A Life that Really Matters

There is a story in the Hebrew Bible about Nehemiah, who is tasked with rebuilding the walls
of Jerusalem, which had been torn down by invaders. Nehemiah sets off with his men and begins the work, but his enemies are plotting to distract him from his essential purpose. Among other efforts, they wrote to him no fewer than four times trying to persuade him to
stop and at least talk to them about the project. Every time he responded with the same message,.

“I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.” He was so clear about what he wanted to say yes to that he had the confidence to say no to other distractions. The result? Nehemiah and his men rebuilt the walls in just 52 days.

We are unlikely to find ourselves rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, but there are two essential lessons we can apply from this story.

“If we’re not careful, our lives often become dictated by ideas which sound convincing at some level but are really myths. We buy into them … and once we absorb them, they take over our lives and quietly rob us of the meaning we truly desire.

The first lesson is that our thinking about priorities is all wrong. The word “priority” came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular, meaning the prior or very first thing,
and the word stayed singular for the next 500 years. Then in the 1900s we pluralized the term and started speaking of “priorities.” Instead, we need to take a page from Nehemiah’s book. Ask yourself, “If I could only do one thing, what would it be?”

Second, the word “decide” comes from the Latin “cid” or “cis,” the root for words like “scissors”, “fracticide” and “homicide.” Originally the word meant “to cut” or “to kill.” So make a habit of asking yourself this question: In the last week or so, have I said no to a good opportunity to make way for a great one?

When organizing your life, there are only two options: The disciplined pursuit of the essential or the undisciplined pursuit of the nonessential. And that matters because if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.