Are you a to-do list person? I used to wonder how people operated without a to-do list. I would meticulously write down all my assignments so I wouldn’t forget things. Everything got done—usually overdone—on time, even if I had to stay up ’til 2 AM to finish (much to my mom’s chagrin).
Once I started life as a professional chemist, I became a slave to my to-do list. In the “real world,” things have deadlines, but not like in school. It’s more about everyone working toward a common goal and just doing whatever’s necessary to reach that goal. No matter whether you get task A in late and task B in early, projects are usually about geting tasks A, B, C, D, E, and F done, collectively, somewhere near the goal date.
It took a long time for me to realize that my to-do list mentality was wrecking me. I had all these big, long-term tasks on my to-do list. I rarely checked anything off, so I felt guilty All The Time. Then I took a course about habits that help people be more successful. In that course, we were encouraged to plan out our weeks in detail but to focus on putting the most important things first. What are you doing to further your relationship with your spouse? To foster a love of learning in your child(ren)? To be a healthier person?
I tried that method for a while, but I found myself even more discouraged and guilty. First, the planning process was exhausting. Then, the execution process was grueling. Turning everything you do into a task to check off makes you a slave to the checklist.
Finally, I have a method that works for me and my mental health. It came about entirely unintentionally. A couple of years ago, my supervisor asked my two-woman department to draft a weekly memo about what’s going on in our office. What’s in progress? What did we accomplish this week? Where do we need help or input? I have lots of little, nit-picky things I do each week, so I started making a “to-done” list. When I accomplish something that furthers our overall goals, I jot down a note. Sometimes I have lots of bigger to-dos, and I write those down on a separate list, and sometimes I get to check them off, but those are just little reminders for me to go back to when I finish something and need to decide what to do next. The “to-done” list is the one that inspires me. It helps me realize just how much I accomplish every day, and writing that memo on Fridays is the highlight of my workweek.
This Sunday, Jurie spoke about Liberty. We’ve been on a journey through 2 Corinthians 3, unpacking what it means to be authentic as a Christian. This week’s inspiration was a single verse:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.2 Corinthians 3:17, NKJV
I don’t know about you, but my experience of Christianity for most of my life was all about the to-do list of religion. I’d heard this verse and even sung songs about freedom in Christ, but I felt weighed down. As a to-do list person, the things I was supposed to be doing (and, even more importantly, the things I was NOT supposed to be doing) became just more things to add to my overflowing list for each day of my life.
At some point in the past few years, it’s been hammered into my brain (it took a sledgehammer) that Jesus’ final words before He died on the cross were, “It is finished” (John 19:30, NIV). What is “it?” What is “finished?” Every box on your religious checklist—that’s what. The to-do list is what Jesus came to take from us; he returned to us a “to-done” list.
“But WAIT!” you might say. “Don’t you have to go to church? What about communion or baptism? What about our ritual of welcome, sing three songs with a prayer mixed in, a sermon, communion, offering, another song, and final announcements and/or prayer? What about our ritual of stand up, sit down, kneel, stand up, walk to the front, walk to our seats, sit, stand up, kneel…? What about confirmation or first communion?” Jesus said, “it is finished,” that’s what. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). If He came to fulfill the Jewish Law, why would he give us a new Law? He didn’t; He came to establish a new covenant (Luke 22:20).
A covenant is a contractual agreement between two parties, for their mutual benefit. A marriage is a covenant. A good business deal is a covenant. The intention of most human covenants is that they are balanced. You do your part and I’ll do mine, and we’ll each be fulfilling our half of the agreement. But our covenant with Jesus is 99% unbalanced. He has fulfilled the entire responsibility of the agreement. Your 1% is that you have to sign up. You just have to say, “Yes, Jesus, I want a covenant relationship with You.”
Sunday’s sermon was about three types of freedom: freedom to let go of past sin, freedom to belong in Jesus’ family, and freedom to do. If you’re not careful, that “freedom to do” can sound very much like “freedom to-do [list],” and that puts us back in the middle of religious ritual.
Please don’t mis-hear the message of “freedom to do” as “freedom to-do [list]!” Here’s what “freedom to do” looks like. Alan, my husband, does the grocery shopping. I hate the grocery store more than almost anywhere. I hate the smell, the noise, the lighting, the temptations, and the shopping list. But Alan loves grocery shopping. It gives him a sense of accomplishment. My overwhelming gratitude for his shopping plays out in a variety of ways… I love to go to the kitchen and cook with him, I hum while I do laundry while he’s gone at the store, and I say a prayer of thanks to God for giving Alan to me when I go grab a snack from the kitchen. In a way, shopping and cooking and laundry and even snacking (at between 10:00 and 10:30 every morning, thank you very much) can seem like rituals. But in the context of the relationship I have with my husband, they’re ways of us loving one another.
In the same way, my experience of God’s mercy at the cross and His grace in my life draw me into all that He’s given me the freedom for. Sometimes, I get bogged down in the “to-dos,” feeling guilty when I haven’t blogged in a while or when I miss church for some reason. But God gently reminds me that it’s not about what I do. It’s about what He’s done. And because of what He’s done, I can’t help but write to you about how amazing He is and what he’s done in my life and the lives of those I love. I long to go to church service on Sunday, so I can see you and hear your stories of God’s hand at work in your life. I long to sing worship songs to the Lord because His love is SO BIG I can’t contain my gratitude in merely spoken words. I long to participate in communion, not because it’s a ritual Jesus established, but because it feels like I’m sitting at a table with Him and the rest of my family, enjoying His presence and goodness.
A while back, the 5twelve staff were sitting around a table and talking about this “ritual vs. relationship” idea. One thing Jurie said was, “Ritual for ritual’s sake will ultimately damage a relationship, but sometimes ritual is in the interest of preserving and furthering the relationship.”
At my house, our weekends are pretty ritualized. Get up and eat kolaches, start the laundry, make the grocery list, Alan goes shopping while I do laundry and clear out the refrigerator for the new stuff coming in, then Alan does yard work or accomplishes things around the house. We often play games together in the afternoon, or go to a movie or lunch with friends. After dark, we usually watch something together and go to bed relatively early. Sunday is: get up early, go accomplish church, go out to eat with the 5twelve family, come home and nap, and then cook the week’s meals. I could view all this as much drudgery, if my focus were the to-do list. Physically, I work harder on the weekend than I do during the work week. But I joyfully anticipate weekends because I get to spend them shoulder-to-shoulder with my dearest, doing things out of love for one another. This is what Jurie means by “ritual in the interest of preserving and furthering the relationship.”
When you sign up to be in covenant with Jesus, don’t think about it as, “Oh no, there’s so much He’s going to expect of me—things to do, and not to do.” In this relationship, everything becomes a get to, not a have to. He has invited you into His mission, but He doesn’t expect you to serve Him alone. Shoulder to shoulder with Jesus and His family, you get to be on the greatest team on earth, using the gifts He has given to you for the benefit of the family, “do[ing] good works, which God prepared in advance for [you] to do” (Ephesians 2:10b).
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