I’m laying on my couch – trying to pull my mind out of the fogginess of a nap that lasted about an hour too long. Naps have become a common thing for me these days and on the afternoons filled to the brim with activities and responsibilities, if I can’t squeeze in a few minutes of shut eye, I find myself holding back tears and willing myself to just make it to the end of whatever it is I’m doing in order to not completely lose my sanity (or my dignity, for that matter).
I’m making my way through Shauna Niequist’s book titled Bittersweet and I came across these lines:
“I’m a list-keeper. I always, always have a to-do list…At one point, I kept adding to the list, more and more items, more and more sweeping in their scope, until I added this line: DO EVERYTHING BETTER. It was, at the time, a pretty appropriate way to capture how I felt about my life and myself fairly often. It also explains why I tended to get so tired I’d cry without knowing why, why my life sometimes felt like I was running on a hamster wheel, and why I searched the faces of calmer, more grounded women for a secret they all knew that I didn’t. This is how I got to the fragmented, brittle, lonely place: DO EVERYTHING BETTER.”
I thought my highlighter was going to run dry after marking up that page! I scribbled frantically in the margins, “relatable – glad it’s not JUST me!!!!”
Yesterday, I taught a lesson at church on 2 of the 10 commandments:
1. You shall not have other Gods before me.
2. You shall not create idols or false Gods.
And although I used my history with anorexia as an example that adequately displays breaking both of those commandments, I’m realizing more and more that a more relevant example in my life would be just what Shauna Niequist mentions – my to-do list.
My personal to-do lists function in many ways. They are to help with the obvious – keep track of the things which must get done and those that I would like to get done. But they are also so much more than that…my to do lists serve as an avoidance mechanism. If I can focus on just getting a bit more done and finishing up one more thing, I can avoid my feelings – I can run away from the scary parts of life that I don’t want to deal with or that I don’t know HOW to deal with. My to-do lists help me to compartmentalize my schedule, my brain, and my emotions – because in my constant, incessant striving to achieve I can rush past all the things that feel even the least bit uncomfortable…those are the things I put off for tomorrow’s to-do lists (and then, consequently, the next day and the day after that and on and on). My to-do lists help me to do what I write off as simply “being productive” which is actually often times just a nicer way of saying that I’m trying desperately hard to please as many people as possible and, in doing so, not always taking the best care of myself.
And here’s the real kicker: Not only do I need to do everything on my to-do list (and then some) but I need to DO EVERYTHING ON MY LIST AND DO IT BETTER!! Shauna Niequist goes on to say, “The three together, DO EVERYTHING BETTER, are a super-charged triple threat, capturing in three words the mania of modern life, the anti-spirit, anti-spiritual, soul shriveling garbage that infects and compromises our lives…the “do everything better” way of living brought me to a terrible place: tired, angry, brittle, afraid, hollow.”
Maybe my “tired” isn’t linked solely to being anemic, an ever-growing caffeine addiction, or my somewhat irregular sleep schedule – maybe I’m tired on a deeper level than just a physical one.
One of the sayings that floats around the “music world” where I reside a great deal of the time is that, “You’re not done with a piece till it’s perfect and it will never be perfect.” read: DO EVERYTHING BETTER. Or academia: “You’re not done learning till you learn it all. And you can never learn it all.” read: DO EVERYTHING BETTER. And the list could go on and on, but that’s not the point. The point is that we are constantly surrounded by the message that we need to do everything and do it all better. Anything less than doing everything better makes us weak and inadequate.
But that’s just not true, my friends. What’s right for you won’t necessarily be right for me, and vice versa. It’s important for us to set our limits and hold to them and to constantly be reassessing our lives, our time management, and our intentions behind the things on our to-do list – otherwise we are simply treading water until the exhaustion and burn out seeps into our minds and ruins the joy and peace within our souls.
At the end of our lives we will stand before God and be held accountable for every word we’ve spoken and every minute we’ve been breathing and all that will matter is not how many errands we ran, how many home-cooked meals we made, how many miles we walked, or any other slew of things we feel we need to accomplish – what will matter is WHY we did the things we did, HOW we let God move in us and through our lives, HOW we made other people FEEL, and the WAY we lived our lives as lights for His kingdom.
In speaking to those middle and high school students at church yesterday, I realized that we must always be on guard against the devil and against the schemes of this world. There’s always more things that we could do, more things that will need to be done, more lists to make, to check off, to accomplish. But those lists and those resumes, those haughty accomplishments that we think hide our brokenness and disshelved-ness from the world around us – they don’t hide our downfalls, they build barriers between Christ-like relationships, between us and the things that God is calling us to do with our lives and with our time here.
“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”
― Shauna Niequist
“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
― Jane Austen