“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away.” Ecclesiastes 3:1, 5-6 (NIV)
Our lives are built around “to do lists.” Like most people I keep ongoing and always growing to do lists. There is my work to do list, my home to do list, my call/write to do list, my reading to do list, my prayer to do list, my bucket to do list, and on and on the to do lists grow. These to do lists guide and inform my life of the ways in which I should and/or want to spend my time. But my recent study for a sermon I gave on the subject of the Sabbath, entitled “Faith to Rest” has sensitized me to the equal if not more important idea of keeping a “to don’t list.”
We live in a culture where “to don’t lists” are lost in the flood of to do lists. Our modern world is driven by a busyness that is a by product of the high value we place on accomplishment and accumulation. Consequently the idea of taking time to stop or cease things is anathema to our drive to keep the graphs of life moving up and to the right.
The Bible however confirms our real-life experience that the graph moves down as frequently and readily as it moves up. The passage of Ecclesiastes popularized by The Byrds’ song “Turn, Turn, Turn” in the mid 1960’s says it plainly and painfully. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) It might be summed up like this. There is a time to continue and a time to stop, a time to do and a time to don’t!
The word for Sabbath, derives from the Hebrew word shavat which is frequently translated rest, but more accurately means to cease or to stop (work/doing). The idea of the weekly observance of a Sabbath is a good place to begin when thinking about a “to don’t list.” Although there may be many bad or sinful things that should naturally go right to the top of our “to don’t lists,” the things we often overlook are the good things. Sabbaths were created by God as seasons to suspend even the productive and beneficial things in our lives for the higher purpose of renewed consecration to Him.
A proper “to don’t list” then should include bad things, good things that are simply not the best things and even the best things that need a rest.
Here is a list of clarifying questions that I am finding helpful in determining what things need to be priorities in creating a “to don’t list.”
1. What things in my life am I doing that I need to stop doing that are destructive to myself and/or others (emotionally, spiritually and physically)? Of course this would include sinful behaviors as well as attitudes that are self defeating.
2. What things in my life are causing me anxiety and stress? Are there things that I should stop doing that will alleviate that? Since Jesus told us not to worry then there must be a way and grace to cease worrying. (Matthew 6:25-34)
3. Are my possessions possessing me? Is it time to stop hoarding or buying more, and instead start giving or throwing things away? What if for every item we purchased we gave a similar item away? (Ecclesiastes 3:6)
4. Are my “to don’ts” keeping pace with my “to dos”? For every to do that I add to my list, particularly big time-commitment to dos, can I also add a similar time commitment to my “to don’t list”? Adding time commitments without subtracting something also adds stress and fatigue to life. If Jesus is the Master of my calendar, then I can expect Him to show me how to fit everything into the limitations of a 24/7 week.
5. What is in my life today, that is not in line with my tomorrow? This is a question I picked up from author Henry Cloud in a recent podcast. This question strikes at the heart of a big “to don’t” in our lives. Is there some good thing that we are doing today, that in reality may be a distraction or hindrance keeping us from the very best thing that God has for us tomorrow? The implications of implementing that “to don’t” can trigger fear, uncertainty and insecurity. Some endings are not easy. But if we view them as a necessary doorway through which we must pass into the new things that God has for us, it can calm our fears and offer us hope.
What thoughts do you have about “to don’t” lists?
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