I’m a list-maker, I admit it. I not only make them, I complete them. I can have multiple lists running at the same time: work, home,
parenting, the grocery store, yard work, future vacation itineraries – both fantasized and real. Whether fortunate or not, my brain has the capacity to hold all of these at once, determine which one(s) to work on at a particular time, and still recall the others.
My parents would say I should enjoy this while I can because that now-taken-for-granted-capacity will begin to fail as my age increases. I know what they mean but at least right now I’m not sure it’s a gift that’s all that great.
Lists somehow regiment life. They add order. And though both of these may be good things, I only want lists informing my life, not defining my reality.
Lists have a strange and mysterious power to become the determiner of what was, is, and should be – in many realms, but perhaps most profoundly for a religious person who lives within a text that is filled with more lists than we know what to do with.
I was looking at some passages in 1st and 2nd Timothy last week that had to do with Elders: their role, the qualities of such, etc. And I found myself incredibly frustrated. Too many to-do’s. True, the order thing is there – in spades, but for me, they felt like they’d lost their goodness and moved to something dangerous, something life-draining vs. life-giving. I struggled to think of a way to breathe life into these texts; to offer a larger perspective on how I/we might understand them. I wanted to find and invite something, anything different. I didn’t have much luck.
As I’ve spent some more time reflecting on the palpable tension I experienced in this context I wondered how it might speak to a larger reality in my life these days:
My list-making, or at least my previous understanding of what would provide me order, security, boundaries, safety, and even answers, stopped working the way it used to.
Surely, I used to think, the Biblical text – the mandates, the commandments, the lists (and those who’ve interpreted it) could offer me a rubric through which to understand my life and how to live it: a simple step-by-step process that would make sense of the increasing complexity I found myself in. I went back to the books that lined my shelves, most written by reputable Christians, hoping to find that framework.
They let me down – through no fault of their own. Somehow, between the time I bought the books and read them the first, second, or even third time and now my life no longer fit. The rules and how-to’s don’t make sense at all. I need something that offers freedom, something that gives me life.
Not surprisingly really, I found it in the Biblical text when I went to the stories – especially the women, who didn’t live by the rules and were (still) deeply loved by God. I found story after story that literally drips in freedom, that offers life. I’m incredibly grateful.
Still, what to do with the lists – my own and those in Scripture? At least for now, I choose to understand them in the larger context of the Biblical narrative, in the larger context of a God who desires and promises life above all else. For now, I wonder how the lists themselves, the do’s and don’ts, the thou shalts and thou shalt nots might limit both freedom and life.
For now, I’m fine to just wonder – not worry, about making the lists, completing the lists, crossing off every item.
If nothing else (though I believe there’s more) I’m glad I can remember what I need at the grocery store while simultaneously typing on my cellphone a list of to-do’s for work the next day as I’m waiting in the checkout line, looking at my watch, and thinking about how many things I need to get done before the next alarm sounds on my calendar/phone indicating what’s next on my list…
Enough typing. I’ve got to get on to the next thing on my list!