Getting God off 'to do' lists

We are bombarded beings whose “to do” lists are rarely completed. Never before in human history have people received so much information and stimulation while often feeling a nagging sense of insufficiency. No matter how much we accomplish, we never feel as though we do enough. We multitask all day, fall into bed at night and have trouble sleeping. Our adrenaline is on overdrive and leads us into the next day to dance as fast as we can to the cacophony of requests and expectations.

As committed Catholics, there is an additional tension. Our Lord said that we “do not belong to the world” (Jn 17:14), but we are obviously in the world. This feels more like an invitation to go to the moon than a call to discipleship. How are we supposed to fulfill these very dissonant realities? We can barely hear the muffled whispers of our Lord calling us to our primary and universal vocation of holiness while we are developing careers, raising families, paying bills and shopping at the mall.

Yet, we need not despair. Here in the midst of this chaos, we Christians truly have good news. Although our days are defined by clocks and schedules, our Lord cannot be compartmentalized and added to our “to do” lists, given only a certain time and space. He wishes to be in the middle of our lives. He is neither bored nor repulsed by the mundane; instead, he inhabits it.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ came to the world to enter into our joys and sorrows, bringing the eternal kingdom of God to the here and now. Through his death and resurrection, the “somewhere out there” kingdom moved to within us and between us.

What does this mean on this particular day, in your particular life? What does it mean in the traffic jam, at the grocery store or the PTA meeting, when you have cried your heart out or jumped for joy?

It means precisely this: The same Lord who walked and dined with his disciples, warmly kissed his mother on her cheek and got calluses on his feet is hanging out with you. He has broken through all barriers that separate us from him and each other. He knows your every struggle and dashed hope, loves you when you fall and get back up, and doesn’t need you all fixed up or ready to go. He already has plenty of angels and doesn’t need you to be an imitation. God created you to be a complex and unique human being, calling you to holiness while knowing you will struggle with sin. But unlike the angels, you are baptized and redeemed. If this isn’t great news, then what is?

Your coming into this world was not part of God’s “to do” list. Instead he imagined, designed and inspired you into being. Much like parents who delight at the cribside of their baby, Christ delights in you, gazing at you. Forgive this anthropomorphism, but let’s incarnate this moment. The Father joins the Lord to see a baby and remarks, “She/he looks a lot like you, Son.” And Jesus beams with delight and lights up the world with joy.

So, while the kingdom of this world continues to dictate more tasks and goals, Christ turns all our notions of having to earn our way upside down and inside out. He offers himself and his love freely and without cost. The world tells us to work harder and we will get ahead. The Lord says: “Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin” (Mt 6:28). While we are being texted, tweeted, emailed or phoned, there is a gentle and sure voice beckoning, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Can we hear him?

Christ asks us to take him off the “to do” list. His ardent desire is for us to experience his being with us and our being with him. He is there, but we forget. Your house is a mess; he’s there. The kids are crying; he’s there. The bills are piling up; he is still there! When we were children, we were taught that God is everywhere. Do we actually realize this and experience him in the raw, day-to-day moments? That awareness has the power to change our lives. Once it happens, all of the commandments are synthesized into the two greatest, and then they are written in our hearts.

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital.

Of course, there are spiritual practices that can further our awareness, but the practices should not be legalized from the outside. They should naturally flow out of the life we have received internally. One loves because they have been loved. One forgives because they have known forgiveness. How do we enter this realm?

We need to take the first step and not walk but run, skip and then take a giant leap into the open arms of the one who unconditionally loves us. When we ask God into our daily lives instead of sidelining him to a checklist, he will help transform our lives into a prayer spoken not from our minds but our hearts. The distance between heaven and earth will gradually disappear and the words, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” will be our way of life.

Patricia Byrne writes from Florida.