I was having some girl friends over, and some of us had quite a lot on our plates just then. You know that middle age means being in the middle of all ages did you not? There were parents, spouses, kids, grandchildren, obligations and careers, and we were in the middle of it all, comforting, helping, advising and supporting. We got to talking about how we tackled stress, and how we sorted our priorities. No one surprised the others by saying she made a list, because we all do that.
The interesting part is how we make different lists and how we make lists differently. One of my friends said the trick was to make a narrow list, just wide enough for a single item, that would convince her that one step at a time would guide her through her day, and it would. My mother used to go to the other extreme, the bigger sheet of paper the better. She would make columns for each hour of the day, allot tasks to each hour, and then force ahead, being sure that if nothing happened it would be possible to achieve it all.
Then of course, as most of the elements on her lists were living creatures who did not know that we were committed to paper, she was always behind her schedule. She found it comforting to know though that life was the messy part, not her planning. To me all sorts of lists are basic survival tools. My head is always filled to the brim with ideas, plans, projects, dreams and pictures. I can handle that, what makes me reach for my notepad is when worries are trying to take over.
If I think I really have too much to do, I use a list to tell me it is not true.To me list making is a way of making sure that the pieces of my life’s puzzle will fit together and make a beautiful picture in the end. I jot down every thought that comes to mind, not categorizing or sorting, just everything. Like emptying the puzzle box on a big table. The rationale is that if it is crowding my head it needs to get out so I can see what it is all about. Normally it takes only a couple of minutes to know that whats left in my head might stay where it is.
Then I start sorting. Normally the categories would be family and friends, work and church. These are the corners holding my picture together. Then of course there will be different projects to do and to remember. The surprise that always elevates me is that is normally boils down to the small details of the big picture. Thinking it over, having a look at the pieces that want to be in my picture I can confer with the picture on the box of the puzzle and say, sorry you do not belong, or I can turn it over and say, this piece goes with the border, so let’s just keep it out of the middle for a while.
Doing this I also discover that life is just like the old jigsaw puzzles at our cabin. Someone has been lazy when sorting the pieces. Mostly you will discover that by emptying the box. As in life, I can easily spot and remove the big, clumsy pieces that clearly not belong.
It get’s tricky though, sometimes you can make a piece from another box fit. Not quite, but almost. That is when I get stressed, that is when I sense something is wrong, when I try to fit something into my life because somebody has dumped it into my box. As I get older, I am learning. Doing what others should do is not taking responsibility, it is robbing someone else of the blessings to being allowed to walk in the work prepared for them.
Of course, when nobody is shouldering the task, when there is a real emergency, that is something else. If not, I have learned it is wise to just wait it out, sorting through my pieces once more. Resting in the blessing that I will have time for what I am called to do, quietly putting the other pieces back where they belong.
The pictures are from the County Fair this weekend. Busy, teeming with life, everybody concentrating on their own tasks.