You may have noticed that my blog posts lately have just been updates on my girls. That’s not because I haven’t had thoughts I wanted to write about. I do have thoughts, and I do want to write – it’s just that when I sit down to write, sludge comes out. A few words emerge from the muck of my brain, but they’re incoherent and incomplete. Even writing this paragraph has been sludge-like, letters forming into words at the speed of molasses.
My problem is that I have too many thoughts. There are too many things going on in my head. This actually happens a lot. I’m struggling with things, so I go to God in prayer but I can’t even get words out about my emotions because there’s just too much all at once. It’s like there’s this giant bottleneck at the point of my thoughts merging into external expression. (At those times, I’m incredibly thankful that God knows my thoughts without my needing to actually say them!)
This also happens when I’m talking to Travis. Poor guy. I often start telling him about an idea I had but while I’m talking, a voice in my head counters it or offers a different idea, and I swerve mid-sentence to disagree with my idea before I have even finished telling Travis about the original.
Just as I am a chronic over-thinker, I am also a chronic over-planner. I suffer from the condition known as “Too much to do and too little time.” I frequently find myself stressed out over my own imposed to-do list – things that I alone have decided must be done. During this past Christmas season, when I was just beginning to see this tendency of mine, I found myself thinking, “Well, when the holidays are over, things won’t be so crazy.” Before I had finished that thought, the dang voice in my head interrupted and said, “No they won’t.” And I realized, that voice was right.
I have been stressed out over my imposed to-do list since even before I had kids. There’s this blog post from my life pre-kid, lamenting my ability to turn even a day off into a stressful situation.
The truth is that I’m not stressed out because of the time of the year, or because I have two young kids, or even because one of those kids is a toddler tornado. The “too much to do” does not come from the laundry, dishes, cleaning, grocery shopping, diaper changing, mess cleaning reality of being a wife and mom.
I’m stressed out because of me. I’M THE PROBLEM.
My stress comes from wanting to do extra things like update baby books, create scrapbooks, write blog posts and books, plan elaborate birthday parties, repurpose furniture, decorate the house, go thrift store shopping, get my craft on.
In short: THINGS THAT AREN’T NECESSARY.
It’s the unnecessary things (that I like to think are necessary) stressing me out.
But here’s the tricky thing: it’s also the unnecessary things that bring me joy.
For several years, I fell into the trap of feeling like I “should” do certain things because they were either expected of me, or because I was trying to “keep up with the Joneses” as it were. But that’s not the case here. If I didn’t want to scrapbook, craft, decorate or update baby books, I wouldn’t. But I DO want to do all of those things – because I ENJOY THEM. (Case in point, back in high school, I planned a formal New Years Eve party in high school FOR FUN. Formal as in, we sold tickets, wore formal dresses and suits, and held it in a hotel ballroom. Kudos to my mom for indulging my whim and helping me with the process!)
So it’s not that I’m doing things I don’t want to do. I have whittled my list of All the Things down to those that I personally want to prioritize, but I still don’t have enough time in a day to fit it all in. It works on paper, and I have contemplated implementing a more rigid, set schedule for the purpose of using my time wisely and intentionally. But then the girls have several days when for some unknown reason, they don’t follow their usual routines and the whole idea of having a set schedule seems laughable and completely unrealistic.
Obviously I don’t have the answer to the question, “How do you do it all?” (Not that anyone’s asking me that anyway, ha!) I’m caught between wanting to be intentional with my time and wanting to be flexible for whatever the day holds. I don’t want to be completely rigid, but I also don’t want to fritter away minutes here and there on “who knows what.” Minutes add up to hours, and hours to days, and think of the things that can be accomplished with that kind of time!
The only thing that has brought me peace in the midst of this swirling whirlwind of emotions and plans is trusting God. Several years ago, God used a particularly stressful time of my life to teach me that while I love me a to-do list, it cannot serve as the agenda for my day. Peace comes from holding my plans with open hands, doing the One Thing in front of me, and entrusting the rest to God.
I like to picture God sitting at a big table, tall enough that I can’t see the top, with all of the items of my to-do list sitting before Him in 3-D form. He hands me the first item, saying, “Do this first.” And I do it. When I’m done, I go back to Him. He hands me another. “Now do this one.” My job is to complete the tasks He gives to me; His job is to show me which tasks to do.
Every Tuesday when Emma goes to daycare, the list of what I want to accomplish that day is 15 items long, all of which take at least an hour. There’s absolutely no chance under heaven that I’m going to even make a dent. So I lift the list to God in prayer and ask Him to help me spend my time wisely, and to trust Him to provide me with the time and energy for the things that He intends for me to get done.
In addition to prayer and the Spirit’s leading, part of what helps me determine what the One Thing to do is priorities. What’s the higher priority? Spending time with God should be #1, so that is often what I do first. I also give priority to things that are timely, like making a meal to bring to a family who has a new baby; scheduled, like doctor appointments; or necessary, like eating lunch.
Beyond that, I often experience the Spirit’s leading by feeling energized to do the task. There have been many times when I look at my to-do list and two things seem to be equally important, but I feel excited about doing one and drag my feet about the other. So I do the one I feel like doing. That doesn’t mean I never do the things that I drag my feet about – otherwise, I would never clean bathrooms! (As it is, I clean them much less often than I should.) But on the whole, it is much more enjoyable and efficient to tackle tasks when I feel up to them, instead of forcing myself to do them on a timeline I’ve arbitrarily determined on my own. Almost always, if I postpone a task that isn’t timely and I don’t feel energized for, I end up feeling energized for it a different day.
Obviously, though, I’m not in charge of everything, and many days involve unforeseen, annoying or undesirable circumstances. This way of approaching each day is still valid in those moments — because it’s God adding a few items of His own to my to-do list. Like I’ve said before, if I truly want joy, I must embrace the circumstances God allows.
Walking through my to-do list each day with God in prayer and faith that He will provide for what needs to get done, and take care of what doesn’t, has brought me immense peace and joy. And freedom! Before I learned this, I couldn’t sit and read a book without feeling guilty about not being productive. Now, I believe that if I want to sit down and enjoy a book, and have the opportunity to, I can do so without feeling guilty.
My desires are not something to be “overridden” by what I think I should be accomplishing. Jesus is not a taskmaster. He does not demand that I accomplish x and y each day. Rather, Jesus invites me to take His yoke upon me, and promises that when I do so, I will find rest for my soul. What is His yoke? “…having accomplished the work you gave me to do.” His yoke and burden were determined by God. He let the Holy Spirit guide Him through each moment of each day, and didn’t worry about how everything would be accomplished, or how He was being perceived, or what He should teach next, or where. “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49)
Unfortunately, I still let my to-do list act as my taskmaster and slave-driver too often. I still get stressed out and overwhelmed by having too many things I want to do and too little time. But I’m making progress. I’m growing. I’m learning to walk by faith, and not by the sight of seeing my to-do list checked off. 😉 I do believe that God cares more about character and connecting with others, than He does about productivity and efficiency.
As for finding time to do everything I want to do, I don’t have an answer. Instead, I bring myself back again and again to this quote from Elisabeth Elliot: “When there is a deep restlessness for which we can find no explanation, it may be due to the greed of being — what our loving Father never meant us to be. Peace lies in the trusting acceptance of His design, His gifts, His appointment of place, position, capacity. It was thus that the Son of Man came to earth — embracing all that the Father willed Him to be, usurping nothing — no work, not even a word — that the Father had not given Him.”
If God intends for me to do something, whether it’s as important as spend time with Him or as trivial as making a scrapbook, He will provide the time and energy for it. I can trust that God will fulfill His purpose for me. My #1 job is walking in daily dependence on Him.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)