When the do-list is long

“Above all else. . . ” The phrase rings through my consciousness.

The list of things to be done today is impossibly long, the energy small. How can I do it all? What must come first?

“Above all else. . .” If something must go, it cannot not be this, for this is my very life, the one thing that makes all else possible. It too is life for those among whom I live. Without this, all efforts fall dead, useless.

What is it, this which must remain first?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

(Proverbs 4:23 New International Version)

In different lives and at different stages, it looks different. Yesterday, guarding my heart meant putting my do-list away and spending Sunday afternoon enjoying God. Today, it means facing the list with Jesus. Sometimes it may mean letting go of activity to rest, other times stepping out in obedience, choosing to live on the edge of the impossible where we find God sufficient. Often it means opening my heart to another. Always, it means seeking to live with heart wide open to God. Always, asking the One who made my heart, who loves it, to help me open that tender place a little more fully to His love today.

Jesus says it this way:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5, New Living Translation)

Do I really believe this, that I cannot clean the bathroom or buy groceries without Jesus?

On the days I lack the strength to do these things I remember. Yes, strength is a gift. Without the life and breath He gives, without His holy empowering, I really can do nothing.

On the days I feel stronger, it’s harder to remember. But a long view helps me understand. What I race through on my own may be done today, ticked off my do-list, but it will be gone tomorrow. Only what I do today in the love and life of God will last. Even a toilet cleaned, a phone answered, a tear offered in love to God is graciously received by Him as a gift, a gift which He blesses and multiplies.

And here too is grace. This command to “guard your hearts” is not one more thing to add to the do-list, one more thing over which to feel guilty if left undone. It is permission to take a deep breath and enjoy the arms of love no matter how many things demand attention.

And I remember: I am called first of all not to write, nor to study, nor even to serve others. I am called first and foremost to live with my heart wide open to God. To listen to His heartbeat. To love Him and receive His love for me. All else flows out of this.