get busy, slow down. When others go low, go high. When you feel yourself scattered and spread thin, focus on those things that matter most. And never forget that we are Christ’s body in the world.

Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here.
So let us go now, filled with the Spirit, into his world with kindness.

 

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