To-Do Lists

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. [Bertrand Russell]

We all like to think our work is important – whether the work is what we do on our job or what we do at home. Many of us have so many important tasks to accomplish that we create to-do lists to be sure we don’t forget anything. Worse yet, if the list is so long we know we’ll never get everything done, we prioritize the list so that we can at least try to accomplish the most important things.

My mom taught me how to make to-do lists by the time I learned to write. Every Saturday morning after breakfast the two of us made a list of everything we had to do that day, and we decided which one of us would do each task. The lists usually included vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathroom, cutting flowers (if it was summertime), baking cookies, and so on. By the end of the day, we had crossed everything off the list, and we felt a good sense of accomplishment.

Now I usually make my to-do lists on Monday mornings. What’s frustrating is that I know I won’t get everything done, so I try to prioritize. How did I get so busy? I’m self-employed, and I’m my own boss, right? I should be able to cross the unimportant things off my list. But which ones are they?

Yesterday afternoon (I try to avoid work as much as possible on Sunday) I picked up a book that Mim received for Christmas, 100 Favorite Bible Verses for Women. As I was scanning the table of contents, one entry caught my eye: “God’s To-Do List.” The verse was Proverbs 16:9, People may make plans in their minds, but the Lord decides what they will do. [New Century Version]

That prompted me to think about some of the interruptions that drop into my day, like getting a call from a friend whose business is not surviving this economy, and he just needs a listening ear for an hour. Or, sitting with a guest who wants to talk about what she’s learning during her personal retreat at Whispering Winds. Or, receiving an urgent request from Mim to watch one of our assisted living residents while she deals with another crisis. None of these things were on my to-do list, but these things suddenly become more urgent and more important than the tasks on my list.

So, what happens to my to-do list? Some of the tasks get done the next day, the next week, or never. As the list gets longer and longer, I can get more and more anxious about how busy I am, and worry about how my important work isn’t getting done; or I can try to see the list from a different perspective. Probably a better way of saying this is, I can try to see my list, my priorities, and my life from God’s perspective.

This is where finding some quiet time is crucial – whether it’s taking a walk for a few minutes or a few hours, or going away for a personal retreat for a day or two. There will always be tasks on my to-do list. But I guess God has a to-do list for me, too. Just as I used to sit with my mom on Saturday mornings to compile our to-do list, I need to spend time with God to integrate the tasks on our respective to-do lists. My top priority really needs to be spending time with God to begin to understand God’s perspective and God’s priorities. Only then will my to-do list really matter.

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