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Have you prioritized your loves lately?

Regarding the Journey

Recently, I was introduced to some of the writings of St. Augustine, a North African early Christian theologian and philosopher. As I became more aware of this man’s writings and teachings I learned he greatly influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy.

Here is a sample of his writing, translated from Latin, “But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.” (“On Christian Doctrine,” I.27-28)

Got that? It certainly took me a bit. At first it seemed to apply to someone other than me. But as I pondered it I realized that this one statement may just become an incredibly logical and useful tool. It has the power to help us shape and live our best life. In a nutshell, Augustine is telling us we mess up when we have our loves out of order (the simplistic Lesslee translation). For someone who enjoys order, that line of thinking is worth exploring. Yet, how does one list or prioritize the things we love? Moreover, why should we? Can’t we just love? Turns out, no.

Order calms chaos. Everything in its place can be predictable and soothing. Knowing what comes first is helpful when navigating many situations. Back in the day, schools and families often practiced fire drills so everyone would know the order of tasks to be completed for the greatest chance of survival. One might say, ensuring order saves lives.

Using the same line of thinking applied to moral and ethical decisions could help when we are pulled in directions that lead us to do something we know we shouldn’t. Here is how author David Brooks explained it during an interview in 2015, “We all love a lot of things. We love family, we love money, we love a little affection, status, truth. And we all know that some loves are higher … For example, if your friend tells you a secret and you blab it at a dinner party, you’re putting your love of popularity over your love of friendship.” He continues by suggesting it is useful to spend time periodically reminding ourselves of what we love and in which order we love them.

This exercise of consciously listing our loves allows us to see if we are spending the right amount of time on that which is most important to us, rather than focusing on the lesser loves. It provides an understanding of self. Once we understand, we can decide to reinforce or adjust the foundation of who we are to best match who we want to be.

Brilliant! Now, let’s apply this line of thinking to how we live life. In reality we prioritize every day, every moment. Each time we make a choice we are saying “this is more important than that.” The examples are endless. It can be as basic as what time you choose to get up in the morning. Did you set an alarm for today? Did you arise when it went off, or did you hit the snooze button? Even in a foggy, sleepy split-second, our brains turn our priorities into action. And that moment can define the rest of our day, if we let it. The powerful part is remembering we have the ability to choose what’s next.

The more complex choices come into focus when we are forced to choose between doing something that is important to us or helping someone we love. Who do we put first? Or what about choosing money over integrity, honor? The complexities of keeping our loves in order become tangled at the top of the list. Yet, one would think the top priorities would be the “easy” ones.

None of us is infallible. We all make errors. I can say with certainty we will make choices that oppose our prioritized list of loves. Not all decisions are straightforward.

Are you spending time on your highest loves?

Lesslee Dort is a board-certified patient advocate who firmly believes knowledge is power when it comes to being in control of one’s health. She spends her days helping others navigate their healthcare and her free time exploring. Reach Lesslee via email lesslee@friendstogethermi.org. Read her here the third Thursday of each month.

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