My “Not-to-Do” List

Note: This article first appeared in HomeLife magazine back in the mid-nineties. Revised, it has been posted by special request. Hope you enjoy it as well!

I haven’t always been a list person. But when I married my sweet, wonderful, list-making husband, I never stood a chance. It wasn’t long after our wedding day until he realized what a disorganized waif he had married and decided to take on the personal challenge of making me a paragon of structure. For years he modeled list making around the house. With the changing of the seasons came a new list of things to be done – clean out gutters, wash outside windows, straighten garage, paint the mailbox. Proudly posted on the front of the refrigerator, it was a constant reminder.

I remember being awestruck when I first saw the lists he made at work. His calendar pages, filled to the edges with daily tasks were unbelievable! Inspired, I began to make my own lists: Groceries. Dinner guests. Books I needed to complete a collection. Packing for a week in South America. Things to do today.

Before I knew it, I was hooked and cranking out daily “to-do” lists with the best of em’!

It wasn’t long before my “to-do” list took on a life of it’s own. After a while, I learned to skip spaces so I could insert new things to do when the phone rang unexpectedly. I was, quite simply, obsessed with it.

Suddenly it seemed I could never finish the day’s assignments. My inability to say no, coupled with my tendency to be an overachiever, soon had me feeling like the depths of need that surrounded me were inhaling me in and spitting me out. Though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I knew something was wrong.

Finally I realized it was that darned “to-do” list! Overcrowded with responsibilities, endless meetings, and family obligations, my to-do list was dictating a schedule that left me frustrated and fatigued. Worse than that, I realized all that busyness was keeping me from the truly essential responsibilities God had given me as a Christian wife and mother.

Of course when I really thought about it I realized that the problem wasn’t in making the lists. Rather, it was not being selective about what I put on them. I knew I needed to pare down my to-do lists and make time for what was really important in my life. As I reflected on my predicament, I grabbed a pen and did what came naturally – I made another list. However, this one was different; it was my “not-to-do” list.

1. I will not allow anything to come between God and me.                     I learned a long time ago that the secret of being a powerful, victorious Christian is spending time alone with the Father each day. But admittedly, my life had become so busy I didn’t have time to nurture a personal, intimate relationship with God that was healthy and growing. I needed to revel in his quiet presence, study his word, and spend more time in prayer.

2. I will not allow busy, meaningless activities to take precedence over my family.
Like most Americans, I am extraordinarily adept at adding things to my “to-do” list. In fact, I was giving so much of my time away to insignificant distractions that my husband and daughter suffered the loss of my attention. Plus, after a full day of meaningless activities, there wasn’t a lot of energy left for being a fun mom and sexy marriage partner. Being a better wife and mother meant I would have to set priorities so I could spend more time with my family.

3. I will not neglect my personal needs and desires.
Somewhere along my journey of life, I erroneously understood that being totally selfless was a virtue. It’s not. I’ve since realized that we can’t possibly be our best for God and others if we continually neglect our personal needs and desires. The scriptures teach us that God created us uniquely. They also instruct that if we delight ourselves in him, he will give us the desires of our heart. When we seek our happiness in his perfect being, the desires of our hearts are proper and in perspective because they come from him. I’m a better person when I’m looking at life through his viewpoint; my personal needs are met, my heart’s desires are granted, and I find great fulfillment in the simple things in life; a morning walk, a long soak in the tub and my favorite activity, doing the Sunday crossword puzzle stretched out in front of the fireplace.

4. I will not say yes every time I’m asked to do something at church.
Even though I knew better, I somehow found myself so involved in church activities that I was actually spending more time at church than at home with my family. Of course, I was serving as a minister of education and administration at a large church, but I knew that was no excuse. I already knew that the best volunteers were those whom God had called to a specific task. They invested their time into their called ministry and it flourished. Other workers who took on multiple tasks usually ended up not doing any of them well and quitting before the year was over. My freedom finally came when I realized that God didn’t intend me to do everything – only what he asked me to do. It was time for me to listen more closely to what God was asking me to do.

Changes in my life didn’t happen overnight and I’m still notorious for making lists. (I’ll even admit here the sheer satisfaction I find in marking off a task on my list that has just been completed.) But, with determination and discipline I am able to set priorities that allow more time for the really important things in my life.

These days I’m relying on God to help me use my time wisely and keep up a more self-controlled lifestyle. I’ve learned to do less better and invest more time in the things that really matter – my Lord, my wonderful husband and daughter. My church, work, and personal ministry are still high priorities, but I’ve learned not to let them take over my life or steal from my time alone with God. The best part of all this is the wonderful sense of destiny that has returned to my life. There’s no more getting numbly from one day to the next. Life has passion again.

My “not-to-do” list helps me be happier and keep a great attitude and fresh perspective. It has also helped me simplify life. Now, before I add anything to my “to-do” list, I think twice and remember my “not-to-do” list!

Elizabeth Eliot once said, “A simple and orderly life represents a clean and orderly mind. Muddled thinking inevitably results in muddled living.” If you’re feeling frantic, frustrated, harried and hassled, perhaps it’s time you sat down and made your “not-to-do” list.

Now, I’ve got the clutter out of my life – if only I could just get it out of the garage!

For Further Thought: Stop and Smell the Coffee
T.S. Eliot once reflected that he had measured out his life in coffee spoons. Do you ever feel the fragmentation he was talking about? You give a little here and a little there, until suddenly it seems there’s nothing left. Write your own “not-to-do” list. Then, take a serious look at how you use your time by keeping an hourly account of how you spend your days for one week. After marking off the “not-to-do” items, you may just decide to not only stop and smell the coffee, but sit down and have a cup or two!

© 2012 Kathy Chapman Sharp