It wasn’t unusual for my sister and I to find ourselves driving together, en route somewhere. We often went places together, having only two years between us and many of the same friends. One particular Saturday, years ago, we found ourselves headed to a friend’s graduation party a few towns over. The car windows were down and the humid summer warmth brought a certain calmness. Kristen’s legs were up on the dashboard. It was the kind of day that was so nice, you hardly felt like talking. We were intrigued by our surroundings, catching glimpses of the shops in Hackettstown, and watching passer-bys on the sidewalks. Kristen seemed a little tired that day. She rubbed her hand over her stubbled legs, took a quick glance in the mirror at her eyebrows in disarray, and looked out the window again.
“Sometimes I think maybe I should try to be more girly,” she said, still glancing out the window, “then, I think… maybe instead, I should be more concerned with my character, and whether I’m a person that’s patient and kind.”
I remember looking over at her, appalled, surprised, and proud, as she continued her gaze out the window. Her words caught me so off guard, and had me thinking so intensely, I believe I only mustered a, “yeah, I think you’re right.” And, we continued down the road.
That moment was a formidable moment for my sister and for me, as well, witnessing her utter candidness. I’ve told her the story several times. “I said that?” she asks me. “Yes, Kristen, you said that.”
The reason I believe I remember this day, and the reason I’m sitting here writing about it, is because it says something about what is important; it speaks about what should have value and significance and priority in our lives. I think that’s the question we ask a lot or, at least, need to be asking. How should I spend my time and energy?
C.S. Lewis put it as clearly as I think I’ll ever understand it in his Principle of First and Second things. He explains that things have different values—some greater than others. And, whenever we reverse the hierarchy, treating a second thing as a first thing, we not only lose the first thing, but the second thing, as well. “Values are related to each other like a chain of rings,” explains Peter Kreeft, “…the attempt to put second things first can never work.”
“If you look for truth,” said Lewis, “you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”
Jesus said something similar, in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” To reverse it can never work. There is an established order, and value, just as 1 is greater than 0. If we make the second things our pursuit, we won’t find those things; and, what’s worse, we won’t find His kingdom or His righteousness. God needs to be our first thing, not money or relationships or a safe neighborhood to live in. God. All else comes from Him.
In the case of my sister, she understood character had greater value than appearance, and as such, needed more attention. It’s a conclusion that’s easy to state once or twice—another thing to live. Yet, the reality of our lives is that we’re constantly making decisions regarding value, whether we realize it or not. Which, is why it’s better to realize it, lest we put a second thing first. We need to make a habit of asking, and adjusting… How do I spend my time? How do I spend my money? What do I think about? What do I care about? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”