Friday, October 20, 2017

20. Relinquished Allegiance to the All-Mighty To-do List

I come from a hearty stock of do-ers on both branches of the family tree. Strong, determined farmers on one side and miners and blue-collar folks on another. I have always been surrounded by people who have worked hard. List makers who were devoted to checking things off the list. I don't know any other way.

But any good thing can become an obstacle in too great a supply.

A few years ago as I could feel the tectonic plates of my internal geography shifting, I began questioning my busy-ness and how well it was serving me. I began exploring the role of rest and sabbath in one's life, and how it might nourish and enrich the work I did.

The first noticeable benefit of sabbath appeared in my writing life. For years I dogged myself in periods where I was only thinking about what needed to be written. I noticed it particularly at work. I felt bad for all the moments I wasn't hunched over the keyboard. In time, I began to notice that when I did finally sit down to write, the words flowed more freely. The resting produced overflowing supplies of words when they were ready. Because I am stubborn, it took me awhile to accept this as part of my writing rhythm, but once I did, I used it to my advantage.

Years later I read the book, The Gift of Rest – Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath by Senator Joseph Lieberman. I was struck by his dedication to observing the Sabbath through his Jewish faith in the midst of the life of a public servant. I kept thinking, "If this busy senator can slow down, press pause on his important responsibilities for one 24-hour period each week, surely so can I."

I do not observe Sabbath in the same way the Lieberman family does, but I have relinquished the guilt I used to feel if I wasn't "doing something" every moment of my waking hours. As time passed, I've come to know that it's not the rushing that gets things done. It's the rest and restored energy that does.

These days I write lists as a way to soothe a busy, chatter-y mind. There is some alchemy in unloading my mind of what's zipping and zooming across my grey matter. I no longer hold myself to the list as I once did. I trust that the important things will always get done. And the other stuff will either get done or will no longer matter.

I mother myself by doing those things that must be done and by letting go of the pressure to do all the things all the time. I feel more content, more pleasant to be around, and when the right moment strikes, more productive.

Martha Beck's words have been particularly helpful as I've come to appreciate the role sabbath observance plays in my well-being and self-care:

"During the times we think we’re being “unproductive,” the seeds of new worlds are germinating within us, and they need peace to grow."
I find myself less and less impressed by the busy lives other people and families are living. What's the rush? Where's all this busy-ness going to get us in the long run? Other than frazzled and grumpy?

Here are two more quotes that have resonated with me:

"What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?" - Greg McKeown

"If you don't want to burn out, stop living like you're on fire." - becoming minimalist

I mother myself by honoring the sabbath moments in my life--even if it's a few hours on a random Tuesday night--time away, no matter how long or on what day does my heart and mind and body a world of good.


  1. :) I'm a life-long Sabbath keeper, and I can attest to the refreshing that comes from Sabbath rest. We weren't created to work seven days a week!

  2. I work for someone who absolutely shouts from the rooftops her love of being busy. Getting rid of that nonsense and setting that boundary was life changing for me. I feel for those who don't have the chance, luxury or desire to slow down.