Fridays are the beginning of my weekend. Each Friday morning, before my two girls wake up, I sit down in our front room, take out my pink notebook and start making lists. In this notebook, you’ll find my weekly to-do lists, our overnight packing list (I know, I know I should be digital), what we needed to pack for the hospital when both girls were born, every shopping bullet point, all the holiday to-dos, etc. Over the last 18 months, the pink notebook has served as a lifeline – a storage house of all my notes to remind me of my obligations and tasks.
If I were to lose this pink notebook, I would lose a part of me – and ALL THE THINGS wouldn’t happen. A bit dramatic, but feels accurate.
This small, worn-out, cloth-bound, collection of paper is a representation of the mental load I carry each day. When a to-do list item comes to mind, it’s a new page. As I write things down, a weight gets lifted. And as I cross things off — “ahhh” — a sigh of relief. If I don’t complete the list, however, my inner auditor files a complaint to my nervous system and my stomach tightens up or I might get a twitch in my eye under all the surface pressure.
The concept of mental load didn’t become real until we had our first child. All of a sudden, I’m not only thinking about my needs and life’s demands but also thinking about the needs of my daughter. Enter our second daughter and those needs have now doubled. Does Addy have mittens for this winter? Eloise is getting long, I need to take out our 9-month clothing bin. Do I have time to pump before this next meeting? What is the plan for dinner this week? Has Kurt reached out to our tax advisor? I need to get a birthday gift for our nephew. Will there be time to do a quick workout before work? Do we need more bananas? What’s troubling is how disconnected all of these thoughts are, yet my brain happily jumps from one to the next as if they are all close cousins.
I long for the day when I’ll be able to sit on my couch with my feet up and read a good book without my mind racing to the next thing. The lie that I tend to believe is that I will experience rest and satisfaction when my list is complete and when my mental load no longer feels like a burden or heavy weight I’m carrying. This is not what we’re promised though. In this life, there will always be a list.
We’re all weighed down with a burden that is too great for us to carry. The reason lists feel heavy is that we think they’re a reflection of who we are and the value we bring to the world. We carry around an unseen series of do’s and don’ts that we think grant us standing before others and ultimately God.
This reminds me of two different stories in scripture that, relatedly, pierce the soul. One is the story of the Rich Young Ruler, who approaches Jesus and asks him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He then proceeds to list all the reasons why he should be permitted to enter God’s presence.
The other story is about two sisters, Martha and Mary. Jesus was coming to stay at their place and while Martha was preparing for his stay, Mary chose to sit in the presence of Jesus and be with him. But then it says, “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks..”
Martha and the rich young ruler were worried about completing the lists and having everything just right. The narrative they believe, just like me, is that freedom is found in completing all the things.
Like Martha, I have turned to Jesus in moments of frustration and said, “Isn’t what I’m doing important? Don’t you care?” I’m doing all that I can do to serve and support my family, to find acceptance in my community, to make sure the needs of those I love are met. In those moments of angst, I want Jesus to tell me, “You’re right. I will stand up for you and the work you’re doing.” But instead of cheering on my list-keeping, he brings a more compassionate, better word.
In the story, he moves toward Martha, puts his hand on her shoulder, and says in a calm, gentle voice, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.”
This is the only time Jesus corrects himself in the Gospel accounts, as he narrows down a list of requirements to point out that actually only one thing is needed – himself. To sit with him. To let him do what only he can do.
He doesn’t desire our lists, but us. How does he ultimately demonstrate this? Instead of etching a list for us to keep in tablets of stone, he invites us to place our finger into his scars. Far from keeping tabs, he wants us to be mindful of his wounds, his own box-checking, and his love. And love keeps no record of unfinished chores.