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To-Do: Be Present

As an Enneagram Type 1, my life is basically just one long To-Do list. A never-ending catalog of goals to accomplish, obstacles to obliterate, traits to develop, things I could improve, things everyone else could improve (if only they’d listen!). And I love it. I love planning the next five years of my life. I love striving to perfect all of my lofty ambitions.

But often, this relentless pursuit becomes a trap. I am always thinking about the next thing I have to do, always dreaming of the next time I get to do it (it’ll be better, maybe even perfect!). Which therefore leaves me utterly incapable of being fully present in the moment I am currently living.

I’ve never been good at savoring the moment, truly being fully present wherever I am. My late wife Aletha used to say “What’s the grace for today?” and I rarely understood how to find the grace for today when all that loomed before me was a pile of To-Dos and a mountain range of Things I’m Working On For The Next Five Years. I mean, after all, history books only tell the stories of the great achievers, right? I need to secure my place in the history books. I need to leave a lasting impact on this world. And not just that--but isn’t that what being in ministry is all about? The work is plenty and the field is ripe for harvest, but the workers are few. (Matthew 9:37-38). I’ve got to store up my treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). He will judge me according to what I’ve done (Romans 2:6, 1 Corinthians 4:5). The Lord has work for me to do. Unique, specific work that only I can accomplish. I want to hear Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And so, I must work until my time here on earth is over. I don’t want to miss a single moment of the work He has for me to do.

I hate to admit this on a public blog, but if you’re not on my To-Do list, I often don’t really have time for you. If our paths cross while I’m charging down Mount To-Do, I will find it hard to be present with you in conversation. My mind will be focused on the list of things still undone, and how I wish we could have this conversation at another time when I’m able to focus more (even though, if that time were to come around, I’d probably be thinking about the next thing I’ve got to get to).

Is this really the way I want to lead, the way I want to engage with those around me? If people around me only see a man too preoccupied with his own agenda, with little time to stop and authentically interact with them, then why would anyone want to stick around?

I put too much emphasis on my achievements and daily/seasonal goals. I over-value accomplishments -- even to the point of it being a source of my identity. But is this the best way? Is this how I can best set an example for others to follow? Is this where my true legacy lies? Is this how the King of Heaven judges my life -- through my achievements? What of the seemingly mundane moments I always try to bypass because they don’t fit in with my plan for today? Like when my coworker just wants me to listen to how their weekend went. Or when my son wants to watch a YouTube video on sharks together, but I have dishes to wash. Or the grocery clerk I could have made a short but meaningful connection with. Maybe one of the best ways to leave a lasting impact for the Kingdom can be found in these seemingly boring, unplanned interactions. We can never know, this side of Heaven, the true impact of our actions. But is it possible that one small word of kindness could hold more power in the Lord’s eyes than ten of the goals I achieve this week?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having an ambitious plan for your life. I’ve still got mine. It ain’t going anywhere. In fact, I believe the Lord does indeed call us to a driven, fruit-filled, hard-working life, rooted in His decrees. But let’s not forget the smaller moments of our lives -- the supposedly mundane, boring ones. Perhaps these are the places the Lord is whispering the loudest. Let’s not be too busy to hear His grace for today.

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come. -- Henri Nouwen