The Temptation of the Checklist

Pay attention.  Soon, these days will be no more.  

It’s easy to fall into the trap of surveying all that is left undone, and think: failure.  Dirty dishes, laundry wrinkling in the dryer, emails to be answered. It’s easy to fall prey to the lure of the checklist: each checkmark, validation.  The more checkmarks, the better – the better job I’m doing, the better mother I am. The better I am.

What’s unseen is the imprint on their hearts that only time and my undivided attention can make.   

This is the lesson God is calling me to learn again each day.  But really, isn’t this the lesson in every vocation? The souls entrusted to us, for however brief a moment, are never interruptions.  They are Jesus, asking once again, “Do you love me?”

The checklist is so tempting not because it is bad to accomplish the things the Lord has entrusted to us; that is its very allure. Even the most good and beautiful and holy work becomes idolatrous when it eclipses what is greater. My checklist is useful. And really, that is all. It is a reminder of what I’d like to do, not an indicator of how well I am doing.

The tasks we must do will always be there.  And do them we must. For me, the challenge is to learn to do them not to prove to myself that I am worthy, that I am good, that I can do these many things.  The challenge is to unlearn that pattern, and to replace it with the pattern of the Gospel: love, sacrifice, new life.

“Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.”

St. Teresa of Calcutta

To all the holy and beautiful women who live out your call to motherhood, be it physical or spiritual motherhood, happy Mother’s Day. May God bless your ministry and continue to breathe new life into the dreariness of the world through you.

For more on cultivating presence in motherhood, check out this post. I’ve also written on finding beauty in the sacrifice of marriage here.

What distracts you from being present to your kids? How do navigate the temptation to define yourself by what you do?

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