Nov 122017 2 Responses

Calendar By Design, Not Default

Every September, we spend a good amount of time on our church’s budget. It starts before that as our Administrators meet with staff to get an idea of where they would like to spend money in the coming year. As they get an idea of where we’ve been and where we would like to go, more staff, leaders, and volunteers are pulled into the process. It takes a tremendous amount of time and when it’s all said and done, the only thing we have is a plan. It’s not binding. Things can change. But it is a plan.

We go through this process each year primarily for two reasons: opportunities are vast and resources are limited. In a church, there is never a lack of opportunities to do good. The needs are great and many people have good ideas of how to help others. Also in a church, resources are always limited. Money is tight. We operate on very fine margins. And even if money wasn’t tight, the people only have so much time they can give.

Because of these two facts, we have to spend a great deal of effort determining what is most important to us and planning on how we can leverage our resources toward those endeavors. It’s true of money, but it’s also true of time. Even if we put money toward the right causes, if we don’t have the time and other resources to carry out those ministries, the money will do no good.

Most families understand the importance of budgeting their money. Far too few do it, but they know they should. When we fail to make a plan for our money, we end up spending it carelessly and can end up failing to fund the things which are truly important.

What most families fail to understand is the importance of budgeting their time. Rather than intentionally choosing the most productive way to organize a week, they end up spending their time in a haphazard way.

Calendar by Default

Picture a large calendar hanging on a wall. Seven rectangles are present with each divided into 24 hour periods. It’s empty. Whether you plan it or not, you will experience every second represented by those boxes. None will be skipped.

The default way we calendar our time is by giving nearly all of it away. We hold the pen in our hand, but instead of using it to decide how our time will be spent, we hand the pen to others. We hand the pen to our employer and she fills in large amounts of the boxes–Monday through Friday 8-5. Next, the local school board takes the pen and makes marks which show our kids will be in school during those same days from 8-3. Then the pen gets handed to leaders of extra-curricular activities. We hand the pen to a coach and he schedules games and practices. Maybe there is time for music so a piano teacher writes in lessons. We have hobbies so we schedule a tennis match or golf game or hunting trip. The Athletic Director of our favorite University gets the pen to fill in football, basketball, and baseball games. Some of us hand the pen to artists and directors for our favorite TV shows or binge-worthy drama. For some, extended family gets a turn with the pen as we are expected to be at certain holiday events or weekly family meals.

After everyone else has a say, most calendars are full.

But do those calendars represent our priorities?

The Time Problem

A budget is only effective if: 1) it is followed and 2) it truly represents what we value. Even if we follow a budget, if it fails to put the money toward what is important, it’s a failure. So too with time. If we aren’t spending time in a way that values the important things in life, what’s the point?

Yet here is what I notice about most calendars:

1. Spiritual things have no priority. Ask a mom or dad and they will say they want their kids to know God. They will claim that having a vibrant spiritual life is important. Yet when you look at the calendar, there is no time intentionally set aside for God or spiritual things. The couple plans to attend a service, but only if nothing else comes up. It’s penciled in on the calendar but only as an afterthought. In no way is the family’s calendar influenced by a commitment to God. (See: 6+1, The First Math Problem We Should Teach)

2. Family has no intentional space. They hope to spend time together, but it isn’t planned. Husbands and wives might get some alone time if things work out. Parents and children will interact with each other in the margins as they run from one event to the next. But there is not a single rectangle on the calendar labeled as marriage, parenting, or family. The ones they love the most have the least influence over how they spend their time.

3. Margin is never considered. We are human. Our resources are limited. While we all have the same number of minutes in a week, our ability to perform at a high level is far less than those minutes. We all need downtime and rest. We can always expect unforeseen circumstances or demands requiring time from us. If we don’t assume (and plan for) additional time constraints, we are certain to overschedule ourselves.

Calendar by Design

The three previous problems can only be overcome when we move from a calendar by default to a calendar by design. We can’t help but hand the pen of our calendars to other people, but before we do so, we should reserve some spaces for the things that are most important to our lives.

Consider what the Bible says about this topic. Take the same large calendar hanging on the wall. As it hangs there blank, a large X should be placed on Sunday. It’s set aside for important things. Corporate worship, rest, and family get that day. Nothing is allowed to infringe on it. Then, by the example of Jesus, each day of the remaining day has at least one rectangle with an X so that we can set aside time to relate to God and center ourselves.

I would then add some small Xs where we plan to spend time with our spouses, children, and others who are important to us. (See: 40 Minutes That Will Rejuvenate Your Marriage)

After the important matters are scheduled, then we can begin to hand our calendar pen to others so that they can reserve their time.

Of course, to many this sounds impossible. We live in a busy time with many expectations. How can we reserve a whole day for being over doing? We barely have time to eat, how can we take time for our spouses or children? What will we (or our children) miss out on if we do our calendar this way?

These are fair questions, but there are some other questions that haunt me:

If Jenny doesn’t have intentional spaces on my calendar, how will my kids know I value her?

If our commitment to God doesn’t influence how we spend our time on a weekly basis, how will they know that a relationship with God is important?

If everyone else can reserve time with me, but my kids can’t, how will they know I love them?

Most of us calendar by default rather than by design not because we are bad people or bad parents. We do so because it’s just easier than taking the time to prioritize what is important to figure out how to accomplish what we desire. It’s easier to do what everyone else is doing rather than to find a different way.

Yet do we really want the outcomes everyone else is getting? It’s okay to model our lives after others, but let’s make sure we are picking the models we truly want.

If I want a healthy marriage, a vibrant spiritual life, and a family that spends meaningful time together, I must reject some of the things which this culture values. And the rejection must first be displayed in how I calendar my week.

Quick questions:

What day and time this week belongs exclusively to your spouse?

Are you certain your kids will get adequate time with you this week outside of doing homework or running from one activity to another?

If you are a follower of God, what are the times scheduled into this week where you will grow spiritually?

2 Responses to Calendar By Design, Not Default
  1. Angela Monaghan Reply

    Wonderful article. I find myself up early these days, unable to sleep through the night. I know this is normal for when a spouse dies but it’s still hard. What keeps me up is a combination of the loss and the anger of it all. Again, normal. But this article is very fitting and I hope people take it to heart. For the past couple of years I feel I was little more than a hostess to my husband’s many family and friends who all wanted to spend time with him before he died. People came out of the woodwork, pals from his elementary school days, and anyone else took priority over my time with him. He viewed it as ‘they’ wanted to see him and I could always see him. I often explained to him that everyone has layers of relationships around them and it was most important to pay attention to the layer closest to us. When we pay attention to outermost layers, the relationships in the inner layers suffer. (Similar concept to your asking the question of ‘Who’s holding the pencil that’s writing on the calendar?’ I so much wish Dave had held the pencil. Maybe I would have had more time with him and now I would not feel so much anger and I wouldn’t question if he actually loved me, if our decade and half marriage meant more to me than it did to him. Thank you for sharing your insights. They’re very true. God speaks through you.

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