On Making Lists and Not Wasting My Life

A few months ago, I implemented something new in our homeschool: I started giving Katie a list.

It always has the same things at the top. Get dressed. Tidy your room. Brush your hair. Practice the piano. And then, checkboxes for whatever she needs to accomplish that day. Math pages. Copy work. Spelling. Addition practice. Chores.

Underneath all of that, she has a target time and an additional few “fun” boxes, things we’ll do if she’s gotten everything else done. Art lessons. Read alouds (though we almost always do that, even if she doesn’t quite make the deadline). Science experiments.

It’s worked, for the most part. The List gives her motivation to stay on track and provides her with clear expectations. It makes her responsible for her own tasks, helps her learn to manage her time well.

More than that, though, it provides her with a clear plan of action. And, for my girl who starts each Saturday with–I kid you not–“What’s on our agenda for today?” that clear plan of action can make all the difference in the world.

I celebrated my thirty-*mumble mumble* birthday this week.

Ok, fine. I’ll own it.

I’m 38. Two years shy of 40, which, by some people’s reckoning, means I’m on the cusp of middle age.

Which is weird, because there are days I still feel like a kid masquerading as an adult.

I said something to Jonathan the other day about being 15 years older than the average kids grown-ups people graduating from college this year, and he stopped me, mid-sentence.

“Wow. I guess we really are that much older than them, aren’t we?”

Yes. Yes, we are.

The implementation of The List has not always gone perfectly smoothly.

There are days when Katie sleeps in, or finds a list longer than she expects, and then works herself into a tizzy because she’s absolutely certain there’s no possible way she can get everything done in time.

Then there are the times the opposite happens. Ever my logical thinker, she’ll go through each item, assigning her estimated completion time to each thing. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard something along the lines of “Mom, I have 53 minutes of work left to do and 2 hours to do it in!” only to later find her frantically trying to squeeze the last task out before her time expires.

(“Time management is hard,” says her mom, who has made the commitment to herself to blog each week and often slides the post out on Sunday afternoon.)

(I know, I know. Technically, that’s pushing it into the next week.)

(Like I said, time management is hard.)

My favorite, though, happened just a week or so into our new system. Next to the two top items on her list–get dressed and brush your hair–she had scrawled notes stating she’d done those things the day before.

I get it, kiddo. Trust me, I do.

Also? Nice try.

Near the end of my time in college, a book called Don’t Waste Your Life became popular on our small campus. I think it was even assigned reading for those in student leadership.

(As an RA, I was given a copy with the expectation that I would read it. I never did. Shhh. Don’t tell.)

I can’t speak to the content of the book (see above aside), but the title alone stressed me out.

I was 22, ready to graduate, to go out and make my mark on the world. I’m a member of a generation that was told just that–that we could make a mark on the world, that we could (and should) do great things for our communities, for our world, for our God.

The message was well-intentioned. I’m sure it was supposed to be inspiring, empowering, uplifting. I’d even guess there was more nuance to that message than I remember, that we were told there were so many ways to make that mark, to live faithful lives.

But I saw it as a chance to fail.

What if I didn’t do great things? What if I didn’t leave a mark?

What if I–gasp–wasted my life?

Last week, we made a slight adaptation to the way we do The List, one that will–I hope–reduce the number of hard days.

I had been composing The List each night. It was the last thing I did before I went to bed.

(And I do mean the last thing. Some nights, I *ahem* had to jump up ten minutes after lying down in order to get it written.)

(It would seem I could benefit from somebody making ME a List.)

Anyway. Sometime last week, Katie decided she wanted to write The List. And so, with my help and input, she did.

All the same things ended up on it, even the dreaded subject of spelling. It was the same as if I had written it (albeit with larger handwriting).

(Well, mostly. There was some amount of negotiation.

K, writing: If done by 10:30 . . .

Me: No, it’s a short list. 10:00.

K: Ok, 10:15.)

But she was a part of the process. She had ownership of it. It was, truly, HER List.

Back when I was 22 or 23, I would have loved to have somebody write a List for me. It would have taken so much of the pressure off. I could just work through it methodically, knowing exactly what was expected of me. Wasting my life wouldn’t be an issue: just check The List and I’m good to go.

(Who am I kidding? I would love to have one written for me today.)

But, of course, life doesn’t work that way (she says from her lofty, mature vantage point of so many years). God doesn’t construct some static cosmic list. He isn’t standing above us with a clipboard and a pencil, checking off boxes as we march through life. He doesn’t view our lives as a waste, no matter what we do or don’t accomplish. Not if we’re faithfully seeking Him.

No. He does none of those things. Instead, in what might be one of the most astonishing things about Him, He invites us into the process, gives us ownership. He asks us to partner with Him. And He works with us when we fail.

There have been a handful of days where The List was not completed by the specified time. Most often, this results in great distress, in wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But always, always, she’s given another chance the next day. What didn’t get done often shows up again, without condemnation or guilt.

And, while I certainly don’t enjoy such days and I do my best to help her avoid them, I don’t consider them a waste.

Our days, ultimately, are not about accomplishing a set number of tasks. Though academics are important, the heart of our school, of our home, of our life, is our relationships–with each other, with our community, with our world, with our God.

And, because of that, I can be sure she’s learning, growing, trying, even if she fails.

We both are.

2 response to "On Making Lists and Not Wasting My Life"

  1. By: Jerry and Cissy Murphy Posted: April 8, 2022

    Great read and so true. Jerry

  2. By: Karen Posted: April 15, 2022


    Thank you for writing. I’m warmed and inspired by your stories, your writing, and your obedience to listen to your own story and speak of His faithfulness and goodness.

    I’d love to know how you created your website. Would you email me?

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