What is essential?

Have you ever been really stressed out? At the end of your rope, snapping at those you love, not sleeping because there’s too much on your mind, grabbing quick meals on the go? Yeah, me too. Not long ago I was in one of those stress cycles. Working long hours, trying to sell my house, and several other events had me worn out. After pushing through it for several weeks, I realized something needed to give. I couldn’t completely alter my situation, but there were some things I could change.

I decided there was one very important question I needed to answer. It was a question that, if I took it seriously, could provide a filter through which to evaluate my schedule, commitments, and future projects.

So, here’s the question:

What is essential?


I’m not referring to the obviously essential things such as oxygen, water, and food. What I’m looking for here is what is essential to living a fulfilling, God-honoring life. The funny thing is it didn’t take long for me to create my list.

  • Relationship with God
  • Relationship with my husband
  • Family and friends
  • My physical health and fitness
  • My work – helping church leaders

Creating the list was easy. Filtering my to-do list through this essential list is a bit more challenging. I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with this issue. I’m sure you could create your own “essentials” list in 10 minutes or less. It’s the application of using that list as a filter each day that requires intentional effort and discipline.

Why does this even matter? Well, what happens if you don’t consider what’s essential?

  • You volunteer to help out at your kids’ school; two services a week at church, and bring snacks for each soccer practice.
  • You find yourself running from meeting to meeting with zero time in-between to actually think or get work done.
  • You hardly see or talk with our spouse until the kids are in bed…and by then you’re both exhausted.
  • You offer to work late every night this week to get the new stage at church ready for Sunday.

If any (or all) of that hits a bit too close to home, then perhaps it’s time to ask yourself, “What is essential?”. Pray for wisdom and direction. Talk with your spouse or, if you’re single, a trusted friend about this question. Get some feedback and a different perspective on what needs to go from your schedule.

When I’m focusing on my essential list, I’m more productive, peaceful, and feel accomplished. It doesn’t mean I don’t experience any stress, but it’s definitely much less.

You may face some initial resistance when you start eliminating the non-essential. That’s to be expected. Do it anyway. In ministry, it’s easy to tie every church activity to our relationship with God. “If I don’t do this, I’m letting God down.” Really?! Is this activity essential to someone’s salvation? Is there no one else even remotely qualified to handle this task? I’m not trying to diminish the importance of your work. I simply want you to consider how you decide what’s essential.

You’ll be more effective with the essential things when you remove distractions and unnecessary commitments. It’s not easy or fun to know you may disappoint someone. However, who would you rather disappoint…your spouse or the church volunteer coordinator (yes, I went there!)?

I realize this isn’t easy. I mess this up often enough myself. However, I still think it’s worth the effort. I’ll keep seeking to improve in this area, so feel free to ask me how it’s going. I’ll be transparent with you and will likely return the question.

Here’s my challenge for you: Document your essentials list and then review your to-do list. Do the items on your to-do list support or detract from those on your essentials list? Start eliminating the detracting items as soon as possible.

What’s on your essentials list?