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Running Yourself Ragged?

Here are five good reasons to get your schedule under control.

It was "errands morning," and for several hours I raced through the tasks listed in my organizer. Finding myself near the fast-food district, I decided to splurge on a drive-through lunch. After all, I had a coupon.

Sneaking through the back of several adjacent parking lots, I pulled up to an order monitor and said coolly, "One regular roast beef on a 99-cent coupon, please."

As I dug in my organizer for that elusive coupon, I heard the monitor reply, "Ma'am, do you know where you are?"

"Right in my car," I said, "ordering a roast beef ."

"Ma'am," the voice continued, "we don't do roast beef. This is Kentucky Fried Chicken."

As I looked around, I realized I'd overshot Arby's by two businesses. I meekly waved goodbye to the chicken people as I slinked past the pickup window.

Sometimes God sends a reminder that I'm trying to go too far, too fast. My good intentions end up bungled and I fulfill the old saying, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."

It took a few crimson-faced incidents such as the roast beef blunder to teach me what God really meant by Proverbs 19:2: "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way."

There are days, of course, when rushing around is simply unavoidable, writes time management expert Sybil Stanton, author of The 25-Hour Woman. But that, cautions Stanton, should be the exception, not a way of life.

Try planning each day with attainable goals to cut down on senseless running. If you typically find yourself on a schedule that "keeps going and going" like a battery bunny, consider these reasons for applying some brakes to your runaway lifestyle.

For renewal. When a friend moved his elderly mother out of her home, he offered to sell it to my husband and me. But the house came with twenty years of accumulation and neglect. After several months of cleanup, yardwork, and painting, we were exhausted. Just after Christmas, a nagging pain in my back started shooting down my leg so intensely that even getting out of a car became unbearable. When the doctor diagnosed "sciatica" and advised bed rest, I balked. I had too much to do!

For several weeks I limped through each morning's get-the-family-ready rush, then retreated to the couch with my heating pad. I stacked a TV tray with paperwork but soon my arms ached from trying to write or study while lying down. Eventually I dozed off. At first I resented having to make time in my schedule to "recover," but as the pain subsided, I realized God knew how much I needed time off.

For relationships. At night, my "motor" tends to run out of fuel. By the time I've washed the dinner dishes, I feel like the dishrag I drape over the faucet. But it's also when my family most needs my time and attention. When my son is frustrated to tears over seventh-grade pre-algebra, or my daughter worries about labeling and coloring a map of South America, or my husband can't find a slip of paper with an important phone number—guess who rallies?

Many times I'm tempted to tell my children (as my dad told me), "Get your nightie on and don't forget your prayers." But in our house, bedtime is a "sacred" process that includes Mom reading to the kids. The habit I started with toddlers and picture books continues with twelve and fourteen year olds and the classics or missionary biographies. Work has to wait as I sit in the hall between their rooms, reading as they tidy up and put on pajamas. Afterward, I kneel by each child's bed for small talk and prayers.

The bedtime routine takes nearly an hour—an hour I could spend warming up a recliner or hitting another project—but it's the golden time of the day to build those relationships that will last a lifetime.

For responsiveness. I have no dramatic stories of missing a flight on an airplane that later crashed. But sometimes I've come across an accident that happened minutes before—often the same amount of time as an unexpected delay in my schedule. As I pass the wreckage and pray for the victims and emergency professionals, I also thank God for sparing me from being part of the scene. The delay reminds me of Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

But I've also learned that God sometimes interrupts my hurrying so I can be part of his plans for other people. One morning the telephone rang repeatedly before I embarked on several hours of errands. When I finally made it to the bank, my first stop, I picked the drive-up line that moved the slowest. Then all the way downtown I hit one red light after another.

"Why me?" I whined as the traffic slowed for an accident. Threading my way around the scene, I realized I knew the elderly lady just crawling out of her damaged vehicle. It was the eighty-four-year-old widow to whom we'd become a second family. When I pulled over and ran to hug her, I noticed how much she was trembling. I helped her respond to police, then took her home in her still driveable car. When she seemed calm enough, I called a friend to take me back to my own car.

My to-do list was still on the passenger seat and the morning was gone with only one item checked off. But the most important though unexpected task got done.

For reflection. "Be still, and know that I am God," says Psalm 46:10. The problem with people who always hurry is that they think "being still" is a waste of time. Yet I've found that sometimes doing absolutely nothing is a better way to exalt God than grinding out some job or ministry.

One hot, muggy Sunday afternoon, I suggested to my kids that we drive into the nearby foothills for a hike around a small lake. When my son asked his best friend, Kyle, to come along, Kyle's mother, Nicki, also joined us.

As we panted our way through switchbacks and rock slides, and crawled over fallen trees, we moms occasionally sent the kids ahead to let our forty-plus bodies recover. I savored "being still" and watching large-leaf plants quiver in the feeble wind while treetops hissed overhead. Nicki paused at a flower-speckled meadow and mused, "How can anybody deny the Creator God when they see this?"

When we got home, the Sunday paper was still strewn around the living room. Dirty dishes cluttered the sink. The kids had added challenging stains to their jeans. My "to-do" list for the next day was filling up. But for once, I'd swapped my hurry-up habit with a peaceful afternoon—and come away physically and spiritually refreshed.

For repentance. Sometimes God allows me to experience the consequences of my hurry-up personality to recognize my need for grace. We have baseboard electric heaters that leave a gray haze on the walls above them. One morning, eager to paint the offending wall in our bedroom, I decided to shake the can rather than pry it open and stir it. However, the last person to use the paint hadn't hammered the lid on tightly enough. "Ivory Linen" spewed all over the dark brown rug by my side of the bed. Despite frantic scrubbing, I lived with the reminders of my haste for several years until we could afford new carpet.

Another time a neighbor wanted to borrow our lawn mower. No problem—but it needed gas and my husband had several unmarked cans in his shed. One, I knew, contained an oil-and-gas mixture for his snow blower, but he wasn't around to tell me which. Determined not to wait, I made a quick guess and poured. The mower wouldn't start—and never would—on kerosene.

The humiliation of having to confess my misdeeds to my husband was bad enough. But I know these incidents are simply reflections of a hurry-up personality that chafes at delay and won't trust God to do all things in his good time.

I'm all for personal efficiency. My organizer helps keep me on task to do what's needed. But I'm learning I can't jot my to-do lists on lines that are too narrow. I need to allow breathing room so that my schedule's not mine, but God's. That way, when he catches me in the midst of life's busyness and asks, "Do you know where you are?", I'll have some valid answers.

Now, if I can just find that coupon for a chicken bucket . …

-Jeanne Zornes is a widely published writer and speaker from Washington.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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