What To Do About the Never-Ending To-Do List

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What does man gain by all the toil

at which he toils under the sun?

A generation goes, and a generation comes,

but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down,

and hastens to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south

and goes around to the north;

around and around goes the wind,

and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,

but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

there they flow again.

All things are full of weariness;

a man cannot utter it;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

nor the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,

and what has been done is what will be done,

and there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:1-9

 I don’t know about you, but I have the constant feeling that nothing in my life is ever truly “finished.” I’ve heard of people making to-do lists and feeling such gratification when everything is crossed off of them, and to me this is about as realistic as seeing a unicorn. Do people REALLY cross off everything on their to-do lists? REALLY? It seems impossible to me. Before I can even get through half of one, I’m already writing another. I have them in all forms – notes on my phone, physical notepads, post-its, phone reminders, calendars…they’re everywhere.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not great at tackling tasks. I’m a procrastinator, I’m distractible, I give myself WAY too many tasks. I would give anything to be better at completing my to-do lists.

But part of me knows that no matter how productive I become, no matter how hard I try to get everything finished that needs to be finished, it will never be enough. There will always be something else to do. There will always be more laundry. The floor will always need sweeping (How?! I mean honestly. Can I just have one day of clean floors?). My toddler will always pull all of his toys out of all of their places all of the time, always.

Every day is a new day of to-dos, a new day of lists, a new day of tasks to be completed, or to be left incomplete.

I think it’s particularly hard as a stay-at-home mom, when my workplace is also my home. There is no escaping my to-dos. There’s no “okay let’s call it a day, pack it up and lock up the ole office and leave it for tomorrow.” I wake up in my office, and I go to sleep in my office. It’s hard to feel like I ever have a break.

So what do I do about this?

I’ll tell you what I do most of the time. I stress. I get anxious. I go on freak-out cleaning sprees, or I collapse into myself and say “forget it” for a whole day, making the next day exponentially worse. I’m a roller coaster of emotions, the most common one being low-grade stress. I long for just one day when everything is done, when I can truly relax.

But you know what? That’s not reality. Our days, our lives, entire generations, they come and go, we toil and toil, there is nothing new under the sun. That’s just life.

So I’ve got to find a way to be okay. To be at peace with my ever-evolving to-do list, with my never-ending laundry pile. I’ve got to find a way to manage my life, and to manage my expectations, so I’m not a constant ball of stress.

I am nowhere near conquering this (Alas! Another task to complete). I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is I’m not doing myself or anyone else any favors by constantly lamenting the fact that there’s always something else that needs to be done.

I do think the desire for completion, for rest, and for order is a Godly one. God loves beauty and order, it’s obvious from the way he created the world, from the way things were in the Garden. But I also know that we can never expect these things to be fully realized in this world. So we must find a way to cope, but we must also always be looking ahead for what is to come in the next life, when we finally reach glory, and everything is as it should be. 

So maybe what I need to do is allow this tension to fuel my desire and my longing for heaven. God wants us to be joyful, but He doesn’t want us to be of the world, even as we are in it. Our treasure is in heaven, and we should always be longing for that. With the little frustrations of day-to-day life, maybe He is trying to remind me that this is not the world I was made for. As C.S. Lewis so eloquently puts it, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

 


2 Responses to What To Do About the Never-Ending To-Do List

  1. Norma Hale says:

    Great piece, Wesley! I tell my friends not to be surprised when, at my funeral, my casket pops open and I ask, “Will someone please put that last load in the dryer??” You’re right, it’s never done with us Moms. But if we can balance the “On Earth” To Do lists and the “Eternal” to do lists, I think we’re on the road to peace. Of course, my day always goes better when I get up early and let Him make my lists…..

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