The Lie of the To-Do List

After several weeks of enjoyable but hectic travel, I looked forward to a relaxing weekend at home. There was nothing I absolutely had to do except go to church. Oh, and maybe get some groceries, since the cupboards contained only some nuts and a few boxes of Fiber One. Come to think of it, I hadn’t done any laundry in a while either…

Before long, the blank page of my weekend was completely covered by my to-do list. Then a friend called and we talked about going to the movies. I was torn. I wanted to see her but I really needed to clean those toilets. Another friend texted to remind me about the exercise class I promised to attend. Sure, exercise was important, but my kitchen was messy enough I feared cockroaches might move in. And the litter box – don’t even think about skipping that! – I reprimanded myself.

Neil used to say that there was no point in me taking the day off because I would just fill it up with things I “had to get done”. He was right of course, although I never admitted that when he was alive. How I wish I could have all those “filled up” days back!

Sighing, I sat down in the dirty kitchen with a cup of day-old cold coffee to consider the question of why I always let my to-do list dictate my life. Maybe it’s the sense of control I have when I write my life down on paper in neat little lines and a predictable order. Maybe it’s the sense of power I get when I cross things off my list with broad strokes of dark ink. And even though I recognize that this sense of order and control and power is all a pretense, it is still comforting and soothing in my unpredictable and uncontrollable life.

Okay God, I thought. What do you want me to do today? I waited for what I was certain would be his answer. “People are always more important than things, Colleen” and “And a healthy life is more important than a clean floor.”

I waited, but the answer didn’t come. I asked the question again, only this time I accidentally mixed up the words in my head. What do you want for me today, God?

Such a simple word switch, but what a huge difference it made. God didn’t have his own to-do list to impose on me; he had hopes and dreams for me instead. Thinking about my day from that perspective was a beautiful thing to consider. God hoped for me to be healthy and happy, surrounded by love, and joyful in the world he created for me. It was up to me to decide how best to accomplish that.

So, I threw away the weekend to-do list without even looking at it again. On Saturday, I went to the grocery store and exercise class. I did clean the toilets, the litterbox, and the kitchen because they verged on disgusting, but I admitted that the rest of the house was fine the way it was. The next day I went to church and then to see Finding Dory with my friend. Who knows what chores I missed that weekend, but without the list I even had time to left to write this blog post!

So ask yourself, dear readers: What does God want for me today?
Feel free to share your answers here!


  1. Colleen, I can’t begin to tell you how your posts speak directly to me. I am guilty of the same things you speak of. I am sitting on the beach right now only 1/3 into my summer holiday making a list of the things I need to do when I get back home. So now instead I’ll ask what does God want for me today. And I expect if I listen closely enough I’ll hear the answer over the sound of crashing waves. Thank you, Anne-Marie

    1. Anne-Marie, I am glad you caught yourself while you still have 2/3 of your vacation left to enjoy list free!

What do you think? Leave a reply to let me know!