Queen's lace

The Tyranny of the Urgent

In taking time to read the news this week, I saw this headline that made me stop and take notice: “Beware of plant that can cause blindness.”

Well, as a gardener, I had to click on the link and read that article! According to health officials in Michigan, a plant called “Giant Hogweed” (what a name!) recently discovered in that state can cause painful bruises, burns and blindness. Growing up to 18 feet tall, Giant Hogweed (top, at right) is photo-reactive, meaning that in sunlight it begins to burn. “When the plant touches human skin, it can cause small fluid-filled vesicles” that can develop into permanent purplish-black scars and blindness if it comes into contact with the eyes. Blindness from a plant? Yikes! You would think it would be easily recognized so it can be avoided. Not so.

Giant Hogweed is usually found mixed with other plants and grows in the same areas where harmless Queen Anne’s Lace grows (bottom, at right), each boasting white flowers on its crown. You’d have to know the difference and pay attention to avoid devastating results.

That article reminded me of something I read 40 years ago and again yesterday. A little pamphlet called “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” Lots of things crop up in our lives demanding our time and attention. Some shout pretty loudly, “Do this now, or else!” Drawing our attention like the 18-foot tall Giant Hogwood over the 6-7 foot tall Queen Anne’s Lace.

On the last day of the “Breathe” study I’ve been attending this summer at a local church, author and speaker Priscilla Shirer read a section from “The Tyranny of the Urgent” (attached file) in her video:

“Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important…We live in a constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that many important tasks need not be done today, or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit to an elderly friend, reading an important book: these activities can usually wait a while longer. But often urgent, though less important, tasks call for immediate response—endless demands pressure every waking hour. A person’s home is no longer a castle, a private place away from urgent tasks. The telephone [cell phone/text message/email inbox] breaches its walls with incessant demands. The appeal of these demands seems irresistible, and they devour our energy. But in the light of eternity, their momentary prominence fades. With a sense of loss we recall the important tasks that have been shunted aside. We realize that we’ve become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.”

When we don’t stop to evaluate how we are spending our time (and all of us only have 24 hours per day, no more!), we can become blinded by the poisonous effects of overscheduling and saying “yes” to some of the demanding things that end up leaving us feeling burned and blistered. If we say “no” to those, we can say “yes” to the important things that have lasting influence, including taking time to just rest. Or visit that neighbor. Or, saying no to that pleading voice on the phone assuring you of “the importance of this impending task and how well-qualified you are to take it on.” It’s not likely they will cancel their plans just because you can’t take on the task.

As our small group discussed the quote above, we concluded that we must ask the Lord to help us determine what is truly important in our lives. Time with God, making friends, caring for family, necessary work tasks, and ministries. Whatever it is. That’s discernment. Then, seek the Lord’s guidance to make pre-decisions—decisions made in advance—that will help us to be free from the tyranny of the urgent.

  • Some things will be left unfinished.Several moms of young children confessed how hard it is to let housework go while their children napped so they (moms) could rest and get refreshed before the supper-time battle ahead.
  • Some events we just won’t attend; some tasks we just won’t take on.We women need to give each other freedom in this area and not take it personally when others do not attend or help to prepare “our” events.
  • Other events we will attend/tasks we will take onbecause now we have time to do so, and we’ve decided that they really matter in the long run. Remember those pre-decisions?
  • Some friendships will be made becausewe stop talking about having our neighbors over and actually plan a date and time to be with them. That’s acting on discernment.

Because of the freedom Christ gives us through His Spirit and His Word, we don’t have to give in to the tyranny of the urgent on a regular basis. The Lord Jesus showed us how we can do that. It’s recorded in the gospels. Check out Luke 4:40-44 for just one example.

The night before He died, Jesus told His father, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave me to do” (John 17:4). Completed? Diseased and maimed people still existed throughout the land. Not everyone in Samaria and Judea had heard His message. Yet, He did what He was supposed to do not what everyone wanted Him to do.

Priscilla Shirer writes in Breathe (page 88), “Intentional blindness is the trick our own brains play on us—keeping us preoccupied with one thing while rendering us unaware and oblivious to another.” That’s dangerous. Like the Giant Hogweed towering so high with attractive white blossoms, swaying in the breeze on a sunny day, one doesn’t find out the harm until it’s too late, leaving a wake of regret that the Queen Anne’s Lace had not been picked instead.

Oh, and by the way, Giant Hogweed grows in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. I’m all for keeping it out of Texas and my backyard!

Read or listen to “Resist the “Tyranny of the Urgent” Infection.”

More Resources:

Healthy Living Bible Study (read online)

Healthy Living Bible Study (download pdf)

Melanie Newton is the founder of Joyful Walk Ministries, an online ministry that helps women learn to study the Bible for themselves and grow their Bible-teaching skills to lead others on a joyful walk with Jesus. Melanie has written many Bible study guides (available on Bible.org and her website) and presented insightful messages to large groups of women. All of her BIble Studies are available as books on Amazon.com. Melanie is wife to Ron Newton (“Integrity at Work” ministry), loves to be outside in her garden, and enjoys her yearly fix of boiled crawfish.

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