Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Strategic Planning

Several weeks ago I heard someone talking about "needs" vs. "strategies". She pointedout that we tend to confuse them a lot in our thoughts, prayers, and actions. A strategy is a way of meeting a need, but it isn't really the particular strategy that's important, it's having the need filled that's important.

For example, if I have a need to be warmer, I may think I NEED to turn up the thermostat, but actually I could also meet that need for warmth by putting on a sweater, moving around, snuggling with a person or pet, sitting in the sun, going someplace else, etc. So often people pray for a particular outcome, a particular strategy. When we do that, then we are basically telling God what to do, instead of giving Him the freedom to use His infinite creativity to find often unique and unexpected strategies to meet our needs...of which He is of course perfectly aware.

These ideas really help me look at various situations in my daily life in a new light. Learning to live according to God's time, not mine and not the world's, has been a big lesson for me these past two years of sabbatical and upheaval. What I once perceived as a need to live in one place, I now understand as a need to feel secure--a feeling that I've learned does not depend on place, so much as state of mind. Doubtless my farm is exactly where it "should" be, according to God's plans, if not mine, despite the damage left by the former tenants. When I can stop being angry then I can begin to see how repairing the damage will allow me to rebuild in new, better ways I would not have been free to do if the tenants had left things in better condition. This upheaval has been God's strategy for meeting my need to change how I do things, to become more sustainable in my daily life on the farm. In this case, this way NOT a need that I wanted to acknowledge!

I'm noticing that focusing on identifying needs first, then brainstorming strategies to meet those needs, tends to help me transition to more sustainable living in a more sustainable way. Instead of thinking, I HAVE to mow the lawn without using any fossil fuels, I can focus on my need for the lawn to look neat with a minimum of energy expended. I have several strategies for making the grass short and neat: grazing it with sheep or poultry, or mowing it. I have several strategies for mowing it: the Austrian scythe, the hand reel push mower, the gasoline push mower, a young neighbor, a neighbor with a tractor and brush hog, etc.

Each strategy has its pros and cons. Each is sustainable in different ways; each fills different needs in addition to my need for the grass to look nice. Hiring someone to do it nurtures my relationships with neighbors, and helps support their ownership of specialized equipment. Using the scythe gives me one kind of exercise; using the push mowers gives me a different kind. Using the reel mower lets me mow in the dark at night, and feed the clippings to the livestock; the power mower currently doesn't let me bag clippings but mulches them which returns them to the soil. Grazing feeds the livestock.

Focusing on the needs allows me to choose different strategies at different times, as my needs change. If I'm in a hurry, I'll use the power mower. If the sheep are hungry, I'll use the reel mower or graze the lawn.

But some needs are answered by only one strategy. And right now I need sleep!

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