Drowning in Duties

I took a big step on Monday evening, October 6. After years of repeatedly deciding to re-order my daily schedule and put first things first–and repeatedly backsliding after the first few days–I stood up in a Celebrate Recovery meeting and made a formal  pledge to take every work day from then on in a top-priorities-first order. Marketing first; then paid assignments; then e-book work; then nonpaying obligations (including this blog); and general e-mail and bookkeeping tasks LAST. Take things in that order every work day, no excuses allowed.

Formal accountability does wonders for motivation. And sticking to my pledge for the past two weeks has done wonders for my understanding of the subtleties driving habit change. Among insights received:

  • I really am helpless without God’s Spirit and an awareness of His constant support. Almost every day now, I find myself pleading for protection from anxiety, temptation, and circumstantial stressors.
  • Whatever external tasks I’m performing, the internal struggle of forming new and better habits is exhausting. My irritability has gone up, the soundness of my sleep has gone down, and my daily functional energy is battling to hold its own.
  • It’s vital to concentrate on one area at a time. While I have seen changes for the better in my eating habits and overall attitude as apparent side effects of practicing a priority-based work schedule, introducing a new struggle by demanding that I be equally consistent in keeping a 1500-calories-per-day diet and never letting a frown cross my face would be a bad idea at this point–more likely to precipitate major depression or physical illness than overall “perfection” in 90 days.
  • Being humanly responsible for deciding what you “should” be doing is, to put it mildly, difficult. If I set a minimum quota of two work applications and one e-book section per day, and that minimum is finished in an hour while the rest of the day remains open, should I follow a full-time-work standard that expects eight full hours to be productively occupied, period; figure that I’ve met my obligation and can take the next seven hours off; or prayerfully and thoughtfully consider what I’m fit for in terms of available personal energy as well as time? The third option, the best under most circumstances, is also the one most people are least likely to pick–like habit change itself, it involves more effort than goes into doing what’s expected, doing what you’ve always done, or doing what you feel like doing.

Thinking about what we actually need to do is also harder, at least to our instant-gratification instincts, than automatically saying yes to every “doing” that looks good or is suggested by someone whose opinion we value. Which is why so many of us have a chronic case of the “shoulds” (“I should do this, I should do that”) and complain about never having enough time to finish our task lists. The whole sense of duty quickly becomes a perceptible sense of something-weighing-us-down, so much its own oppressive entity that some have referred to it as “the overwhelm” (e. g., Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte). And it all results in less ultimate benefit to those we serve–and virtually none to ourselves–as our desire for maximum function presses us farther and farther from optimal function.

Even in purely “spiritual” activities, “You can be so busy going to the next class or seminar or Bible conference that you have no time to implement what you’ve learned. You forget it on the way to your next study!” (Rick Warren)

It is so hard for achievement-oriented human nature to understand that God would rather we be close to Him–even take long hours to just sit and commune with Him–than spend those same hours doing “good deeds” in His name. It is so difficult for solve-everything-quickly human instincts to believe that He doesn’t expect us to personally feed every refugee or save every wayward teenager. It is so easy for quantity-oriented human pride to measure our Christian effectiveness solely in terms of works. (And it’s not fair to blame all this on the “modern age”; the rest-on-the-Sabbath commandment, and Jesus’s invitation for the overwhelmed to come to Him and rest, have been around a lot longer than the 40-hour work week!) Yet if we are ever to know true accomplishment, we must accept that He alone can show us when (and how) to work and when to rest–and be willing to do both in awareness of and obedience to Him.

We must also remember that Christianity is not simply a religion, but a relationship. And that no less here than in the human world, a mutually fulfilling relationship is not rooted in achievement and obedience, but in trust and love.

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1 Comment

  1. janetanncollins

     /  October 17, 2014

    Good one, Katherine.


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