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How To Cure Anxiety From Unending To Do Lists

“How are you doing?” the text came in. All I could think was, “Overwhelmed.” Is there 3874169787_f3266afbf0_oan emoji for that? To-do lists were scattered between scraps of paper, my iPhone, and my little notebook I call “Brain” since without it I cannot seem to accomplish anything. I had only been up a couple hours, and I was already behind. My mind raced in tight circles around how much I needed to get done. I had to get those items accomplished today.

While the “to-do list anxiety” isn’t always intense, there’s usually more on my list than any human can get done in a day. It’s as if I feel I must achieve this paltry list, crumpled and written on a grocery receipt or else… Or else I won’t be enough today. Each day I can feel different about the list–overwhelmed, frantic, confident, apathetic, unproductive, or just defeatist. Yet that list has leverage over each day. It draws my focus to scratching off items and ties my value to what I accomplish. Do I need to do more right now? stalks my thoughts. Am I enough if things go undone?

Enter Hebrews 4

The dark, unwritten lie that my value is tied to what I accomplish today needs the light of gospel, just like everything else in my life. And God has used Hebrews 4 to help me see how the work of Jesus frees me, even from to-do list obsession. He instead offers me rest.

 

The dark, unwritten lie that my value is tied to what I accomplish today needs the light of gospel.

 

In the book of Hebrews, the writer is urging the Jewish believers to see that Jesus really is better than anything they think they could return to in old covenant Judaism. Jesus is better than the angels, than Moses, than their sacrificial practices. His new covenant is what they need! In chapters 3 and 4, the author reminds them that the people of Israel leaving Egypt didn’t listen to what God had said in the wilderness. They didn’t believe God, so they didn’t follow Joshua into the Promised Land. Therefore, the exodus generation did not enter God’s rest–the rest in the land God wanted to give them.

The recipients of the letter of Hebrews had a choice to enter into God’s rest too. They were in the same place as those people of God in the wilderness. Will they believe God’s good news? Will they chose faith and enter His rest?

Hebrews 4:2-3 says, “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest…”

And verses 5-10 go on to say, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

There is a final rest when God makes all things right at the end of the age, and yet there are beginnings of that rest that we enter now, if we believe. The great news from Hebrews is that we enter into God’s rest by believing God’s good news– that Jesus Christ is the final sacrifice for my sins, and so I am in right relationship with God. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the choice is to believe and receive rest.

 

Our peace with our undone tasks reflects we have entered His rest, and left the anxiety of accomplishments behind us.

 

Yet in my ridiculous worry about what I get done in a day, I can act like a lost Israelite. I remember what God has said, but I pretend there is no land of rest offered to me. I chose the desert over milk and honey. God has given me rest because of what Jesus has done. Why would I ignore that for anxiety over daily accomplishments?

Like the recipients of this letter, verse 10 calls me to rest from my works, like God rested from His on the seventh day of creation. This doesn’t mean I ignore the grocery list, phone calls, and work to be done, but it does mean I do not put my faith in what I do or accomplish, nor in continual sacrifices like the first readers. Instead I must believe that all the work that needed to be done has already been done—by Jesus Christ. There is nothing that I must accomplish today to be enough! It’s been done. So I rest from my striving to be enough, trusting Him because He has done what I needed.

We have good works prepared for us by the Lord (Eph 2:10), and some of those things may be on your list today. But when evening comes, we must know that our ultimate work to do today is what Jesus told us to do: Believe in the One God has sent. (Jn 6:29). We may not be able to get our list done, but that’s ok. Another has done the final work for us. Our peace with our undone tasks reflects we have entered His rest, and left the anxiety of accomplishments behind us.

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Image Credit:  Ali Nassiri, Creative Commons


Taylor Turkington

About

Taylor remembers the day when she realized that God was great and she was not. It’s been an adventure full of grace ever since. Taylor grew up on a mini-ranch in Oregon but has loved living in multiple countries as an adult. She has worked for a church in the Portland area for the last six years, teaching, discipling, and training. She loves being involved in equipping and encouraging people for the work God has given them. Before her church-life, Taylor worked as a missionary in Eastern Europe and graduated from Western Seminary with a MA in Biblical and Theological Studies. Her favorite part of life is sitting one on one with a woman to tell her about the hope of Jesus, because she knows that she desperately needs that hope each day. Taylor is the co-director of the Verity Fellowship, a ministry to equip women from Western Seminary, and regularly writes on their site VerityFellowship.org.


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