I have always been a liner-upper, a list-maker, a task-crosser-offer. I cannot start a task without putting it on a list somewhere. You laugh, but I know there are others out there like me. Yeah, I’m talking to you. You list-maker. You suffer from the same disease I do.
In the movie Hercules, there is one scene that I feel like accurately depicts my list life.
Hercules is told that there are two little boys trapped beneath a rockslide just outside the city of Thebes. It is his first chance to prove to the city that he can be a hero. The task proves easy enough for the man with supernatural strength. He lifts the boulder and the boys scamper out. Hooray, everyone is safe. Hercules turns, brushes his hands off, and begins to stride away.
However, a noise, a growl, comes from behind him. He turns and realizes his hero to-do list isn’t quite finished. From a dark cave comes the Hydra, an enormous lizard/scorpion/dragon-like thing…(aren’t you impressed by my descriptive abilities?). With a little more effort than the first time and some added sword slinging, it takes just over a minute for the mighty, but now kind of tired, Hercules to decapitate the beast. Again, he turns to walk away, a little more stiffly this time.
But guess what? He’s still not done. He turns around just in time to see three heads popping out of the place where the first ferocious one had been.
Now, more exhausted than ever, he swings his sword with all he’s got, cutting off one dragon-y head after another. But with each head that falls to the ground, another three appear.
As I was watching this scene recently, all I could do was nod and say, “I feel ya, man. I feel ya.”
Every day, I wake up, pull out a sheet of paper or my Notes app on my phone and make a list of Things. Things that need to get done for the day. The Things start out as a small group. You know, 5-7 Things at most. But every time I cross something off, I have to add two more. It seems like the Things reproduce and grow new heads every twenty minutes. Before I know it, the Things have moved from a small group to a growing metropolis. My list of 5-7 Things now houses 5-7 generations of Things. And they never seem to die off. They just grow and grow. The Things are a toxic species that way.
Every day, I plan on how I will accomplish and subsequently mark-off the Things. How I will slay them all and rest in peace knowing that my life is Thing-free. And almost every night after a day of school or work (sometimes both), I sit down and stare at my list of Things, watching as they end up slaying me. I give up, just shrugging my shoulders and laying down to sleep with the Things sitting on my chest and weighing down my heart.
The cycle continues when I wake up early the next morning with the left-over Things and brand new Things merging together to form their own mutant To-do List. Cue the self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy and helplessness.
Maybe I’m the only one who has this problem. Maybe I’m the only one the Things terrorize. Maybe I’m the only one who surrenders far too often. Maybe I’m the only one who begs the Lord for peace and rest. But on the off chance I’m not, let me share what God has taught me about the Almighty List and the rest I’m seeking:
1. Our lists do not define us. Our value does not come from how many heads we’ve chopped off or how many tasks we’ve marked through. However, we tend to put our lists on the throne of our hearts, saying that the Things are in charge of our day. That is the root of restlessness, ladies and gentlemen. Because when the Things are in control, they are slave drivers.
2. Our focus on the Things, prevents our eyes from focusing on Jesus. Verse one of Psalm 127 says that “Unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain.” The Things are just things. Unless our task list is centered around the Lord with the main goal of drawing closer to Him through our to-do’s, it is worthless.
3. The last part of verse two in Psalm 127 says “certainly He gives sleep to the one He loves.” The Lord is our Comforter, the Bearer of our Burdens. Scripture says specifically that He daily—daily—bears our burdens. He carries us through all of the stresses of life. So why do we still feel the need to do everything ourselves. The rest we seek won’t come at the end of a to-do list. Because the truth is, there will always be three new heads after we cut off the first. We will never be without struggle, stress, or strife. In the first part of John 16:33, Jesus tells us that we will have trouble. Did you catch that? We. Will. Have. Trouble. No exceptions. But check out what He says next: “BUT TAKE HEART! I have overcome the world.” He has overcome everything, including my to-do list.
Rest, the kind that makes us whole, doesn’t mean taking a nap or a Gimore Girls break. Having peace doesn’t mean our task list is empty. It means that in the middle of our to-do lists, our eyes are still focused on Jesus. That no matter the outcome, regardless of what gets done and what doesn’t, He is still God, He is still faithful, and He can always be trusted to finish the unfinishable. To hold the unholdable. It’s about a surrendered heart that sits expectantly at the feet of Jesus while the body draws enduring strength to keep fighting the to-do list. It’s about a soul that remembers that this life is only temporary and that one day, everything will be made new and we will be face-to-face with the Prince of Peace.