Time, Routines, and Interruptions that Aren’t

Whether you are a Christian parent trying to juggle the stay-at-home parenting life; managing a hectic job; holding down commitments to community, church, and family; or a combination of any of those, managing time is a constant struggle. While we want to be good stewards of the time God has given us, we can fall into patterns of unnecessary striving, laziness, avoidance, or idolatry. As you’re adjusting to post-pandemic levels of activity, perhaps you’ve struggled as I have. Here are a few reminders for your efforts to manage your time and routines.

Remember that work springs from a place of rest, not the other way around. We Christians often get this backward. Jesus’ work is finished, as the author of Hebrews tells us:

Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. He is now waiting until his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified.

(Heb. 10:11-14, CSB)

He is seated. We do not have to keep trying to get Him to stand up. We don’t need to stand up on His behalf — trying to accomplish in order to justify our existence on this planet or as a child of God.

So when we work, we are giving glory to God simply by being faithful, carrying out our work from day to day without a frantic need for approval or justification. Be ambitious, but don’t do it to accomplish or attain something you already have: perfect standing and righteousness: rest.

If we’re working in order to attain rest, we’re doing it backwards. We work from a place of rest.

Remember that a perfect routine can be an idol. This goes hand in hand with the work/rest equation. If we are counting on work to justify ourselves, we will frantically cling to a regularly executed routine and completed to-do list as a source of joy. But if your life is like mine, as soon as we fall into what feels like a good routine, something throws us off. We have friends in need. The air conditioner breaks. The baby gets an ear infection. The boss throws a curveball into the week’s project. How can we justify ourselves then? We can’t. While work is a good and godly thing, there is no eternal solace in executing it perfectly.

Remember that things tend toward disorder as a result of the Fall. In Genesis 3 the world went cockeyed, and all our best efforts today are still foiled by that general pattern. Here are the words from the moment God pronounced a curse on Adam (and with Adam, all of us):

The ground is cursed because of you.
You will eat from it by means of painful labor
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow
until you return to the ground,
since you were taken from it.
For you are dust,
and you will return to dust.

(Genesis 3:17-19 CSB)

God said Adam would work, but he would battle weeds and general destruction. Earlier, God had said that Eve would bring forth children, but through pain. The mantra “things tend toward disorder” was very helpful to me as a mom of young children, because BOY DO THEY EVER. It didn’t mean I was doing something wrong or being unfaithful. It didn’t mean there was something wrong in my parenting habits. Things just go that way. It’s our role to set order from chaos, push back disorder, and faithfully try again tomorrow. In doing so, we mirror the redemptive work of Jesus. His redemption is complete. Ours will always be incomplete until Heaven. We will do well to accept this lack of completion and endure with joy.

Remember that God governs our days. There are no surprises or interruptions in His economy. What God intends for you to accomplish today, you will accomplish. You may look at your schedule or list and be utterly daunted, but be prayerful — what will happen today is out of your hands. CS Lewis reminds us:

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.

(from a 1943 letter from C.S. Lewis, included in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis)

This concept of “no interruptions” is really troubling for a list-maker like myself. When I leave the house in ample time to get to an appointment and reach the car only to find a dead battery, it definitely feels like an interruption. But standing outside my little schedule and goals, I can take a moment for God’s sovereignty. What He has in mind to accomplish today is more than likely inside my heart and mind, not necessarily on my to-do list. How inconvenient for my flesh; how much better for my soul. “A person’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Prov. 16:9 CSB)

People love to say things like, “Think of what God knew that you didn’t — maybe there was a car accident that you avoided because you were in the driveway with a dead battery.” Yes– I agree, mostly. I’ve even known of a few times when something like that happened: we were late and avoided a dangerous situation, or we were rescheduled and it meant that we encountered someone who needed us. But if I spend too much time on that idea, I tend to avoid the harder part: more than likely, this inconvenience has happened to be a tutor to my stubborn heart, the heart that wants to be on the throne and dictate exactly how my day will go. I do better to welcome the lesson in my own heart, instead of blithely dreaming up scenarios that may or may not be true.

Remember to accept partial solutions as a result of your season. In college and early married life, I only considered my quiet time with the Lord to be decent if I was “seriously” interacting with the text; I had to have my Bible dictionary and multicolored highlighters at the ready. As we quickly added four boys to our family in four-and-a-half years, this kind of time and headspace became impossible. I beat myself up over it — where was my desire for God’s word?
As it turns out, it was being lived out and walked in — I just wasn’t sitting still much anymore. If I did sit still, I nodded off to sleep. Snatches of scripture read over the kitchen sink or the changing table would suffice. I fell asleep nursing the baby, a sermon podcast playing through my earbuds. Bible memory songs encouraged my heart as they played in the minivan. It was a season, and it passed. I didn’t fall away from the faith or become morally corrupt. God was still able to feed me from His word in spite of my lack of colored pens, and I was naive to think that He couldn’t.

Blessings on your work and rest today, friends. You have limits. You aren’t God. It’s ok to keep it that way.