Image by Sam Felder / Flickr.com

Last year I was invited to a ‘cooking show’ party.  You know the type of parties.  Somebody hosts, and guests come and purchase anything from candles to plastic containers to necklaces to lipstick.

This particular party fell on a very inopportune night.  My husband was due to leave for Scout camp early the next morning, yet he just walked in the door from work and went to bed with the symptoms of strep throat.  My girlfriend had just left with her daughters after spending the day working on projects together while eight kids played.  My kitchen floor was in desperate need of being swept of material scraps, loose threads and snack crumbs.  The slip-n-slide and wet towels lay limply waiting to be put away, and dinner dishes scattered the counter.  My children, over-stimulated from a day in the sun, desperately needed some settling down.  My two-month old baby needed feeding.  Even my phone kept ringing from an over eager friend trying to let me know Michael Jackson had died!

My patience was wearing thin.  But I had an obligation.  I had to go to the ‘cooking show.’  I didn’t want to go. I didn’t have the time or energy, and I really didn’t have the money in my budget to go either.  But, “I was invited, so I need to go support this lady,” rang in my ears.

I went.  It was just me, the hostess, and the cooking show presenter.  A flood of guilty thoughts came to my mind.  “Oh no, what if I hadn’t come? No one would be here.”  “Now I have to buy something for sure. I’m the only guest here!”  “I can’t believe I questioned coming, this poor friend would have nobody here.”  And with that, the party began.  I listened… I watched… I taste-tested.

The guilty feelings continued.  I knew that chaos was probably swirling all around my home, yet how could I leave this “one dish, black-bean chicken” demonstration without appearing rude? After all, I was the only guest!  And so I continued.  I listened… I watched… I taste-tested… and I purchased.

Two hours later and twenty dollars poorer, I entered my chaotic home with some new found wisdom.  My kitchen and family room looked like a bomb had gone off.  My children all began to talk at once about who did what to whom. My tired and sickly husband attempted to comfort a cranky two-month old baby.

With one quick announcement I said, “I just spent twenty dollars on a spatula.” My polite and ever-supportive husband simply responded, “Dumb.”  “But,” I continued, “The money was well worth it, because I am committing now to never again go to a party like that out of obligation.”

As I laid in bed that night, I did some self evaluation.  I thought about my earlier declaration to never go to a party like that out of obligation ever again, and I pondered why I ever made the choice to go to the party in the first place.  My home, my children, my husband and my baby desperately needed me, yet I went to the party because I couldn’t let down a lady in my neighborhood?   Something was amiss.  My priorities were not aligned.

That night, I reconsidered my criteria for time spent away from home.  Now things are different.  Every invitation, request, or obligation that invites me to leave my home is now carefully considered.  Now I ask myself, “How will me being away from home benefit my family?”

That night, I didn’t go to the party to come back a better person.  I didn’t go to serve.  I didn’t go to set an example for my children.  I didn’t go to spend time with a family member.  I didn’t go to lift and inspire someone else.  I didn’t even go to relax, have a good time, and come home rejuvenated.  I went because I felt obligated to someone else.  Nothing more.

I use that fateful spatula frequently – it even happens to be my favorite in the utensil drawer.  I’ve used it to cook some wonderful meals, desserts and treats that my family has enjoyed.  I may even have used it to make a meal to give away to a sick or needy neighbor.

But the spatula came at a price.

A price, I can now say, I was happy to pay.  Twenty dollars may seem expensive for a spatula, but the lesson learned was priceless.

QUESTION: How do you decide which outside invitations are worth your precious time and energy?

CHALLENGE: Instead of feeling guilty for saying “no” to an invitation that is not a priority, give yourself a pat on the back for being strong enough to put first things first.

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