I want to tell you about a complicated relationship in my life. This relationship brings with it a rollercoaster of emotions, sometimes I feel inspired and motivated by it and sometimes it leaves me exhausted and frustrated. I’m talking of course about my frenemy, “the list.” You know, the never-ending list of “to-dos” and “should-dos” and “oh yeah, I still need to dos” that are constantly lurking in our minds from day to day.
Sometimes I wake up ready to tackle the to-do list and end the day wanting to give myself a high five for all of my efforts. (Which translates into my husband having to hear a task-by-task replay of my entire day.) But most times, even after the most productive of days at work or at home, I find it hard to sit down, relax and feel accomplished. Why? Because as much as I’d like to “turn off” my brain and just be, “the list” slowly creeps its way in and even the “to-dos” that I put on the back shelf seem to present themselves as vital and important. So what happens to the list? Instead of checking things off, I’ve mentally added three more things to it and the productive day I’ve just had quickly loses its luster.
During the Christmas season, “the list” is even more aggressively ambitious. My family and I had a really nice Christmas. We enjoyed all of our family traditions like picking out the tree, going to see Christmas lights, we were proud to go watch our son in his very first Christmas program, we spent time with family and celebrated the birth of our Savior. But when Christmas was over, by far the greatest thing I felt was relief. I wanted to get the house back in order, get back to a routine, the Christmas decorations even came down early this year. What was my problem? I love Christmas. To see the wonder of Christmas through my son’s eyes and be inspired by the bright, burning love he has for his Savior is incredible. But this year it also felt so exhausting. I realized that I had treated Christmas as a giant checklist with a series of “to-dos.” Reflecting on the past month, I was reminded of the story of Mary and Martha.
Oh, Martha, I feel you. I was so busy making preparations for Christmas that I had lost sight of the only thing that I needed. It wasn’t more cookies or seasonal hand towels, I needed a serious shift in priorities. Jesus doesn’t care about the status of “the list” before Christmas or at any other time of the year. When Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus into their home, it should have been apparent to both of them that he wasn’t there to be served, but to serve. Mary understood that, but Martha (like so many of us) had let “the list” distract her from what was really important.
I also realized that I’m setting an example for my kids in the way I prepare our family to welcome Jesus at Christmas and even how I prepare our family for the day ahead. In typical Martha fashion, my nights are often filled with making lunches for the next day, checking the calendar to see what’s going on, doing some laundry and cleaning up the house. The list gets accomplished, but there are many nights when Jesus is only welcomed into our house with a prayer before dinner and a prayer before bed.
So what does this mean for me? Should “the list” go for good?
Well, not necessarily. There’s a lot to be said for being organized and for accomplishing your goals. But every now and then your checklist might need to be reevaluated. At times, it might have to be set aside all together. Time spent with our Savior either in private devotion, in prayer or together with our fellow believers in worship is time well spent. It should give us a far greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction than checking a task off the list; and when we can’t make that connection, it might be time to put the checklist aside and refocus. Whether it be for a whole weekend or simply an afternoon, shelving the list forces me to focus purely on the here and now. Sure things might pile up a bit, but the mental and spiritual break is totally worth it.
Lord Jesus, help us refocus our hearts and minds so that our eternal future becomes a priority over the present distractions of this world. Help us be faithful servants to you in our daily lives and to use your servant ministry as an example to live by. Amen.