Somebody left this cool jar of mixed nuts by the coffee machine outside of my office. Thanks to them, one of my worst life choices was exposed: I always pick out the cashews. I mean, they’re the only nut species worth chewing on, aren’t they? I shared this with some of my friends, and most agreed with me. One particularly neurotic person said that he felt obligated to eat all the nuts as they come, with no nutty discrimination, but he was the exception.

I checked the label, and it listed the nut species in the mix as “Cashews, Almonds, Brazils, Filberts & Pecans.” See? They put cashews at the top of the list as their headline nut. I went on line to compare other brands. Almost all of them listed cashews as their lead nut. The only exception was Planters, who listed “Peanuts” first, probably because their brand-name is so connected with peanuts in the public image. However, I also stumbled on another of their products, called “Planters Deluxe Mixed Nuts,” and — you guessed it — that label listed “Cashews” first! (And there were NO peanuts in it.)*

So, I’m not crazy to prefer cashews. But I did indicate above that this practice exposed “one of my worst life choices.” The problem is, sooner or later, I end up with a collection of mixed-nuts-that-aren’t-cashews, and that’s not very appetizing. Throwing them away seems immoral (“Think about all the starving people in Third World countries!”). My only option is to chew on second-class nuts for the next few weeks.

At the first church I pastored, in Sharon, MA, one of the Deacons was Howard A. Williams, who was at that time Executive Vice President of New England Mutual Insurance Company. He once invited me to visit his office in Boston, and my biggest surprise was how clean and clear his desk was.** I asked him how he accomplished that, and I’ll never forget his answer: “Every morning I think of the many important tasks I’m supposed to act on today. I decide which three are the ones I least want to tackle, because of how hard and complex they seem to be. I make myself do those three first, before I allow myself to dive into the things I would enjoy more. After I’ve dealt with them, the rest of the day seems easy.”

That was the secret of Howard’s success: he picked out the filberts and ate them first!

Kids want dessert! Parents have to teach them that they have to earn it by eating their meat and vegetables.

Since then, I’ve found the same wisdom about doing the less appetizing things first in a number of self-help articles and blogs, such as these:,it%20when%20your%20brain’s%20fried.

The Bible also has some interesting words of advice for those of us who always tend to pick out the cashews. For instance:

Hypocrites! You tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. (Proverbs 16:3)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

– Pastor George Van Alstine

* Other interesting options:

  • Ralph’s/Kroger’s has a mixed nut product that ironically advertises, “Less than 50% Peanuts.”
  • Southern Style Gourmet Hunter Mix doesn’t specify which nuts are included but assures consumers on its label that they’re all “Vegetarian.” This left me trying to imagine a non-vegetarian nut.

**Check out my desk to see what a profound influence Howard’s example of work discipline has had on my life.