Life Beyond the List

How are you doing with that to-do list? That infernal list we all have that hangs over our head. The one that tells us we haven’t quite yet measured up. That no matter what you do you fall short. That list of what’s acceptable and what’s not — or how we’re falling short as Christians (reading, praying, serving). Maybe it’s the spouse who is never quite happy with us, the job we can never do quite well enough, or the house that’s never quite as clean as Mom taught us was absolutely necessary. Maybe it’s a list we inherited, or the standard we have set for ourselves.

That list is a killer. Even if you complete it, it’s absolutely without power to restore life. That list is the death inherent in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the one God said don’t eat from. Is it even possible to dispense with the list? I taught about this list at a retreat last weekend to some of the most precious, beautiful women I could hope to meet. One sweet young mom said, “But if I don’t have my standards, who am I? I’ll be left with nothing. I won’t even know who I am.”

Ah, there it is. The list of required behavior (to be a good Christian, spouse, parent) feels like security to us. It gives us something tangible to hold. Like a safety rope. To let go of the list is unnerving. We feel like we’re free-falling. The irony is that the to-do list keeps us small. Confined. It prevents us from seeing exactly what is beyond that security. But that is the journey of discovery, isn’t it?

Jesus’ talk about abundant life is not the offer to keep a better list. Peter biffed it plenty, but he also walked on water. A man who was blind from birth was able to see for the first time. Lazarus, who was dead and buried, came walking out of his tomb. I think this is more like the abundant life Jesus had in mind for us. It is absolute dependence on Him to live His life through us! It’s also to forgive someone who’s hurt us. To let God straighten out an issue instead of having to jump in to fix it ourselves. To trust His sovereignty when our world seems to be falling apart.

These examples are only a sliver of life lived from the Tree of Life instead of the Tree of Knowledge. God wants to take us beyond the confines of our own behavior and give us new life, to show us something we haven’t yet seen. To take a risk because He told us to. A man who stays in a hated job because he’s afraid to open his own business. A woman who stays with a man who beats her because she’s afraid of what’s out there. Sure, it’s awful, but what else can you do? We figure, better the demon you know than the demon you don’t know.

But staying with the familiar is also a risk. Avoiding the unknown is also a risk. Giving up your life day by day on the small and uninspiring is also a risk. Of course it’s scary to trust an unpredictable, uncontainable God — but less scary than trusting myself as God. Don’t you think?

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world… why do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”… according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion… but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” Colossians 2:20-23 (emphasis added)

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