by Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore, and Janelle Bradshaw
You know how it goes. For weeks you’ve been preparing for a big presentation at work only to wake up with the flu. Or you need to study for a test but your mom asks you to babysit your little sister. Perhaps you finish a cleaning project only to have your two-year-old color all over the wall—with permanent marker. Maybe you have tasks stacked up from morning till night, and a neighbor unexpectedly drops by for a long chat. At these moments, this perspective-altering thought from C. S. Lewis can be of assistance:
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.
What a difference it can make when we call to mind this biblical truth! All the interruptions—they aren’t interruptions after all. They are sovereign deliveries. The unpleasant things are God’s perfect plan for our day. Contemplating this bit of wisdom can bring a smile to our face, even when our schedule has gone off track and our to-do list remains unfinished. Because, as Psalm 118:24 so cheerily puts it: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
This is the day that the Lord has made. And he’s orchestrated every unpleasant interruption—um, sovereign delivery—for our good. Let’s pray that God will help us to remember this truth. Because Mr. Lewis was right: it’s easy to forget.
Sure, interruptions are bothersome. They can even be distressing at times. But what if our problem isn’t an isolated interruption in a single day, but weeks or months where one or more big happening threatens to crowd out almost everything else? Think Christmas ... finals ... travel ... business presentation ... start of the school year ... new baby. How do we decide what should and shouldn’t get done and deal with the guilt and anxiety besides? Three simple principles can help us navigate uniquely busy seasons.
1. Separate the really-do-matter items from the really-don’t-matter items. Then take care of the really-do-matter items first. For example, when we hit hectic seasons as homemakers, Mom has taught us girls that after sitting at Jesus’ feet, we should attend to three priorities before anything else. (1) Our husband: “What one thing would please my husband the most?” (2) Our children: “What one issue in my child’s life needs consistent attention?” (3) Our food and laundry: “Regardless of how dirty my house is, or how many piles of clutter have accumulated, or whether or not the beds are made—as long as my family has nourishing food to eat and clean clothes to wear their basic needs will be taken care of.”
2. Simplify the really-do-matter items where possible. Examine your essential to-do list and ask, “How can I make these tasks easier?” Take your husband’s dress shirts to the dry cleaners. Use paper products at mealtime. Order pizza for dinner.
3. Size up our limitations. Only God accomplishes everything he needs to do, in exactly the way he intends, in precisely the right amount of time. This truth helps us see the arrogant absurdity of expecting to complete our own to-do list. It frees us to humble ourselves and draw upon God’s strength to simply do what we can in busy seasons.
Because the days are evil, trials are inevitable. And when they strike, the last thing on our minds is our to-do list. But needs don’t always give us time to grieve. The children still have to be fed, or the boss expects us at work, or the professor won’t delay the test. How do we deal with what needs to be done when all we want to do is sit down and cry? This simple poem (by an unknown author) offers comfort and counsel:
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, DO THE NEXT THING.
Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all resultings, DO THE NEXT THING.
We can do the next thing because we know that God orders the seasons of our lives. Even the most difficult ones. As Romans 8:28 reminds us, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” John Piper comments on this verse: “If you live inside this massive promise, your life is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Nothing can blow you over inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28 all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty.
So inside the walls of Romans 8:28, let’s take the next step, do the next thing.
Plan to depend
We hope the simple suggestions in this article help you manage the needs and demands of daily life. But let’s be clear: this is not a self-help article. Because if truth be told, we can’t help ourselves. Whether enduring a trial, contending with an interruption, or enjoying a peaceful day, we must constantly depend upon God’s help to be effective daily shoppers of time. No doubt you’re nodding your head as we state the obvious.
But what does it mean to depend on God? What does it look like? Proverbs 3:6 answers that question: “In all your ways acknowledge him.” Charles Bridges explains how this works out in everyday life in his book, Commentary on Proverbs:
Take one step at a time, every step under Divine warrant and direction. Ever plan for yourself in simple dependence on God. It is nothing less than self-idolatry to conceive that we can carry on even the ordinary matters of the day without his counsel. He loves to be consulted.
It’s the “ordinary matters of the day” that we often try to accomplish on our own, is it not? When we’re faced with a big decision, Proverbs 3:6 is our go-to verse. We’re quick to acknowledge our need for God in extraordinary situations. However, it is often in the ordinary matters of our day where our lack of dependence is most evident.
We live for periods of time as if we don’t need God in order to clean our bathroom, or to counsel our children, or to make a phone call, or to run that errand. Yet, as Bridges rightly asserts, this is self –idolatry. We think we’re sufficient to handle everyday matters. But, of course, we’re not! Rather, we must abandon self-effort and self-idolatry and actively choose to depend on God.
So let’s humbly concede that we can’t carry out even the most ordinary of activities or meet the simplest of needs apart from God’s help. Let’s consult God, acknowledging him in all our ways, while not forgetting Bridges’ confident assertion: “He loves to be consulted!”
In the end, our highest goal each day is not flawless execution of our plans or increased productivity. It’s our relationship with God, walking in dependence upon him throughout the day. We should not be more consumed with the completion of our to-do list than pleasing and glorifying the Savior. Whether we’re sitting down to map out our day, simplifying our to-do list, or receiving an interruption as a “sovereign delivery,” we must, above all, plan to depend.
Taken from Shopping for Time by Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore, and Janelle Bradshaw, copyright © 2007 by Carolyn Mahaney, et al. Used by permission of Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 60187.
Carolyn Mahaney is the author of Feminine Appeal and coauthor of Girl Talk, along with her oldest daughter, Nicole Whitacre. Together with the two other Mahaney daughters, Kristin Chesemore and Janelle Bradshaw, they run the popular blog girltalk, covering a wide range of topics related to biblical womanhood.
FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.