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Letting Go of the Checklist

Written by Lori Stout on

There’s nothing like that feeling of waking up on a Monday morning ready to start the week. You take a few extra minutes before your children wake up and sit down on the couch, pull out your phone, your calendar and the to-do list. Ahhh… the feeling of productive time and organization! You’re on top of it, and you’re going to plan your week. You’re figuring out what needs to be done, what needs to be bought, what needs to be cooked, what needs to be cleaned, what appointments you have, what coupons need to be clipped, etc… and then your reverie is interrupted as you notice that somehow your to-do lists and calendar have been erased. WHAT??!? Erased?

Impossible. You pause for a moment, thinking surely you are only perceiving that there’s missing information due to the early morning hour, or the lack of food and coffee in your body, or the fact that you’re still wearing your glasses. Obviously, your to-do list and calendar events can’t be gone. No. Because if they are gone that would mean your life is over. Literally. Okay not literally, that was a tad dramatic but pretty darn close. Those lists are your brain. Those lists help you keep yourself together when everything else seems to be spiraling out of control. When your mom-brain kicked in at warp speed and you almost couldn’t even remember your children’s names because there was so much going on, those lists save the day. Those lists are what make you a good mom.

This was a recent Monday experience for me. On the prior Sunday night, my sweet husband had been trying to help me out because my phone had been throwing out this upsetting message that I didn’t have enough memory to take pictures anymore, which meant there needed to be a system purge. However, in the process of erasing unnecessary files, he inadvertently erased my to-do list. This was a shock I certainly hadn’t been counting on first thing Monday morning. But as I sat there frustrated, I had to ask myself why it was that my lists were so important to me. What I began to realize was that I was using my to-do lists as a means to define myself as a good mom. As long as I had a full list of duties or activities to accomplish, and was able to cross them off, then that meant I was doing everything I could do to be a good mom.  

In a Bible study – check, in mom’s connection – check, faithful attendee of the 9:45 service – check, serving at church – check, regularly getting together with other Christian women – check, exercising – check, refrigerator is full… or mostly full – check, dinner is planned and prepared – check, lunches are packed – check, doctor’s appointments are made – check… and on and on it goes. How exhausting it is to be chained to a list, as though my accomplishments are what make me who I am. I believe the Lord would define this as a major fear of man because I care far more about the kind of mom the world sees me as than I care about the kind of mom God sees me as.  

This story may resonate with many moms and parents – whether we realize it or not we are constantly measuring our self-worth by a performance-based checklist. We hold it up to other women, too. Instead of viewing other moms as comrades in the greatest calling God has ever given us, we often count them as the competition. There is a tape that automatically plays in my head, and for the longest time, I listened to it, choosing to believe it was my conscience.

However, now I’ve come to realize that it’s far less benign than that – it’s an attack from the enemy. I hear him tell me, “You see that woman over there? She’s showered, with her hair done and her makeup looking perfect today. I bet she doesn’t even have to try!” and, “Oh did you see her?  She’s lost all of her baby weight – in fact, she doesn’t even look like she’s had a child, let alone two!” “Wait, Lori, did you hear that? That woman read 5 books to her baby today, took him for a walk, took dinner to a shut-in, and volunteered at AWANA. Wow! What did you do today?”  

And before I know it, I’m self-loathing and harboring jealousy and envy toward women who are struggling with the very same challenges of parenting children that I am. Thankfully the Holy Spirit usually steps into these diatribes and shakes some sense into me.

Obviously, having checklists isn’t wrong, wanting to be organized isn’t wrong, wanting to have a clean house, or a delicious meal on the table isn’t wrong, wanting to take care of your body and look nice isn’t wrong, wanting to read to your children, or volunteer isn’t wrong. But have these things become the most important thing in my life?

Whoa. I’m not really prepared for the Lord to question me like that. He can have every part of me, my heart, my mind, my strength, my time, my…. oh. My time. My heart. My mind. My strength. All of the pieces of myself I’d been throwing wholeheartedly into checklists, and my identity as a mommy.  

“I’m sorry Lord, I guess I’ve completely elevated the idea of being a “good mom” higher than being a godly mom.”

Which leads me to wonder, do I even know what a godly mom looks like? I guess I thought I did, but because I’ve been focused for far too long on good, I’m certain I’ve lost sight of godly.

It’s funny how in these moments when I’m really being convicted by the Spirit, He chooses to use the words of my daughter’s children’s songs to instruct and teach my heart.  For those of you who don’t know who Steve Green is, he put together a musical segment called “Hide ‘Em in Your Heart” that pairs Bible verses and biblical concepts with music.  What I began hearing in my mind was from that, “Do everything without complaining, do everything without arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God. And do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength. And do to others what you would have them do to you. And finally, keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies.”  

“Okay, Lord – what are you trying to tell me? Why did you bring these particular words to mind?”

And it hits me – because these are some of the very things that I as a woman struggle with in a very real way in my day-to-day life.

“You’re right, Lord. These words are for me. I tend to complain pretty much every time my daughter wakes up earlier from her nap then I had planned into my schedule. I argue with my husband when I decide he isn’t responding to me quickly enough. I allow the evil thoughts of my wicked heart to overcome the good that I know you would have me dwell on instead. I choose to give my heart, mind and strength to other things before You. I usually treat others exactly how I see fit in the moment, and not necessarily how they should be. And oh goodness, my tongue – I certainly don’t bow my tongue before Your throne Lord. My tongue is a restless evil that I far too often allow to run away with me into sin.”

It’s then that I begin to understand what I have been missing. I need to scrap the old to-do list. Scrap the good mom, and strive for the godly mom. A godly mom is a woman who chooses to glorify God in all that she does. She is the kind of woman that He’s proud of, because she is clothed in strength and dignity and she can laugh at the days to come (Proverbs 31). Or, in my case, she can laugh at erased to-do lists because she walks with the Lord! God makes her path straight and she looks no further than His hand to satisfy her needs for the day. She conducts herself with peace and humility, she wins people over by the reverence of her character, and her speech is seasoned with grace.

This is the mom that God wants me to be. This is the kind of mom that God calls His follower. This is the mom that Rylee needs, because this is the kind of mom who knows that the Lord comes first, and who has a heart knowledge that allows her to handle everything that comes her way, and I mean everything, in love.

I am my daughter’s biggest example right now. For quite a while she won’t know who God is, she won’t be able to understand Him, but that is why He gave her to me. I can show her who He is. By making these principles my top priority, by following God’s word and living for Him, I can show her the truest forms of His character. The Lord loves me, now I must go love my daughter and wait expectantly as I pursue transformation from a good mom to a godly mom.

Lori Stout

Lori Stout is a member of College Park Church who enjoys serving the Lord through her gift of writing. She has been writing articles on faith and motherhood for more than three years.

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