What I Learned When My List Became Unrealistic

The day was beautiful! In fact, it was the most beautiful day in New England this year. The sun was shining; its warmth was finally palpable. The birds were singing from their perches and not one pesky bug was in sight. Yet my heart was overwhelmed.

Earlier in the week, my plan for these two days was formulated to include getting about ten things done and it didn’t look like they were all going to get accomplished. I left no room for helping my family, should the need arise, and it did. This only added to my frustration, forcing me to tweak my plans. My task-oriented self was jumping up and down inside my brain saying, “You have to get your list all done!” I did not want to let go of any of my self-appointed expectations. Checking off my list of tasks was a comfort that I was looking forward to experiencing.

In this state of mind, the verse about casting all your cares on Him came to me. I decided to look it up for my morning quiet time as I enjoyed my coffee, preparing for the first scheduled day of chores. “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7 (other versions use the word cares instead of anxiety). As I meditated on this verse my eyes went to the verse preceding it which starts with (in the NIV) that one little word that can be hard to swallow—humble. It states, “Humble yourself, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” (v. 6). I contemplated the order of these verses. Each came with an action step (humble and cast) followed by a result. But I wondered what they had to do with each other. I decided to look up the words in my concordance. [1]

The Greek word used here for humble is tapeinoō which means to humble (oneself), lower (oneself), to be humbled, brought low. It is the same word that Jesus used in Matthew 23:12 when He said, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke records similar statements from Jesus in chapters 14:11 and 18:14. The Greek word used here for cast is epiriptō which means to throw on. I was not able to find another use of that specific word. Both of these definitions sounded pretty straight forward but I still didn’t understand the significance of their proximity.

I left the kitchen table with my Bible, notebooks, highlighter and pen scattered across it.  I had food for thought in my brain and the morning wasn’t getting any younger. It was time to start checking off my list. Yet even as I drove to the local flower farm to gather my supplies for the outdoor work, that word humble stuck with me. The over flowing task list and self-imposed need to do it all, also stuck with me.

The farm was bursting at the seams with people. A police officer was directing traffic as people were trying to enter and exit the premises. Parking spots were set up on neighboring lawns on either side of the highway and patrons were walking about the looking for lonely carts. Observing this semi-controlled chaos only added to my level of anxiety realizing that the check-out lines were going to be long.

Cast all your cares, I thought, well, I don’t think Peter had this in mind.But then the other word came to my mind again, humble.Distracted by my list, I pushed that thought out of my mind and set about my business.

Indecisiveness set in as I wandered about the farm pondering my options and my budget. The beauty of God’s creation was on full display. Flowers of all different shapes and sizes lined the aisles and walk ways: bight pinks, fuchsias, purples, reds, blues and whites. There were evergreen plants, ferns, Hosta’s, Clementis, and ground coverings like Creeping Charlies. Gigantic hanging baskets swung from the rafters as customers riffled through them searching for the perfect one. Vegetable plants were in the corner, but I learned a long time ago that I’m no vegetable charmer; that was one distraction that didn’t affect me.

I made my selections and then trekked to the end of the serpentine line, passing the time by people watching. Older children made their way from the line to the snack area alleviating boredom, while the younger ones were left fidgeting by their mother’s sides. Most people looked happy and eager to be out in the sun and get home to work. It was as if we were all coming out of hibernation.

About an hour and a half after entering the farm I found myself returning home, my purchases securely in the back seat; the aroma of flowers and soil filled my car. I was looking forward to planting, working the soil and getting my hands a little dirty. But then I remembered the other tasks on my list.

I’ll just have to figure it out, I told myself.

My stomach grumbled as I pulled into my driveway. It was well past lunch, but I ignored the hunger, focusing on my agenda. I reached for my bottle of water and took a refreshing drink telling my body that was all it was getting for the moment. Visions of the busy rabbit from Alice In Wonderland flitted across my mind, I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. Yes, a date with the dirt!I giggled at my own joke, and my stomach grumbled again.

As I stomped the shovel into the ground to remove a pesky overgrowth of ‘ornamental’ grass, I thought again of Peter’s words: humble and cast. The grass occupied a large area, but I was determined to pull up and replant it with more desirable flowers; I needed to make sure I got it all so it wouldn’t pop back up. I stabbed the shovel into the ground again and pushed up another edge of the grass, mulling the words around. Since Jesus used the same humble word, I was beginning to think this was really important.

I struggled to lift the two-foot diameter grass bulb out of the dirt. It took many passes and much pulling.  My arms and legs were being sprinkled by the flying dirt as I dug and dug. My heart sank as I looked about at how many other similiar plants I would have to do this to; it was taking so much time and energy just for this one! I don’t know if it was perseverance or stubbornness, but I started to work the dirt and excavate the area with more fervor. I had only checked one thing off my list, and it was well into the afternoon.

Humble, the word popped in my head when I was elbow deep on my knees fighting with a particular root. I dropped it immediately, placing my hands in my lap as the proverbial lightbulb popped into my thoughts. I was so worried about my list; it had distracted me from a key part of peace. Peter wrote, in a nutshell, to humble yourself and then cast all your cares on Him. I was so busy making my lists and casting my cares that I forgot to humble myself before God. Making plans without coming to Him and laying them at His feet was the recipe that led me to feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, frustrated and displeased with myself.

I bowed my head and prayed, Lord, please forgive me for my prideful ways this past week. I lay my plans at Your feet and ask for guidance. Your will be done, Lord, not mine. Amen.

My stomach growled. I stood up and brushed myself off as best as I could. My legs looked like someone had taken war paint to them in a calligraphy style, my arms had not faired much better. I carefully walked into the house to get a snack and for the first time that week my mind felt peace. I re-evaluated the list, prioritized it and abbreviated it for the day. I realized that there was no reason that I needed to get everything done on the list in the timeframe that I had set. It would all eventually get done. By remembering that God is the Captain of my ship a great burden was lifted off my shoulders.

[1]Kohlenberger, J.R. (2015). The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance. Zondervan

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