Check Boxes, To-DO Lists, and Following Jesus

By Katie Helmreich

Happy New Year! Did you make any resolutions? I didn’t. I’m rarely one for long range planning or big goals. But I do love lists! We’ve had a lot of big lists in the past year, and there will be a couple hundred more in 2022. One day at a time! 

The past couple years I’ve started keeping a Bullet Journal/Planner to get myself organized. I use the term loosely. If you google “bullet journal” you’ll see a whole bunch of elaborate and beautiful examples. Mine is more a bound collection of notes and to-do lists, but it works for me, and if I have art time, I use it elsewhere.

Although I don’t use my Bullet Journal for artistic expression, it’s been interesting to see the impact of these to-do lists over time. I love the feeling of checking a box as each task is completed. I like being able to put the tasks down on paper, because if I try to keep them “top of mind” I find I run out of room pretty quickly. I’m an underliner and a circler, and I like to write BUY DOG FOOD in gigantic letters so I don’t have to look Lucy in the eye when we run out tomorrow morning. 

A good to-do list can be an empowering thing! But if I’m not careful Perfectionism will use it against me. I have to remind myself that it isn’t Failure to have unchecked boxes at the end of the day. 

Life at our house isn’t all that predictable, and even the best days require a fair amount of adaptation. Priorities change when you pick up the kids from school and one of them bursts into tears as soon as they’re safely in the car. A divide-and-conquer type evening changes dramatically when a fire call means I’m now parenting solo. Unchecked boxes are often a sign that I chose to make extra room for a heart that needed Mom or for a family that needed our firefighter. 

Unchecked boxes sometimes reflect flexibility facing family needs. But sometimes unchecked boxes are evidence of some ridiculous expectations Perfectionism tricked me into. 

“If you can dream it you can do it!” is all fun and games when you’re in 4th grade and want to become a marine biologist. I can put “write, illustrate, and publish my first children’s book” on my to-do list, but just drawing a check box doesn’t make it a reasonable goal for this Tuesday. Even “Put away laundry” is an unreasonable goal some days! 

I find writing things down makes it easier to spot when Perfectionism has started raising the bar out of reach. I keep a separate list for the big, long-term goals and projects and use it as a bookmark. I haven’t forgotten them, but unless it’s a do-able, quantifiable task, I am not putting it on my to-do list. Is it sunny and over 60? No. Well, then “paint the garage door” won’t be on my list today, but maybe “write about to-do lists for the Next Step Community” will be. 

Sometimes my lists reflect a belief that there are actually around 72 hours in the day. I wish doing the math were a little easier when it comes to these things, but just because “paint the basement” has fewer letters than “empty bathroom trash” does not mean it will take less time. When it comes to house projects in particular, I’m learning to take the amount of time I think it will take, and double it. (I should get “This is not Trading Spaces” on a shirt.)

Perfectionism says 24=72. That’s just crazy.

Lists keep me organized. They help me identify what my options are when I’m trying to figure out what to do after Plans A-G have gone by the wayside. Sometimes lists even help me find ways I can ask for help, which (my husband will tell you) is something I need to work on. 

A to-do list is a tool; it is not a measure of worth or success. I am in charge of my to-do list; my to-do list is not in charge of me. There are tasks that need to be done today as part of my role in our family, but I also know my calling often requires going off script. 

It isn’t efficient for me to spend half an hour or more working on a puzzle with my daughter, but right now, puzzles are an important part of my evenings. I could devote hours to learning a second language, but instead, I’m learning all about Pokémon from my son. And that’s more valuable at the moment. If I read a new book every time we sat down for a bedtime story, I estimate I would have made it through 11,000 children’s books so far. But if we enjoy My No, No, No Day; If I Built A Car; or Not Your Typical Dragon for 3,000 of the 11K? So be it. I’m still not tired of them, and neither is my youngest. 

It’s the New Year. A season of resolutions, organization, and big beginnings! Celebrate the checked boxes! Pursue the goals that God has put on your heart! 

But while you tackle each new day, give yourselves a little credit for having real reasons for your unchecked boxes. A vocation can’t be fully described in a to-do list. Who you are is far more than what you do. Christ is in you.

You walk with Jesus! (Even if you step on a few Legos along the way.) 

The Holy Spirit will continue to guide you throughout each day and each list. I have complete confidence that you will find a happy medium between “the dishes will wait, but babies don’t keep” and food poisoning (or whatever the poem is). You recognize the nudges to make room for new needs: add the things God did instead, and check them off your list with a flourish!

I know that, while I may write the to-do list, I don’t actually have all that much control over the day.

We’re in the hands of our Heavenly Father. The one who organizes the universe, orchestrates history, and is the author of our salvation. We’ll be just fine. 

I used to dread the question, “What did you do all day?” But what if we simply respond, “Today, I followed Jesus.” 

1 Comment

  1. Love this article. I, too, am a list maker. It is such a joy to cross off a job done. Sometimes I do something un planned, put it on my list & cross it off!!
    I remember the “step on lego days.” The crazy days will to soon end as our children leave the nest. You are wise to take the time to be with them. Keep following Jesus with your art and blogs. Many of us need your wisdom and talent to help us follow Jesus. God’s blessings to you.

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