BlogathonsSpiritual Formation

There Can Be Little Doubt…

“There can be little doubt that the contemporary absence of margin is linked to the march of progress”

–Richard Swenson, Margin


Learning from Monet…

Progress, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. I think to some degree we would all like to consider ourselves ‘progressive’.  But as Swenson points out, we must bear in mind how our progressive tendencies affect our sense of balance and margin.  What I am observing in my own life, and in the lives of students, is that too often we set our priorities from our progressive perspective.  The collegiate season is contextualized for this type of experience.  College is meant to (hopefully) prepare students for a career in a specified field.  Priorities, therefore, are set according. We do so that we can get so that we can do….

When I was a college student, a wise friend threw a wrench in this way of thinking for me.  He asked me: ‘What priorities do you have that transcend this weeks, months, or even the next years activities?’ At the time my answer was …well-none. I became keenly aware that my ‘priorities’ had become nothing more than a series of checklists which formed an extremely intricate paint by number that was my life.  My friend challenged me with the notion that the most balanced priorities are those that come from more of a ‘Monet’ perspective — a perspective that forces us to back up and take everything into account.  This is challenging perhaps because these types of priorities are not tied to doing, but to being.

Make a personal covenant

Recognizing that he had thrown me into the deep end without my water wings, my friend made a simple suggestion to me. Make a list of no more than ten things that I wanted to make priority in my life. These things, however, could not be associated with a specific event nor should they possess the ability to be checked off. Nothing like graduating, or getting married or even the proverbial spend more time with God. My original list had three. Over the years it has grown to nine. Interestingly enough my list of priorities in my personal covenant is as applicable to me today as it was 17(ish) years ago. It includes priorities like: to honestly and purely celebrate the accomplishments of others and to take note daily of how I see God working in the world around me.  It is not a five or ten-year plan…It is the margin by which I live my life.

What kind of brush?

Even now my friend’s voice rings in my ear as I am sitting with students. As I am (and you are) listening to their stories and journeying with them, what kind of brush do we hand them? Is it a small, fine paint by number kind of brush that helps them determine their job or their graduate school choice? Or is it a wider brush that helps them set life priorities that they will still be pondering when they are 60 years old?

So I ask you…

  • What are the Monet type priorities that you have committed to in your own life and in ministry?
  • What are the practical ways that you are encouraging students to back up and take everything into account? What does this process look like in your context?
  • Are there specific resources (books, magazines, videos, group experiences etc.) that you have found effective in this process?

I invite you to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Christy Ridings is the Associate University Minister and Director of Spiritual Formation at Belmont University.