It’s really easy, as a homeschooling mom of six busy kids and as the wife of a busy pastor working two jobs and needing me to take the lion’s share at home, to look at my full plate and decide it’s full enough.
And that’s what I’ve always done. Family has had the top slot on my priority list, as it should.
It has also had the only slot. There was no time or energy for any other additions to the list. Right?
But now, when my household duties are more time-consuming than ever (Have you ever tried to keep up with the laundry for eight people?) and my homeschooling job is more challenging than ever (Some of what Abigail will be doing in 7th grade are things I never learned in college) and parenting just takes every ounce of energy I have on most days (There are six of them…) now God has called me to look outside my home for additional ministry opportunities.
Um, what? Are you kidding me?
How in the world am I supposed to add any other responsibilities in this season?
Leading Bible studies. Teaching responsibilities at church. Serving with Revive Our Hearts. Writing more.
It adds just enough to the mix of organized chaos in my brain to take the “organized” right out of the chaos. I have always been able to keep the calendars and lists on my mental notepad, keeping up with bill due-dates and library book due-dates, and for ten years, even baby due-dates without ever being late. (Well, ok, a couple of my babies were late, but they kind of keep their own schedules.)
But now suddenly it’s all just a jumbled up mess. My boys have no clean underwear because I got so behind on the laundry. We have filled up about 17 grocery bags with trash since Monday night because the fact that I had used the last trash bag failed to penetrate the fog of chaos in my mind. We ran out of diapers last week because I forgot to get some. I mean, seriously. I’ve been buying diapers nonstop since February 2003. How do I forget to buy diapers?
These are basics, and I am totally slacking.
So I bought a planner and started making lists.
I pulled my favorite, motivate-me-to-take-dominion-and-get-things-done book off the shelf for a re-read.
And it’s helping. I’m having to write down the most basic things, but writing it down is what I need to do these days. And God is working on my heart to give the chaos to Him and fight the laziness and just do the next thing.
However, I’ve bumped into a new problem.
Quite simply, the list never ends.
Laundry is never finished. Ministry is never finished. Fixing lunch means I have to add “do the dishes” back onto the list even though I crossed it off already that day. School prep for this coming year is not something I can get done in one sitting. The majority of tasks on my plate are by nature un-finishable.
Sure, there are a few once-and-done items. Make this phone call. Done. Pay that bill. Check.
But mostly I have to write, “Work on laundry. Work on school. Work on Revive Our Hearts tasks. Work on my writing projects.”
So then the question becomes, “How do I know when to quit working on one and start working on the other? And which one do I start with? Which one can wait for tomorrow and which one needs attention today?”
And most importantly, what do I do with the list that keeps shouting for my attention when I need and want to spend time with my kids and husband? Or when a friend texts and says “Let’s meet at the splash park today!” I don’t have an office where I can focus on my list from 9-5 and then leave it until the next day. My list time is constantly interrupted by a daughter who needs me to listen to her concerns about a friend or two children who need to be reminded that they love each other more than the computer they both want to play or a little boy who needs help determining if his bottom has been wiped enough.
How do I know how to prioritize this ever-growing, ever-morphing, ever-consuming list?
I look to Jesus.
I have been slowly studying my way through the book of Luke. Yesterday I read Luke 4:14-44, which highlights the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It tells about a day in the life of the Christ.
Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Right in the middle of His teaching, He was interrupted by a man who was possessed by a demon, shouting out and disrupting everything. Jesus stopped teaching, rebuked the demon, and ordered it to leave the man, and it obeyed. After he left the synagogue, he went to Simon’s house where he was probably in need of supper and a rest. Unfortunately, though, Simon’s mother-in-law did not have dinner ready because she was sick in bed with a high fever. Jesus put His own needs aside and healed her. Afterwards, as the day was drawing to a close, the yard began to fill up with people who had heard about the wonderful things this Man was doing. Sick, demon-possessed. They all came, wanting His touch. And He laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. Who knows how late into the night He stayed outside, meeting with every person who needed Him?
Then, He rose before dark to go off by Himself and pray. His followers came hunting Him, and said, “Come back. Everyone is looking for you!”
And He said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”
Wait. What? His list isn’t done. There are still people there who need Him. He didn’t cross everything off. Why is He leaving?
How could He just leave people untouched and move on? And how did He know when it was time to quit working on one unfinished town and move on to the next one?
Well for one thing, He is God. He is Wisdom Incarnate. He knows.
But for the rest of us, He showed us the way: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) And after spending time with His Father, He knew. It was time to move on.
If Jesus left His list behind–undone–to spend time seeking the priorities of His Father, then I need that infinitely more.
I heard Nancy Leigh DeMoss teach on this passage at True Woman ’10. It had an impact on me at the time, but as I have felt so overwhelmed lately, it’s a message I’ve been revisiting. Her challenge is to do exactly what Jesus did, and begin each day with the Father.
My list will always be screaming at me. It will never be completely crossed out. But I can’t just stay at my desk all day, leaving my kids to raise themselves and ignoring my friends and missing the opportunities to touch the hearts of the people in front of me while I keep my head down and focus on the list. Neither, though, can I play all day every day with my kids and my friends and ignore the list altogether.
So I get up while it’s still dark. Some days I do better at that than others, but God is giving me grace to find Him in the early hours.
And I give Him my list. It’s really His anyway. And I ask Him to order my day. And He will tell me when it’s time to get up from the desk and play with my kids, and when it’s time to let them play while I study 7th grade logic or make some phone calls thanking women for registering for Revive 15. And if I keep my ears open, I hear Him.
So I’m learning to hear His voice. He speaks to me through my son who skips into my room and wants to tell me about the awesome new level his brother just beat. He speaks to me through my daughter telling me her team bathing suit needs washed before tonight. He speaks to me through the clock or the calendar telling me that I’m teaching a class in three hours and I need to prepare or I’m hosting an event in three weeks and I need to send invites. He speaks through my 2-year-old telling me she needs to snuggle with me.
And He orders my day. I listen and I hear. I seek Him and He gives me wisdom to know what is His voice calling me to leave what’s undone and move on, and what is just an interruption that needs to be addressed quickly before I get back to the task at hand.
I’m learning slowly. But I am learning. And He is leading me. He knows that there is way more on my plate than I can ever accomplish in any given day.
And that means I need to depend on Him instead of my own strength. Which is exactly where He wants me to be.