More often than I would like to admit, I feel that if I completely let go of every aspect of my life, including the worries I have, things might just fall apart. If the absence of worry equals total dependence and faith in God should bring some level of freedom, why can’t I rest in that truth? Can anyone relate with this? Have you ever worried about something because you were afraid if you stopped worrying, you would lose control of it? (Like worrying somehow gives us control over anything?) It sounds twisted, but I have been there, and it is a big part of my story.
In addition to worry, another way I try to control things is with lists. (As a matter of fact, sometimes I make a list in order to alleviate worry!) I love lists. I love lists so much that I have been toying around with a book idea about them for years. Yes, I could fill a book’s worth of useful lists I have made and kept over the years. Planning a beach vacation? I have a list. Going camping? I have a list. Heading off to college? I have a list. Traveling to Asheville? Yes, indeed I have a list. And the list goes on and on….
Several years ago, one of the most useful, yet unconventional lists I ever made in life came after being inspired by a book I read. Shortly after I finished this book, some girlfriends and I went on a silent retreat (an introvert’s dream). It hit at a time in my life when there was more chaos than rest, more list items unchecked than checked, I was spiritually dry and knew something(s) in my life needed to shift. I spent my time reflecting back on the book which challenged me to think about the things that stood between me and my relationship with God. So naturally, I made a list of those things. The list was longer than I care to admit. I sought His truth about this.
Proverbs 3:5-6 states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” And Jesus assures us in the Gospel of John (John 8) that He and His truth “…will set us free.”
I wanted that. I wanted a straighter, less chaotic path. I wanted more freedom from worry and control. And I knew God wanted that for me.
It has been said, look at your ‘to do’ list and at your checkbook, and that will tell you what your true priorities are. (For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. – Luke 12:34.) At that moment in time, I found my ‘to do’ lists and my checkbook rather absurd in light of God’s economy. It illuminated my obsessions with shopping, coffee, and smoothies. It illuminated the fact that I was overstretched. It illuminated the fact that my priorities were slightly out of whack.
So, I went on a mission to start tackling this list one-by-one. I know this will come as a shock, but it forayed into another list. This was a list of questions that I still keep front and center in my journal.
- What does my to-do list and checkbook say are the priorities in my life?
- What do my priorities need to be if I am to live a life that looks more like Jesus? In order of priority. (Yes, this was technically another list…One that needs to be regularly kept in check.)
- What am I doing with my time and does it fit within my priorities? If not, what needs to change so that the way I spend my time is a direct reflection of my priorities?
- How am I spending my money? Is it reflective of my priorities? If not, where do I need to cut or redirect?
- With whom am I spending time? Are these people I need in my life and people who need me? Am I filled by these relationships or drained?
- Am I rooted each day in the Ultimate Guide to Freedom (a.k.a. His Word, The Holy Bible)?
The many “blessings” and “distractions” of this world can easily become “idols” and “strongholds” when we allow them to drive our lives unchecked. The goal is for each of us to look and be more like Jesus, possessing His character and doing the things He did. The freedom that our heavenly Father has for us is right under our noses if we seek less of the ‘stuff’ and control of this world and more of Him.
COVID shone a big fat light on this to a certain degree. All the things that took up our time (and arguably money) outside of the home suddenly went away. All the opportunities to make purchases and eat out and see people and do sports and all the things literally went away. There were two camps of people when things started shutting down this time last year: those who felt like their freedoms were slowly being taken away, and those who felt like they were slowly becoming more and more free. The fact is, stripping things away leaves us incredibly vulnerable. But it also leaves us with less. Less stuff. Less things of this world. And you know what that leaves us with? A choice. A choice to fill that space with other stuff or fill that space with God.
Now that the other side of this pandemic is hopefully upon us, I know that I am deeply considering what gets reintroduced into my life that was stripped away. I am revisiting my lists, and even adding some new questions: What might I leave behind? What might I carry forward? There was a lot of excess prior to COVID that does not need to be reintroduced into my life. In many ways, among absolute chaos happening around us, I have experienced more peace, clarity, and contentment than ever before because the lack of control over the chaos around me has left me to have full dependence on God. There truly has been freedom in knowing I have physical (earthy) limits (in the form of countless distractions) and when those are hindered or removed, God fills in the gap. The key is… If I let Him.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:22-34). I know that when I relinquish control to God (my worries, my lists, etc.) and shift to kingdom priorities, there is freedom to gain.
A wise friend recently reminded me in his Sunday sermon, “We should place our focus on the One who chose us, not on the one(s) (or things) we choose.”
Dear Lord, thank You for choosing me to be Your daughter. Thank You for Your grace when I make to-do-lists that do not line up with Your will for me. I ask that as we head to the other side of this pandemic, You guide my calendar, my checkbook, and most importantly, my heart. I know there is freedom that comes with You at the helm, so Lord help me to always keep You at the helm. Steer me towards You when my priorities steer away from You. When I get frenzied with the ever-growing lists of things to do and where to be, help steer me back to the life You intended for me. Amen.
Because I love lists, below is a list I made in partnership with Good Word Project co-author Kristie Sheanshang when we co-wrote a women’s study several years ago. It is a list I return to often. I hope this blesses you!
Making Space and Seeking Time with God
- Read the Word of God. It will give you strength and courage.
- Play some worship music. In His Presence, there is fullness of joy.
- Talk to God. Prayer helps to change our perspective.
- Gather with believers so they can help strengthen your faith.
- Go out and do some form of exercise. You will feel stronger and better.
- Stop checking Social Media so often. You will find peace.
- Turn off the TV and go for a walk outside. God’s creation will remind you that He is still in ever-present and in control.