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  • BSideBecca

5 Reasons Making a List Is a Spiritual Discipline

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

list of things to do

If there was an award for Best List Maker Ever, I would 100% nominate myself, dumping all my half-used notebooks jammed full of various lists on the judge's desk. Oh, also, Judges, I've gone ahead and written up a list of WHY you should give me the award.

I make lists every morning. I make (left-handed) backward checkmarks on my lists. I cried when five year's worth of journals full of lists were destroyed by water and we had to throw them out because I don't keep a journal, I keep lists. Sometimes I give them titles:

  1. "Should I Quit This Job"

  2. "Books to Read"

  3. "Jobs I Should Apply For"

  4. Grocery List

  5. Places to Visit

  6. Trails to Hike

  7. "No, Really, Here's Why I Should Quit This Job."

You could see the sequence of time and growth just by flipping through my notebooks of lists.

In my life, lists have taken on a spiritual component, because time and "being present" and doing the will of God are all wrapped up in how we spend our minutes, hours, days.

This is 100 percent an overwhelming thought.

Poets wax eloquent on the subject.

I make a list. Or two.

And that, my friends, brings me to today's list: 5 Reasons Making a List is a - dare I say it? - Spiritual Discipline:

Moleskine journals that are water ruined
the ruined journals that made me cry

Budgeting: I'm not talking finances, I'm talking about the economy of your life. You have a certain amount of days, a certain amount of times to wake up. How will you budget the richness of life you've been given? Some people get their undies in a twist obsessing over every last penny, stingy in their finances, but disregard the budget of their days, wasting time, wasting their gift, wasting opportunity. Which is why, in my time budget, I love to do

  • a long term goal list

  • a short term one and

  • a today one.

Keeping the perspective of the long term helps me figure out my WHY and what I'm aiming for. Keeping the short term and daily lists help me break it down into bite sized pieces that get me one step closer to the ultimate goal and help me budget out my thoughts and plans for the day. And, of course, I want to bring the Lord and His guidance into this by budgeting time in my life to set aside for learning more about Him and what He would have me do/be.

Battle of the Mundane: As a mother, one of my greatest struggles is/was feeling like I had not actually accomplished anything with my days. Most people gave a glib response to this: But your work as a mother is so important!

  • Of course I knew (and know) this.

  • You're not being helpful.

  • Thank you for that revelation.

*insert eye roll here*

Dump that knowing into a marathon of diapers, spilled cheerios or teenager snark and aura of so-much-emotion and it's easy to sink into wondering how exactly keeping laundry done or dishes washed is helping. They call it the mundane and ordinary for a reason. And if we, as a church, keep hyping everything into an emotional tizzy about doing GREAT THINGS FOR GOD FIRE MIRACLES LION SHOUTING stuff, and then we send our congregation into the little mundane tasks we're actually all pretty much living...No wonder we lose sight of the importance of the tasks, and the importance of us showing up and being us.

And this doesn't just apply to motherhood, a couple friends who are in full-time ministry agreed with me from their perspective as well: How do you know if you're accomplishing anything when you're working with people? {Short answer: You don't.}

Which is why I believe there is something to be said for crossing off tasks of the day that can help us continue pursuing a nebulous goal with hope and a reason.

Dreaming: Part of why I started this blog was because I found myself in a new place, new context, and moving into what felt like starting over. It's discouraging in a way, having to reset yourself. But what motivates me is the dream lists. There has to be a reason for why I'm here, therefore I want to pay attention to the ideas and plans that are in our (my husband and I, my family, etc) hearts and minds. One thing I appreciated about my grandma was that after her husband passed away, she moved into a retirement home. Just a few months later, she was teaching english as a second language, playing in a handbell choir and attending a new church nearby. I was so proud and inspired by her and her attitude of starting over and knowing she had a reason and purpose of being where she landed. Lists help me keep those ideas and motivations in front of me because once I write them down, it makes me want to carry through on doing them. The spiritual side of that should be somewhat obvious:

  • We are here for a purpose

  • Our days have meaning

  • As long as we live, God has a mission for us to do

Listing out reasons and ideas and dreams are ways I can keep that in front of my heart.

Self-Discipline: Focusing overly on the past or future

  • slows us down

  • overwhelms us with regret

  • creates anxiety

  • fills us (and our attitudes) with melancholy

We lose sight of what our purpose is. I find that having an image in my mind of who I want to be and then taking that image and putting it into bite sized pieces that I can do every day keeps me disciplined. It's when I set those habit trackers or routine lists aside that I tend to get caught up in the temporal and wasteful. A simple list of routine helps keep me motivated in a simple way - I don't want to miss checking off a box! - but also in a deeper, more personal way: this is the person I want to be , so here are the steps that will keep me on track. The self-discipline of spending time in the Bible and praying might feel like we're reducing a spiritual concept into just another task on the list, but I'd argue back that spending that time and being diligent in the daily communion with the Lord helps ground us in a foundation that will help us in times of crisis and in ways we can't predict. Again, knowing my ultimate WHY in budgeting my days makes self-discipline all the more important to me as I know how easily I go off track. Lists are an accountability. (Honestly, sharing that list with someone else? What a great accountability idea!)

Remembering What God Has Done: In my current Bible reading, I'm in the Old Testament. There are a lot of lists there,

  • lists of how many people are here

  • there

  • in that group

  • this group

  • drinking from their hands

  • genealogies

  • tasks to do for building tabernacles,

  • arks

  • and weaving big curtains (so many pomegranates, you guys!)

  • lists of things to do or not do and

  • even recitations of the history of Israel, lest they forget all God had done for them in bringing them up out of Egypt.

If the humans back then needed a good listed reminder, maybe I could use one too? I find old lists (minus the ruined journals...sigh) and reading through them, I remember old prayers and now, with the benefit of time, I can see how He was present with us, how He answered our prayers, how He provided. Grocery lists cared for through provision of jobs, needed clothes lists for my kids as they grew, books I've read and learned from. The lists are a reminder, an encouragement. Not all the lists are "good," some are lists of chemo drugs they would try on my mother, words my dad said as he lay dying, a list I outlined as I wrote a letter to an organization that deeply wounded my family. Somehow those scraps of papers, half-used notebooks and journals become a comfort to me, and a reminder of God's faithfulness in the past and an encouragement to me of my future.

I pull out my notebook, and begin a new list.

To say that ordinary life is sacred does not mean that it is necessarily exciting or even pleasant. It simply means that ordinary life has value in God's sight. It is the context in which He does His work.

-John Koessler, Practicing the Present


What do you think? Do you keep lists? Why? Do you believe listing can have a spiritual aspect to it? Why or why not?


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