Of Lists and Laws: Busy Lives and Back-to-School Plans

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

August is upon us, and if you’re anything like me, in addition to the sunshine and heat, it brings with it a crushing realization that the long list of summer to-dos that we penned with great hope in late May is not going to be accomplished.  Mine sits before me, a glaring accusation.  Where did the time go?  The bathroom with 18-year-old wallpaper that I was going to re-decorate, the vanity I was going to refinish, the pictures I was going to rescue from the vaults of my computer and finally frame on my walls, the books I was going to read, the coffee dates I was going to have with neglected friends and family, all of these proclaim my insufficiency.

What’s more, the first day of school stands like a harbinger a mere four weeks away on my calendar.  The deadline looms with all the expectation of my children’s future happiness.  The press of classes I need to prepare is increased by the guilt I feel when I consider spending my time with books instead of my college-age kids, who will return to their dorms across the country in just one week’s time.  The summons I received by mail for jury duty the day after their departure for a case that is expected to last two weeks bodes ill for any parsing out of the workload, filling my schedule with “the things of others” until a mere week before D-Day. 

How am I supposed to get anything done? I complain to God in the early morning hours, huddled over my steaming tea, taking what comfort I can from its radiant heat.  My voice echoes back at me in the temporarily empty room where pillows cast in tumbles clutter the sofa, books sit in piles, and yesterday’s dirty coffee cups decorate my coffee table. I hear myself in the stillness and find an answer whispering in my subconscious:  maybe I’m not.  Maybe getting all my ducks in a glorious row is not all it’s cracked up to be. 

I reflect on previous years of preparation and remember my efforts:  long and detailed lists of reading assignments plotted and pieced, paper and test dates projected, enrichment activities planned.  I see in my mind’s eye the tidy homeschool room with fresh flowers on the table and an organizational system at the ready – in box, out box.  The first days of the school year are so ripe with promise; anything is possible!  What won’t we achieve? 

That’s the allure of back-to-school.  We clean ourselves up and sit with our game plan and an expectation that this year will be different.  This is the year that we’ll not only get it together, but keep it together!  This year we’ll perform.  For the book nerds among us, this time with all of its trappings is intoxicating.  The smell of old books, the soothing click of keys on the computer keyboard, “bouquets of sharpened pencils,” and reams of fresh paper - all of these mean a fresh start in a controlled environment, a new mountain to conquer and a full 36 weeks to make the climb.

How can we forget that for every year of this seductive scenario, we harbor its counterpart in our memories?  You know what I mean – the dark days of January when the holiday festivities have completely upended all of your pretty plans and left you swamped and treading water.  I know from experience that the same lists I’m creating today, the ones which promise so much achievement and reward, will become a voice of accusation and rebuke in mid-winter, laws to condemn me for my mis-steps and incompletions, academic sins of omission and commission.

Perhaps the fly in today’s ointment is a blessing in disguise.  Perhaps our overfull and demanding schedules are really God’s adverse work in our lives.  Perhaps He is saving us from ourselves, binding our hands and feet to keep us from the cyclical, self-induced drama of it all.  Maybe, just maybe, everything doesn’t hang on our good performance, our lives (and theirs) don’t depend on a grade or a checked box.  Maybe His grace really is sufficient for us, His strength actually made perfect in our weakness.

It looks like I am going to find out.