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What to do about to-do lists?

Child's to-do list

To-do lists can be both freeing and oppressive. On the one hand getting all the stuff on paper makes it possible to get it out of one’s head and makes it possible to do some prioritizing. On the other, a big list of to-do’s can seem overwhelming.

In these waning days of the semester, Thanksgiving break waits out there like some beckoning promise. Once we're back, however, we'll be caught up in a headlong rush toward finals and our list of things to do will likely grow long. For days like these there is wisdom to be discovered in a few lines of Paul's letter to the Colossians.

Midway through the third chapter, Paul writes “Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” [Col 3:17 Message]

As a starting point, this advice can serve as a guide for evaluating the things that might go on our to-do lists. Some things just can't be done in the name of Jesus. More than this, Paul reminds us that all we do is as a people whose ultimate purpose in life is already accomplished. Your value in this world and the purpose of your life is already fulfilled in the righteousness of Christ, which is God's will for your life. The lists of things that we work through are not the foundation of our existence; they are the work of a people whose lives have already been made complete. The list is not your master.

What’s more, as one among the redeemed, you can work through your list confident that, even in the small things, you, along with all people of good will, are a participant in the work of God in this world. Regardless of your calling, the worthy things that you do are among the means by which God serves this world with creativity and blessing. The list is a means for good.

Yet sometimes, as we move through our lists of things to be done, we are confronted by regret. Despite our best intentions to start every semester with new resolve to get it right this time, we often fall victim to our own limitations and failures. Nevertheless, as a people of God, redeemed by Christ, every day is a fresh start. You are not a prisoner of your history. Yesterday's failures are not held against you. Even as you may feel burdened by regret, it is the perfect righteousness of Christ that is your legacy. The list can always be remade.

Finally, some things on our lists are best left to others. Sometimes, we fill up our lives with activity because we believe that we must do everything. We imagine that we must get the credit for the work or miss out, look weak or be unnecessary. This is an especially dangerous temptation when we are at a place in life when we feel the need to prove ourselves. But life in the Body of Christ isn't competitive in this way. While we are good at some things, others are gifted in other ways. As the people of God, bound together in the righteousness of Christ, we are free to celebrate and lay collective claim to everyone’s good work. We have the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of others with the same joy as if it were our own. The list is to be shared, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

Pr Jim
Nov. 13, 2012


Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.