Many of us keep to-do lists—in our PDA, on the refrigerator door, on calendars scattered around the house and office. To-do lists make us feel productive, efficient, and sane, and without them chaos would almost certainly reign. But admit it: They've become our masters.
The trouble, say experts, is that the unmanaged, traditional to-do list sucks productivity, as well as creativity, out of us. They rob us of rest and leave us little time for true community with others and with God. They take over every aspect of our lives until we lose touch with who we really are and what we truly need. We become depersonalized—like machines doing what they're programmed to do.
Even as Christians we've fallen for the myth that if we aren't doing for God, then we aren't pleasing God.
Our bodies, minds, and souls need time for recovery from each day's stress. Our stress systems were designed for emergencies, not the continuous arousal that we've forced on them with our go-go-go lifestyle and mentality. Recovery needs to take place daily, otherwise we risk stress disease and a weakened immune system. We're running from good old-fashioned, day-by-day rest—and paying a heavy penalty for it. Physically, our culture has more stress-related diseases now than any other type of medical condition. And spiritually, our lives are depleted. We want to live an overcomer's spiritual life, but don't have the time or energy to invest in making that happen. The apostle Paul's advice is apropos: "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Our fast-paced existence easily creates an addicting, stimulating lifestyle that unconsciously makes us afraid of slowing down. When we try to rest we feel fidgety and guilty, or engender a fear of feminine weakness or guilt of laziness. Our breakneck pace also crowds our sensitivity to God's Spirit and our ability to respond to his work in us.
We must change; we must rest. But how do we get started—especially when we have so many things that demand our attention?
1. Take your cues from Jesus. Even though Jesus had a major mission to fulfill in his short life (his public ministry lasted only three years), he still made rest a priority. Over and over throughout the gospels, we read that Jesus often went alone to rest and pray.
No excuses that Jesus lived during a slower time and culture. The gospels tell us that everywhere he went, people bombarded him for attention and time. He gave completely to meet their needs. And yet he also understood that he was too busy not to take a break.
2. Clarify your priorities. Take a good look at your to-do list. Identify what is high or low priority. What matters most? What is absolutely essential? What furthers who you are and who God has called you to be? Mark them with a "1" or a "2." If they're neither, remove them from the list.
If you aren't sure, then make the decision based on priorities you've set. For instance, if you have a major work deadline, you have no choice but to reorder your priorities. It can be helpful if you write down the three or four major issues in your life right now that must take priority over everything else.
3. Plan on the unplanned. As you review your schedule, be realistic. Make sure you allow for interruptions. Holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas always eat into your available time, so something must be removed or delayed. Circumstances can change in a moment—someone gets ill or needs your immediate attention. But also, when you take the time to rest, you're better able to hear the Holy Spirit when he meets you unexpectedly throughout your day.
4. Schedule rest and fun. That's right. Put it on your to-do list. Guard it with your life. Commit to not removing it from the list.
5. Ask for help. Invariably, a time will come when genuine, high-priority demands will confront you. You won't be able to cope by yourself. It isn't a sign of weakness or incompetence to ask for help. You may have to turn to your hubby, another family member, or friend for assistance.
6. Be willing to reverse a commitment. This is crucial. There's a commonly held belief that once you've given your word or promise, you must stick with it whatever the consequences. This is a trap. We're only human. We make commitments or promises based on our perceived availability. But if circumstances change, change your commitment. Keeping a promise that's going to overstress you doesn't make sense.
7. Enjoy your time away. Rewarding good behavior strengthens that behavior and makes you more aware and appreciative of the gift of rest. Go for a walk, take time for prayer and solitude, enjoy a hobby, visit a friend, simply allow yourself to sit and read that book that's been lying on your bedside table for ages, or do nothing.
Yes, you do have time for fun and recreation! Take it, and enjoy the knowledge that you are following Jesus' example, being obedient to God's commands, and growing spiritually—all while taking it easy.
Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women
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