I like to finish things. After hours of working on a paper or project, nothing is quite so satisfying as checking it off my to-do list. My favorite moment in event planning, which I have done a lot of in several jobs, is when the last guest leaves. I breathe a sigh of sweet relief and find joy in the work’s completion. I even have a hard time leaving my bed unmade in the morning. If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I score as a very high “J.”
My ability to complete tasks is a great strength. I meet deadlines and help my colleagues do the same, keep the momentum going on projects, and care for the people who come to me for advice by responding in a timely manner. But all strengths have their shadow sides. In the dark corners of my ability to power through to the finish line, I sometimes find a lack of trust in God’s slow, unfolding timing and an over-developed sense of my own responsibility.
Last year, a friend, who knew I was looking for inspiration in setting boundaries between rest and work, suggested that I read Wayne Muller’s Sabbath-Keeping: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. I recommend it to others who also struggle to find rest when the loose ends of life aren’t neatly tied off, which, of course, they never are. There are many helpful practices and nuggets of wisdom in Muller’s book, but the one I found most challenging — and most freeing — was the simple idea of leaving things undone. For the people of Israel, Sabbath started at sundown on Friday. It didn’t matter if they had completed all that day’s tasks. When the sun set, Sabbath began. The natural order determined the rhythm of work and rest, not their to-do lists. Whatever remained unfinished waited until the people had enjoyed a Sabbath rest.
As I read Muller’s book, I had (for me) a revolutionary thought. What if, at the end of my workday, I simply walked away from my desk? What if I stopped consulting my list of things to accomplish and simply let the tasks wait until tomorrow, even if I hadn’t completed all that I thought I should? What if I let those emails wait in my inbox? Those of you who don’t suffer from a compulsion for completion are probably laughing right now, but others will understand the lure of doing “just one more thing” before the day ends.
I started saying no to the siren song of crossing one last item off the list. Through this simple act of faith, I began to trust more fully that all the things in which I invest myself do not rely on me for their completion, but upon the work of God, however God seeks to accomplish it. The freedom I now seek is an openness to God working through me — and to letting God do so however God chooses, whether or not I get to finish even a piece of what God has started.