On any given to-do list, there are the pressing errands and whatnot that need urgent attention and then there are the projects – small and large – that tend to get back-burnered due to time constraints.
A little while ago, my group of Mom-friends decided they were going to do Project 365, taking a photo every day for a year. Most of them planned on scrapbooking (digitally or on paper), and documenting a year of daily life in their families. While I loved the idea, my project list was waaaaay too long, and I was pretty happy with the ease of sharing photos and posts on Facebook for all of my long distance family.
Instead, I proposed my own version: doing a project a day for a year. I figured if I could just do one thing from my project list every day, it’d really help me out.
I had no idea the profound impact that this practice would have on my life.
I started listing out all those back-burnered things – in no particular order. At the time I was struggling with depression and an intense set of work deadlines. Both motivation and time were lacking in major ways. But moreover, I started to feel mocked by my to-do list. And there was no way I was going to let a list win. So I began my 365 Projects.
Some days I would just have 5 or 10 minutes in between work, house, and motherhood responsibilities. Other times, like on weekends, I’d take a little longer. I found that if a task required multiple steps – like first acquiring the supplies and then actually patching the holes in the knees of my boys’ jeans – I’d count that as two things, especially since I’d have to do each step on a different day.
Within a remarkably short period of time (maybe six weeks), I had accomplished all of the nagging tasks on my list. By just doing one thing each day, I eliminated the feeling of being overwhelmed. I became proactive. I was, once again, making a difference the organization and function of my home; I was making a difference in my life.
But that wasn’t even the best part. The BEST part was what happened in my attitude.
Completing each of these projects brought me a little joy. Every time I would use a space or a “thing” that had been part of one of my 365 Projects, I’d smile. Embracing that joy transformed my attitude. Now, when I encounter something that frustrates me, instead of being overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do list tasks (which will always be there), I get excited about the possibilities and begin brainstorming a solution.
My friend and mentor, Tom Groome offers a reflection on John the Baptist which resonates deeply with people in ministry (and for what it’s worth, I consider motherhood a ministry). Tom praises John’s wisdom for knowing that he is not the Messiah. I remember Tom inviting us to speak those words aloud: I am not the Messiah. I am not the Messiah. I am not the Messiah.
So often – in both our personal and professional lives – we feel like we have to do it all, so overwhelmed by everything before us that we can’t figure out where to begin.
Whether it’s your home, your relationships, your kids, your friends, your work, or the social injustices plaguing our world, it’s a good idea to remind yourself:
We have one of those. It’s not all up to you; that’s what God is for.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean that the answer is to do nothing.
When looking at the social injustices in the world, it’s not uncommon to hear people (mis)quote Jesus, “The Poor will always be with us” (Matthew 26:1).
Dorothy Day responds to this beautifully: “Yes, the poor are always going to be with us—Our Lord told us that—and there will always be a need for our sharing…It will always be a lifetime job. But I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor…we must do what we can to change it” (“Works of Mercy.” Dorothy Day Selected Writings. Ed Robert Ellsberg. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996, 111).
“What we would like to do is change the world…We can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world….[T]here is nothing we can do but love, and dear God—please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend” (Ibid, 98).