List Fatigue

The dictionary definition of “fatigue” is “extreme tiredness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.” In today’s society, fatigue seems an illness in its own right. And like cancer, it has sufficient notoriety and versatility to rate subdivision into multiple categories: one hears of compassion fatigue, chronic fatigue, career fatigue, e-mail fatigue, adrenal fatigue, customer service fatigue, and others. The word has even found its way into the technical jargon of many industries: engineers worry about metal fatigue causing structural collapse; marketers blame list fatigue when e-mail responses decline.

For me right now, list fatigue has a different meaning:

DEFINITION: an ongoing sense of stress characterized by the feeling that one’s life is controlled by the very lists that were intended to bring one’s life under control.


  • Having a list for everything: to-do lists, shopping lists, goals lists, reading lists, planning lists, budget lists, priority lists, daily-schedule lists, etc., etc.
  • Negative reactions ranging from fury to despair when a carefully laid plan is disrupted for any reason.
  • Severe discontent with oneself and/or life, completely irrespective of a day’s accomplishments or circumstances, so long as unchecked-off items remain on any list.
  • Trying to fit everything from tooth-brushing to starting the car into a precise and regular time slot.
  • Dreading getting out of bed in the morning because “there’s so much to do and I might not finish.”
  • Starting a new list whenever the sense of “making no progress” becomes troubling.
  • Nervous habits such as nail-biting or hair-twisting, particularly when rushing or feeling impatient.
  • Various physical symptoms such as insomnia, increased blood pressure, weight gain, or unexplained aches and spasms.
  • Frequent annoyance with people for “interrupting me” or “taking too much time”; trying to rush them through whatever they want.

And the cause of list fatigue? The key component of original sin: the craving to “be like God,” to control what happens when, to decide what’s best for us and have it.

Ever since Eve, grabbing for the privilege of governing one’s own universe has led to trouble. While we recognize it as sitcom material that a rookie weight trainer should run to the heaviest barbell and persist until he faints in his determination to raise it overhead, we hardly see our infinitely more ludicrous attempts to swing the weight of world-running onto our shoulders and hold it out of God’s reach. This is the burden Jesus referred to when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Strange to say, most of us prefer a heavy burden of our own choice to the rest and easy burden He offers.

Even when we genuinely want to come to Jesus and accept His yoke, our fleshly nature lies in wait to tempt us into turning God’s direction into one more list. The legalistic Christian is the one who strives in church work like the workaholic at the office, who keeps a mental “is this true and right?” checklist by which to analyze every activity and interest–and who, whether he ultimately becomes a smug Pharisee or a pool of self-loathing and self-pity, is the antithesis of the joyful, showing-Christ-to-the-world Christian. The living picture of misery.

Misery is both the parent and the byproduct of fatigue–especially when our devotion to the “list” deludes us into thinking “I haven’t time to rest” or “I have to get all this done.” No, you don’t; the common assumption “I had no choice” is rarely true literally. Even if someone were holding a gun on you, you could still choose to be shot rather than comply. Unwise as that would be under most circumstances, more foolish still is to become so enslaved by compulsion to “finish the list” as to see the option of “neglecting” it for a while–even to pray or catch up on sleep–as on the level of arguing with a loaded gun.

Granted, for those of us who are already as one with the list, getting out of the comfort zone of habit can be painful. But not as painful as the physical or mental collapse needed to get some people’s attention.

Regardless of your immediate “list” situation, if you find only one takeaway point in this article, let it be this:

Coming to Christ for rest is not a one-time thing. If you genuinely want to live the remainder of your life under His easy yoke and free from self-inflicted lists and the resulting fatigue, make a point of spending time in His presence daily. And not just run-through-the-prayer-list, read-your-Bible-like-any-other-book, ask-Him-to-bless-your-preconceived-plans time; His yoke can only stay on you when you open your mind to listen, fill your heart with thanksgiving, and stay ready to accept it when (not if) He shows you that some (perhaps most) of your treasured “list items” are not on His list. If you insist that they stay on yours, there’s no way you will be able to keep them from being a stumbling block to your Christian life.

That possibility is the real reason many well-meaning Christians fill their lives with lists until they have “no time for God”; subconsciously, they fear He will “cross off” items they can’t imagine living without. Only by putting aside that fear will we see how God’s list is so much better for us, “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).

When you have God’s approval, you don’t need to measure your success in checked-off items.

Previous Post
Leave a comment


  1. Katherine, thank you, thank you so much for this wonderful and much-needed post! It came to me just at the right time, when I was feeling overwhelmed. After reading a few paragraphs, I went to my to-do list, deleted two items and moved the rest to the “to-do-later” list, which, although still a list, doesn’t bother me, because I know I can drop it and my life won’t collapse because of it.
    And what an accurate comparison between a “mental checklist” Christian and a workaholic! I was just thinking about it the other day, that very often when I learn something new about the laws of life, I struggle so hard to perfectly apply them to my own life, that in the end I stress myself out so much I doubt the whole effort benefits anyone.
    Thank you over and over again for bringing our attention back to what’s really important. It’s so easy to get stuck in to-do items and forget about the ultimate goal, to which, ideally, all our activities should lead. Thank you so much for helping us keep the focus.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

  • Social

  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 8,891 hits
  • Find Posts by Date

    July 2015
    M T W T F S S
    « Jun   Aug »
  • Copyright

    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See for copyright details.
  • Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: