All the Things You Should Be Doing

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We were standing in the card aisle of a drugstore when the conversation happened. I knew my friend’s mom fairly well. We were talking about health concerns, and she said something along the lines of, “The hard thing about getting older is realizing you won’t have time for all you planned to do.”

My optimistic high school mind struggled to believe her. It seemed too hopeless to accept. Years later, I’m starting to understand. Even if you have total control over your life and time, you can’t do everything. Time on this earth is ultimately limited. There will be books I don’t get to read, careers I never take (thousands of them!), and opportunities that are not in the cards for me. So what should I focus on? How do I know what’s best? And how can I come to terms with the fact that I can’t do everything?

I was having a conversation with a fellow-mom recently, and she talked about something she could be doing with her child, concluding, “I should probably work on that.” It could have been said about more consistent sleep, potty training, handling tantrums better, or making time for family devotions. I hear all of that, and I think it too. Most women I talk to can immediately list ten things they should be doing–or should be doing better. We need to be more faithful about exercise and incorporate more vegetables and go to bed earlier and read more. The list goes on and on. But I tell myself what I told my friend, ‘I think things come when they should.”

I’ve written before about how I thought we would never have family dinners and thus my child would be terrible at school, lack compassion, and be generally disconnected (note to moms of six-month-olds: give yourselves a break!). It was so hard with my son’s fussiness in the evenings; though I cooked most of our dinners, we never sat at the table. Then one day, these dinners just started happening.

It’s really the story of my life as a mother; so much of life seems to be this way. I remember reading a business article earlier this year. It was about business decisions and listening to customers. The advice was, “What comes up repeatedly–that’s what you need to focus on. The things that come up and you forget probably weren’t that important.”

I find this to be true. I’m not saying that we should do no planning or improving. What I am saying is that if you have a guiding life vision and remain aware, I think that what needs to happen will come at the right time. Most of the time, when something needs to happen, I’ve been motivated to make it happen. This may be a vague sense of “rightness” or born out of necessity. But I can’t muster up the motivation before it needs to happen. And in the end, it happens at just the right time. You never get to do all the reading on the syllabus, but you will complete the assignments that need to be completed.

There are specific, beautiful paths for each one of us. There’s no need to feel the weight of overwhelm or comparison. And that nightly list of “ways I should be living differently” isn’t what motivates change; it’s just a needless stress. When a bedtime routine needs to be developed, you will feel led to do it. When potty training should happen, you (and your child!) will make it happen. If you need to be more involved, you will find the hours and opportunity. I feel very much that our yearly family photo albums are worth the time investment that they take, but not everyone should be doing them or doing them the way I do. We spend our time differently, and that is good. Not everything I could be doing is something I should be doing. And I don’t want to fritter my life away on things that are just checking off some perfectionistic list in my head.

I’m convinced that the things that need to get done will get done if we are living in trust and awareness. And usually they will happen without a fuss. You’ll suddenly start walking multiple times a week rather than feeling badly every night because you don’t exercise. You’ll find time to do the things you love–even for just minutes a day. You’ll see that family dinners happen, and family devotions can slide into place just as easily. You’ll realize you’re meeting the objectives of you life vision without the stress of beating yourself into submission.

As I realize the truth of those words in the card aisle, I am still tempted to feel depressed and hopeless. I realize all the things I am saying “no” to. Staying home with my son right now means a less impressive work history on my resume. It means I’m not focusing on my career, and there’s no going back and adding in those years. Writing means I’m not pursuing other options as intently–potentially great options. What I didn’t realize in high school is that there is not a neverending supply of hours and opportunities. In the end, my life will be one clear road, and all the “almost” paths won’t be there.

And that’s okay. Maybe it’s how we learn to actually focus and to deeply appreciate. Maybe it’s what gives us the push to accomplish at all. And maybe in heaven, I’ll also be a painter, a ballerina, and really good at sports. Oh, and maybe I’ll get a chance to read all those books I didn’t get to.

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