Tag Archives: to-do list

Letting God Manage My To-Do List

2 Feb

IMG_20160126_124010You 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)

Disillusioned by productivity

21 Jun

I have loved these past 2 weeks. I have had some relaxation time but I’ve also been very productive. And strangely, it is the productive part that makes me feel the best. I have gotten back into the habit of cooking actual dinners, which has been good. I even made banana bread one day! I cleaned the whole house, including the refrigerator and microwave. Travis and I (finally!) cleaned out the drain to my bathroom sink (it has been clogged since we moved in!!!) so my sink stays clean now – before, it had soap buildup again the first time you used it after cleaning it. I went grocery shopping, fixed a couple of necklaces that had been broken for about 6 months, gave Katy a bath, watered the lawn, got my hair cut, read a whole book and started another, went on a 9 and a 1o mile run, redid my nails, bought new bras and running clothes, and did laundry 3 times.

I love being productive!

I wish I could add “spent time with the Lord every morning” to that list – I’m getting there. I need to remind myself that productivity, in the end, amounts to nothing. I mean, let’s be honest. In just a few days, there will be dirty dishes and a pile of laundry to be washed. In a week, the house will need cleaning again and the refrigerator will be pathetically empty. In a month, my nails will be chipped and in 2 months, my hair will start getting split ends. All of these things are temporary. The feeling of accomplishment they bring is short and fleeting.

Productivity isn’t a bad thing – but for me, it can be dangerous. The feeling of being productive, of going to bed with the great feeling I get from crossing off most things on my to-do list, allows me to forget – just for a little bit – how helpless, incapable, and needy I really am. I feel good about myself when I’m productive. I don’t feel sinful, weak, and pitiful.

I don’t think that is God’s goal for me – to feel good about myself (for then why would I think I have a need for a Savior?). But I also don’t think His goal is for me to feel weak and pitiful. Rather, I like what Oswald Chambers said in today’s devotional:

“The continual inner-searching we do in an effort to see if we are what we ought to be generates a self-centered, sickly type of Christianity, not the vigorous and simple life of a child of God. Until we get into this right and proper relationship with God, it is simply a case of our ‘hanging on by the skin of our teeth,’ although we say, ‘What a wonderful victory I have!’ Yet there is nothing in all of that which indicates the miracle of redemption… You are perfect only in Christ, not on the basis of this argument: ‘Oh Lord, I have done my best…’

“How long is it going to take God to free us from this unhealthy habit of thinking only about ourselves? We must get to the point of being sick to death of ourselves, until there is no longer any surprise at anything God might tell us about ourselves. We cannot reach and understand the depths of our own meagerness. There is only one place where we are right with God, and that is in Christ Jesus.”

Like Tim Keller said in his sermon Blessed Self-Forgetfulness, humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. I am so guilty of being self-centered. SO guilty. Guilty to the nth degree. As Chambers puts it, I cannot reach and understand the depths of my own meagerness. I cannot comprehend how little I bring to the table. I can’t get my mind around how insufficient I am even on the days when it feels like I accomplished the world. But there are still those days when I constantly dwell on my meagerness, as if that were the way to make me less meager.

Productivity has the power to distract me from the fact that Christ is sufficient so I don’t have to be. And I can be content in knowing I am not. Paul was content with his weaknesses – “…so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Nevertheless, I cling to productivity like a safety blanket. My sinful flesh will use anything it can to escape the reminder of my own insufficiency. I don’t want to be dependent – I want to have it all together. The issue with being insufficient is not that I am not living up to God’s expectations of me – “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). It is that I don’t live up to my own expectations of me. I’m not all that I would imagine myself to be. Productivity gives me the illusion of being that person – but who am I after the dust settles (quite literally), the clothes are stained and the dog is dirty? Who am I then? I am lost.

A good friend sent me this quote when I was feeling quite down on myself and I return to it often, as a reminder of God’s love for me: “There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worse about me, so that no discovery can now disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.”

It is a tough thing – to be okay with not being everything you’d like to be. To accept being disappointed by yourself often. To be disillusioned, as the quote put it, about your own behavior and character and still think there might be hope for you.

Yes, everyday is a new day, full of new opportunities to make right what you made wrong the previous day. But I’m sure that I am not done disillusioning myself, not done with failing to live up to my own expectations. Which is why I’m glad God will continue to disillusion me with my illusions, reminding me that it’s a good thing to be a sinner, poor and needy, saved by grace alone.

It means I can rest.