The term “planned neglect” is one I first encountered around the time that Hurricane Katrina swept over the Gulf Coast. It came to the fore for a time in the media when locals, dismayed at the way the disaster was handled, charged various levels of government with planned neglect, insisting that the city had not been merely killed but had been murdered. Neglect, planned by the government, had led to the death of the city. But there is more to planned neglect than mere politics. I think “planned neglect” (or the similar “deliberate neglect”) is a principle that Christians would do well to consider. It is a discipline that can benefit anyone.
The principle is illustrated in a story I’ve often been told of a famous concert violinist who played in New York’s Carnegie Hall. When asked how she had become so skillful, she replied that it was through planned neglect. “I decide every day that I will neglect things and even people, that would take me away from the priority of practicing.” She was focused on a particular end and was willing to neglect whatever did not lead to that end.
Jesus sometimes displayed small cases of planned neglect in his ministry. When told that his friend Lazarus was dying, Jesus did not immediately rush to his side, but tarried where he was for several days. When he finally did arrive, Lazarus was already dead and buried. Mary and Martha both cried to Jesus “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yet Jesus had planned this neglect. Jesus wept by the tomb of his friend. For three days He had deliberately neglected his own feelings; surely He desired to rush to Bethany to protect his friend and his friend’s sisters from the pain of illness, death and separation. Still, this was not His Father’s will. Jesus knew that “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” And so the Son would be glorified, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, calling him out of the tomb. His planned neglect furthered the Father’s plan by bringing glory to Him.
What is true of this concert violinist and of Jesus is true of many of history’s greatest Christians. Biographies of great Christian men and women are filled with examples of what they have deliberately neglected in order to pursue their callings from God. Missionaries have neglected the comforts and safeties of their homelands in order to take the gospel to the far corners of the world. Pastors have neglected careers that would have been far easier and would have come with far more generous financial rewards. Countless Christians have neglected hobbies or passions that would have taken time better spent dedicated to serving the Lord or learning about Him.
I have often been challenged by the concept of planned neglect, and especially so when I read biographies. I tend to live a pretty comfortable life and tend to follow the desires of my heart. I am often not strong enough to neglect things that draw me away from responsibilities that are less pressing but far more important. And yet sometimes God works in me to realize that there are certain things I can live without. My passion for football is fading in direct proportion to the growth of my family, so that Sunday afternoons can be more of a time to spend with family and less of a time to spend lying on the couch. My desire to watch television in the evenings has also decreased so I can spend that time more profitably. While God has helped in this, I have had to deliberately choose to neglect things that I love. I’m grateful that God has worked in me to allow me to do this.
There remains much for me to do. I continue to find new and creative ways to waste time. I continue to spend far too much time doing what is useless and what profits nothing. I continue to plan what I must neglect next. I trust that God will continue to show me what I must neglect and that He will empower me to do so.