Every time I drive past anyone’s messy garage, Dear Sister-Out-There-Somewhere, I think of your simple story from more than a decade ago that has changed all of my prayers since. Oh how I needed your mention of your messy garage! Forgive me that I can’t remember your name, or where you spoke, or what your main topic was.

(From BYU? Women’s Conference? Internet Friends, can you help me find this source?)

As near as I can remember, you said something like this:

My garage has been a mess for many months now and it’s driving me crazy. I know how to clean it, and I’m dying to clean it.  But every morning when I wake up, I ask God: “What’s the most important thing to do today?” 

And so far, He’s never said, “Clean your garage!” 

I don’t remember anything else you said.  My brain that day immediately left on a tangent that went something like this:

I thought, “Wow!  You ask God every single morning to name the priority!?”

I want to do that.

For a long time, I pondered my own prayer patterns. I didn’t feel like my prayers were overly basic like the pattern we teach new members: just thanking and asking. I had many times pleaded for answers, for direction, for healing, and for help. I had poured out my frustrations to God, maybe even promising extra good behavior if only a certain blessing could arrive. On my mission of course we prayed daily to be led to receptive people.

But since leaving the mission field, especially as a young mother, I’m not sure how often I had laid down my endless to-do list and asked to be shown His priorities for my day. How often had I simply reported for duty and asked for marching orders?

“What is the most important way I can serve Thee today?”

“Who can I lift today?”

“Which child needs my attention the most today?”

“What is the order of operations today so that I focus on what matters most?”

So, in the many weeks and years since your talk, Dear Blessed Sister-Out-There-Somewhere, I’ve been trying to pray like that. Asking for God’s priority each morning has kept me from making drastic errors in my time use, my money expenditures, and my life focus. God almost always points to the people around me and then I see the tasks in the context of who cares most about them, and who is helped most by them.

To be clear, there actually have been many times that the Spirit has told me to prioritize housework. He has very frequently instructed me to stop scrolling on my phone and go do the dishes and laundry so that our home can function smoothly and my family can feel the Spirit instead of chaos. There have been quite a few times when cleaning out the garage WAS the most important thing to do that day—so that our kids could use their bikes; or so that we could park the cars inside before the snow came; or so that we could make room for the belongings of our departing missionary.

Some days my own garage just stays messy too, and I appreciate your solidarity with me in this. But another side of me actually loves to clean out the garage, and that’s the side of me that needed to hear you the most.

When I’m totally honest with myself, I know there are days when I hide behind respectable tasks like cleaning and organizing and home improvement. Completing those tasks feels measurable, and tangible. When they’re finished, I feel fresh, organized, and put together. I often clean or organize things that don’t matter to anyone else except me. (Let’s be honest, does anyone else even see fingerprints? Or the dust on the blinds? Or the back of my storage closet?)  And sometimes, I do those things when they really shouldn’t be the priority. With your simple story, Dear Sister, you gave me permission as a mother to leave tasks undone so that I can focus on more important things—namely the precious souls around me.

Sometimes it’s easier to tend my luxuries than to get out of my comfort zone and comfort someone else. Sometimes it’s easier to clean out the garage than it is to go ministering to new sisters. Sometimes it’s easier to clean out a kid’s closet than it is to nurture his heart. Sometimes it’s easier to wipe down the fridge than it is to volunteer to make a meal for someone. Sometimes it’s easier to declutter the toys than it is to get down and play pretend with the toddlers.

Dear Sister-Out-There-Somewhere, the neatest thing about your story is that you followed through!  You IGNORED what you wanted to do because you hearkened to the message that He needed you to do something else even more. You didn’t care if your neighbors would think less of you. You didn’t care if you personally would suffer inconvenience from the hassle of finding things later in the garage. You assigned yourself God’s errand.

I want to do that.

Thank you for this long lasting example which has taught me two other things as well.

First, when I see someone’s messy garage (or front room, or car, or office) I’m much more likely now to assume that they were working on God’s priorities. I don’t judge their organizational ability when I remember that maybe their “hearken-ability” exceeds my own. So thank you to all my readers today who put down their own organizing tasks (like garage cleaning) to staff Church callings, temple shifts, PTA projects, and other service opportunities that trickle back to bless me and my family.

Secondly, Dear Lady, you should know that I’ve quoted you to my kids, to my sisters, to my mom, to my neighbors, and to my ministering sisters at church. You’re a great example of how just being yourself (your consecrated self) was enough to impact strangers for generations.

As I’ve reflected on the impact of your 4-5 sentences in my life, my courage has grown about fulfilling my own Church callings.  Now when I give a lesson or talk, I know that it’s okay if my examples aren’t extraordinary, like seeing someone raised from the dead.  When I’m speaking in Church, most of the moms in the congregation aren’t even looking in my direction because they’re fishing under the bench for a lost puzzle piece or fruit snack wrapper—But that’s okay! Perhaps all they need is 4-5 sentences in which I describe my own efforts: that I’m imperfectly messy like everyone else, but that I’m trying to report for duty and follow God’s priorities for my life.

Thank you, Dear Sister-Out-There-Somewhere, for leaving your garage a mess and telling me about it.  And thank you to all other Friends out there with messy garages—because you were probably doing what God wanted most, and you left me that garage to remind me of what’s most important too.