Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Stanley Files - On Priority

and we know, new jack city gotta keep my brother
but to be number one, i'ma beat my brother
-Kanye, Big Brother

I've redacted my last post "On Pain" and the one on "Diligence" and have decided to work them into a 5-part series of posts inspired largely by the thoughts of my dear friend and mentor. ]

when it feels like livin's harder than dyin
for me givin up is way harder than tryin
-Kanye, Champion

A few weeks ago I wrote an entry in which I quoted Stan; "The euangelion for me is that anyone can be better with nothing more than diligence". I have since added to my understanding.

I was in Sydney city today meeting up with a couple of Gracepoint guys. As I walked down the street, I could have scanned over the street signs and ignored the cars driving on the wrong side and imagine myself back at home walking down Wall Street. "Power suit, power tie, power steering." The well-dressed men and women that passed me all exuded determination and confidence. They were winners. They were motivated. They were achieving life.

Across a busy street I picked out one suited gentleman. He was young and asian; skinny build and probably a little taller than me, with short, gelled-up hair. As I stood outside a busy food court waiting for my friend, I pictured that man walking into Boon church at 12.30 for English service. I envisioned him joining the Boon softball team or playing pick-up soccer after church. I imagined him coming home from college a few years ago to talk to Scott about working in VBS, or telling Don he couldn't serve this year but he definitely will after he gets into med school or after this long stretch of applying for jobs. I imagine him meeting up with the older career people at Saigon after Sunday service.

Then I realized that he was essentially indistinguishable from anyone I've ever met at Boon. Not because of his age or race (those features only aided my revelation); he was indistinguishable from anyone I've ever met in my entire life.

I looked around at all the people rushing past me. Anyone could be a church leader. Anyone could have given up church after college. Anyone could have been a concert pianist. Anyone could have entered the MLB draft. What makes us something and not something else? It's not just diligence; it's not just how hard we try. It's what we choose. Every choice we make is a thousand choices we didn't make.

Every win is a thousand losses in another competition. To become the best tight end in football history, Antonio Gates said no to being a really good power forward. To be the most well-known basketball player in the world, Michael Jordan said no to being the most mediocre #23 in baseball. Paul was never married, but Peter only wrote three Epistles. Don Carson will write more Christian books this year than the entire Boon church English congregation will read, but he won't win a VCF softball championship.

Every yes is a thousand nos. You make partner, but you lose your family and ability to lie (name that classic movie). You become a tri-athlete, but you only read three books of the Bible this year. You listen and understand rap music and memorize Kanye's entire Graduation album, but you forget which opus all your favorite Beethoven works are.

Lately I've been working harder than I have ever worked before, making sure not a moment is wasted, not a second goes un-redeemed, not a single activity I do impedes or stagnates my growth. I want to be growing every second, in every manner. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I am applying myself to the fullest extent and and racing towards the heights of my potential as a human being, limited only by physical decay and death. And along with this newfound determination, I have experienced grief and anxiety unlike anything I've ever felt before. Every time I spend half an hour reading the NYTimes, I ask myself why the hell I wasn't reading a Christian book. When I finish a chapter of a book Eugene calls "a quick read", I glance at the clock and can't believe the morning's gone by and I haven't even typed up my thoughts yet. I go for a run and cook dinner and my evening's gone. I write this blog and go to bed right afterwards and fall behind on the book I'm reading with Kat.

For the first time in my life, I truly understand what priority means. Priority is the deliberation of the thousand and one ways you can spend your next hour, your next day, your next ten years, and picking one. I contend that many people living full lives consisting of twenty four hours in each day have never had to deal with the issue of priority. You can't understand priority until you have driven that gas pedal into the floor. You can't understand priority unless you have pushed determination to its limits. How many have done this?

A week ago, I would have answered that question by saying, "Not anyone who has seen every episode of The Office, or won a beer pong tournament, or spent their summer waiting for VBS to end so that they can have nerf wars." But my realization is this: Yes they have. They have all done this. They have all chosen their priorities and applied all their determination and God-given cunning to achieve their goals. There is no lack in determination for the man who can shotgun ten Coors lights, and no little sacrifice; you only get one liver. There is no lack of determination in someone who's watched every season of Scrubs at least four times through and scored 30,010 points on Scrubs trivia on facebook. There is no lack of determination. There is only choice. There is only one yes and the thousand nos left behind.

What if we don't remember choosing? How do we know where are priorities are? A few days ago, I discovered formspring and so anonymously sent my friends this question, "If it's true that the way that your time is spent determines what's most important in your heart, then what do you love?" Last Fall, I asked my worship music class to fill in this blank, "You can tell a person's values by looking at ________" and some of the responses I got were, "What he talks about, where he spends his money, what he sacrifices for" You've already chosen. Everyone's already chosen their priorities.

Most of my readers are where we are by the decisions we make or by the way we allow decisions to be made for us. So where are you, Christian? Who are you? Where are you going and who are you going to be in a decade, at retirement age, when you're one breath away from ending your life journey? Do you realize that will be where you are when you stand before God to give account?

We don't waste time. We always spend time on what's important in our lives. No one has a minute more or less than anyone else and the way that you spend it will make you who you are. You can get into that better medical school. What will it cost you? You can get into that better conservatory, what will you say no to? You can read every reformed preacher's blog and every reformed book to have ever rested on a shelf. What will you say no to? You can be the best Settlers of Catan player East of the East river. What will it cost you?

I am still getting used to this. I don't like knowing that there are certain things that I won't be able to do. Read all the Christian books I set out to read, memorize all the Bible verses I want to memorize, not die: I can only pick two out of the three. Meet with every guy in my community group twice a month, talk to Kat on the phone five times a week, not die: I can only pick two out of the three. After I started keeping a regular prayer journal, I was astounded to discover how few people you can actually lift up in earnest prayer each day.

I believe that I can improve on the efficiency of the way I achieve life. I will roll out of bed tomorrow morning, body aching everywhere and then running 1.5 miles before rocking up at church with nothing but a banana and a doubleshot of espresso in my stomach, hating the bitter taste of determination. But a year from now I will hate it less.

At the end of it, your life will be a bar graph. Diligence will determine how high those bars go. Priority will determine how you label each bar.

As I proof-read all that I wrote above, I think the most tragic thing is that those whom I wrote
about and inspired my thoughts won't even know it. Maybe even more tragic than that is in preaching to the choir, I am contributing to someone's pious guilt.


  1. I'm proud of you for choosing to go to Australia. Your day to day decisions and determinations easily cloud the big things you choose and, as far as i can tell, you've come up big in the big spots (you're the A-rod of the 2009 postseason).

    i love you and miss you. Today i received a commentary on Mark that i ordered last week and i remembered the hours we spent in Jenks studying for Dr. Phillips' final.

    Also, i thought the blog you wrote on Dan Brown was spot-on. Don't go getting a big ego on me now...but be encouraged. I wish i was half the brain you are.

    Praying for you (for real),

  2. You know I was thinking about this during court today as I watched the defendant's crumble on the stand: "Live life in the open. Hide nothing because nothing can be hidden. We must all give an account of our actions; some of it to man, all of it to God."

    Hmmm, though I do have a corollary thought that I'll post on my blog at some point or another.

  3. Oh! I'm allowed to comment!

    I like reading your thoughts. It makes me feel better. :)

    Pious Guilt?
    Lol. Well I think there is a difference between guilt and shame!

    I'm always guilty because I am a sin, but free of guilt because of Christ! It's like a catch 22, but not...

    Anyways, as CS Lewis explains in the Great Divorce... or novel... or story; whatever, earth, not even hell can contain all the joys Heaven has offered me. :)

    ANYWAYS! Yeah, that was not related at all...
    So many different strings of thought to draw from what you wrote.
    Laziness, lukewarmness, procrastination.
    But slot seems to be the theme...
    or is it choice...
    or is it free will
    or is it predestination?

    Oh, I they could all be one and the same!
    They probably all very intertwinely connected.
    Why is this called the Stanley Files again?

    I guess he influenced your thought.

    All right. <3 you Dan.

  4. Dude, Mushroom. read the first two lines and click the last link on pious guilt.