Christian, Lent, Spirituality

Life is Not A To-Do List.

My husband and I recently returned from our (very warm, sunshine-filled) honeymoon and all we got were 3 lousy to-do lists! Just kidding, we got sweatshirts. But I have made at least 3 to-do lists since our return. Crossing off items on a list is pure bliss, in my opinion, but the honeymoon was a needed respite from the “life-as-lists” trap. We went down to Disney World, which is a great way to experience the beautiful Floridian weather without having to really be in Florida. We had been to Disney two years ago so when we chose to return, a question was if we would find enough to do that didn’t feel like “been there, done that.” The  verdict: there was nothing too new or exciting to do. And that is what made the trip so perfect.

First, if you don’t know much about Disney World, let me help: it’s big. With 5 theme parks and over 25 resorts, it is 25,000 acres of magic (and sweet, sweet capitalism). It’s also not a cheap place to go. A one-day ticket to Magic Kingdom is $105/day. That’s why you see families wait 5 hours in line to meet Anna and Elsa or 2 hours for “It’s a Small World,” because we paid good money for these tickets and we’re going to meet the girls from Frozen, dammit!!  There’s pressure to do and see a lot because it’s not exactly the kind of vacation most families can afford to take over and over (although many do). That was how my first trip was. There were things we just HAD to do, HAD to wait in line for, HAD to put on a vacation to-do list. And we did them! It was fun but exhausting.

But not this time. Nope, this time, my husband and I got to enjoy the experience so much more because we were free to do whatever we felt like doing. Go eat nachos at a bar? Sure! Take a 5 mile run around the resort grounds? Why not! Go on a terrible and somewhat racist old Disney ride? Ok! (The Tiki Room: Never again!)  I realized there was a lot I had missed: the friendliness of the people there, the lush landscaping and lovely gardens. I missed part of Disney’s mission, which is letting people be kids again and do whatever seems fun and silly and desired. By being free of a to-do list, we were able to savor each day we were there and relish in each other’s company. (And if you ever watch enough families at a theme park, you’ll know: it’s can be very high in stress and very low in savoring).

So now we’re back and there are a week’s worth of to-do list items to deal with, and that’s ok – lists are helpful. But I’m realizing that I’ve been missing so much by focusing on the lists in my life and not savoring the everyday details. In the middle of Lent, this is vital, because how many American Catholics are guilted by the sense that we should be doing more, giving up more, helping more? And while, yes, we should be striving to do better, we can’t forget- I can’t forget – that God already thinks we are enough. God demands a lot of us but the 10 Commandments, the Beatitudes – these are not checklists to be filled out and handed back to God. They are supposed to guide us, transform our hearts, and in doing that, transform the world. They are supposed to help us learn to savor this world we’re in.

This is something I struggle with, especially as a progressive Catholic. It’s easy to make Lent about what I’m doing: how much am I donating? What am I doing with my time?  When I think this way (and I often do), I reduce the Gospel to a political program. The Gospel as To-Do List: “Feed the poor. Show mercy. Visit the imprisoned.” And I miss the point that I am the poor. I am in need of mercy. I am imprisoned. And so is everyone else, and we belong to each other, and to acknowledge that is to be saved. If the Gospel means just doing good deeds, well, that’s another list and I don’t need another list in my life. But if it’s about transforming our hearts and eyes to savor this earth and each other a little better, then I’m all in. I just need to put it on my to-do list.

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