I love lists. I have taken full advantage of technology where productivity is concerned. I have an app for shopping lists, to-do lists, reminders, and scheduling. I have a daily, weekly, and monthly to-do list, along with many (many) other lists that I’m managing. As I write this, I am aware that I sound like a total control freak, and yes— It’s one of the many things I’m currently surrendering to Jesus.
But lists are not a bad thing. They can be really helpful, and I wouldn’t remember half the stuff I need to do if I didn’t write them down. Somewhere along the way, though, I was connecting my sense of value to whether or not I could check all the boxes at the end of the day. A good day was one in which I accomplished all that I set out to do. You can guess what a bad day was. Productivity became a gauge by which to measure how successful I was.
Did I keep my house clean? Is the laundry done? Did I cook nutritious meals for my family? Did I keep up with the spiritual disciplines? Did I exercise? Did I drink enough water? Did I go outside with my kids? Did I run all my errands? Did I invest in the people God has given me to love?
The pressure to live up to my own set of standards and expectations was exhausting. Needless to say, I often felt like a failure at the end of the day. My idealism began to highlight my weakness, my limits, my inability to do it all, and it left me feeling defeated and joyless in my work.
It occurred to me that perhaps I had the to-do list all wrong.
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus promises us rest from ceaseless striving,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Again, in Hebrews 4:9-10, we see the same promise,
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”
I had been striving for peace and rest and approval and the belief that I was actually doing enough. I was an empty cistern trying to produce something life giving, rather than trusting in Christ’s promises to me. And it very nearly broke me, as work-based righteousness will always do. We can never measure up, no matter how much we accomplish in this life.
But the good news is we don’t have to, because Christ perfectly accomplished everything on our behalf. In other words, he checked all the boxes that actually matter. He got every single thing done that he came to do. And he offers us daily grace for endless to-do lists. We don’t have to be a slave to worldly productivity. We have the freedom to put down our work and rest, trusting Jesus and his already finished work on our behalf.
This is not a call to throw your lists away and do nothing. It is a theological framework by which to view them, because God calls us to meaningful and purposeful work in the world, work that he empowers and sustains. He calls us to action,
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
As a friend of mine put it, “Work is a good thing that became a corrupted thing that is becoming a redeemed thing.”
Rather, our lists should be a prayerful reflection of his daily guidance and direction for our lives. We are no longer submitted to our need to achieve; we are submitted to him, and everything we do is filtered through a biblical worldview. Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19)-no less, but also no more. He is faithful to give us what we need to walk in the good works he’s prepared for each one of us.
When our daily expectations are aligned with his will, we can rest from the pressure of trying to prove ourselves or live up to some worldly standard of success, because it will always crush us. Even as God calls us to his work in the world, he also tells us to rest from our earthly striving, and it is real rest.
Amen to that.