To-Do Lists Are My Idols

Natalia Schumann  // Tales From the Trenches


January 28  

I don’t know when I first got introduced to lists. It must have been somewhere in school. Lists of things to bring back to class evolved into lists of homework and lists of things to do for student council.

And the day timer. Oh, let’s not forget my friend Mr. Daytimer! I got my first one in middle school, and by high school I had my own Franklin Covey and was preparing my “sharpen the saw” list weekly. What glorious memories.

And the lists haven’t stopped in my adulthood and mothering. They litter my kitchen counter and current planner, they fill up my Google Keep & Evernote, and overtake my mind. Oftentimes, the kids are calling, “Mom, Mom!” several times before I “come to” because I was, you guessed it, coming up with another list in my head. I seem lost without a list. They dictate what errands to run, what groceries we need, what we’re making for dinner tonight, tomorrow, and the next night. What to do next in homeschool, how to move a project forward, my daily habits. They all come in lists of various shapes and sizes.

Just recently I was peeling an orange for my kids’ lunch (no I didn’t put the task on my to do list), but I found myself wondering if the Vatican would come out with any lists that canonized saints used to become saints! 

That’s when I realized my lists have become my idols! Wouldn’t you know, they have become places I go to “get my instructions” on how to live, my checklist for life.  And where’s Jesus in my lists? You know him, the Living and True God . . . Oh, that reminds me, “Hey Alexa: add ‘pray the Rosary’ to today’s list.”

Sorry, back to our discussion on lists. It seems to be that the best things in life don’t ever make it on my lists:

watch my child pet the cat

feed the birds

paint with the kids

hug, cuddle, and kiss my husband

curl up with a big cup of tea and a good book


My first-born is much like me. She makes lists, too. One list she made was twenty saints she wanted to dress up as for All Saints Day. Unfortunately, she could choose only one. And after we lost a baby in the spring, she wrote down two items on her to do list:

  1. Tell my friend about my sibling in heaven
  2. Name the baby

When I look at her lists compared to mine, I wonder if our lists tell us something about the things on our hearts? I write down my priorities, what’s on my mind, things I don’t want to forget, the most important things to get done in a day, but they aren’t often the things that I want to be the most important in my life. Remember that whole, Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink (Matt 6:25). Oops, I guess I’m still working on not worrying about that. Note to self: scratch that whole “What’s for dinner tomorrow night” list.

But seriously, what do you think was on Mother Teresa’s to do list? Pray the Rosary, smile at the person on the opposite side of the street, give a miraculous medal to the cab driver, love the dying.

When I was in high school, and mom was getting ready to welcome company at the house, I’d wake up to a list. Clean the bathroom was always top on that list. What do you think Mary our mother would write on a to-do list for us? I bet it would read something like the advice she gave to the servants at the wedding feast: Do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5).

I stand by the window, tired of thinking about lists. The sun hitting my face. I can feel the warmth of the afternoon rays. I squint my eyes to see my youngest daughter riding her bike around in circles. The neighborhood cats are snacking on old lunch meat, and all seems right in the moment. There is peace, and I am present to what is happening before me. My mind is not in the past, not in the future, and not creating a list. What if in this new year I started a different list, a “to-be” list instead of a to-do list. I think it would go something like this:

Be present.

Be grateful.

Be me.

Be with Jesus.

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