I used to think that my entire day was a failure if I didn’t check everything off my to-do list. And that happened regularly.
It didn’t matter how great my plans were or how motivated I felt when I first outlined exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I still ended most days wishing I’d done more and feeling like I was always a few steps behind.
A few months ago, after yet another tearful bout of mom-guilt and self-criticism at the end of yet another “unproductive” day, I realized that I needed to change my mind-set. Since then, I’ve been trying to put the high expectations I have for myself in harmony with the merciful expectations the Lord has for me. I’ve also made an effort to center my life (and my to-do list) on the things that matter most, and to do all things in love.
I’m still trying to figure out how exactly to do that. But in the process, I’ve learned a lot about God, love, self-care, and how overrated it is to be busy all the time.
Busyness Is Not a Badge of Honor
The other day I reread Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s conference talk from October 2012, “Of Regrets and Resolutions.” Elder Uchtdorf talked about people who are terminally ill and some of the regrets they have: “I wish I had spent more time with the people I love,” “I wish I had lived up to my potential,” and “I wish I had let myself be happier.” Busyness often gets in the way of all these things.
Elder Uchtdorf also noticed that so many of us tend to “wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as though being busy, by itself, was an accomplishment or sign of a superior life.” But then, our perfect example, Jesus Christ, was never too busy for the things that mattered. As Elder Uchtdorf put it: “I see the compassionate and caring Son of God purposefully living each day. When He interacted with those around Him, they felt important and loved. He knew the infinite value of the people He met. He blessed them, ministered to them. He lifted them up, healed them. He gave them the precious gift of His time.” He always made time for others.
Following the Savior’s example, I’ve tried to focus less on the things I “should” do and more on the things I’m meant to do: spend time with the people I love, reach my potential, and have joy. I try to focus on things of eternal significance, things that will last forever: love, connection, relationships. I try to plan out each day with these priorities in mind. Sometimes this involves ditching the to-do list in favor of some Wednesday afternoon cuddles with my sick two-year-old or dropping everything to talk to my struggling best friend for hours. While these things don’t always feel especially productive in a day-to-day sense, I know their value is eternal. Sometimes the best thing I can do is forgive myself for whatever I didn’t do that day and know that tomorrow is a new day.
Taking Care of Myself
Christ always made time for others, but he made time for Himself too. I’ve noticed a handful of instances throughout the New Testament where Christ went off to rest and to commune with God.
One of my favorites is found in Matthew 14. This chapter tells of two miracles we discuss regularly: Jesus feeding the five thousand, and Jesus walking on water. I am struck by what happens in the period of time between these two miracles.
After feeding the five thousand, Jesus “constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side” and “sent the multitudes away” (Matthew 14:22). Then He “went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23). Jesus sent everyone else away so that He could be alone to pray, presumably for hours. He even sent His disciples off without Him. Only then, after He had taken time for Himself, did He perform the incredible miracle of walking on water.
I think He knew that He could continue to go about doing good by first taking care of Himself and His personal relationship with His Father.
I often feel like taking time for myself is taking time away from someone else. But when I make sure my own needs are met, I have so much more to give to my family and to others who count on me.
Focusing on Love
In the end, it’s not about a daily checklist; it’s about how much you love.
Through Christ’s example and teachings, I’ve come to understand that loving another person is always the right thing to do. Taking the time to show love is never the wrong choice. My kids may not remember all the amazing meals I attempted or every piano lesson I drove them to or every planned activity we did together, but I’m confident they’ll remember how I made them feel loved, and they’ll be better and happier for it.
The scriptures teach us to “cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him” (Moroni 7:46–47). If I focus on feeling and expressing love, I know that I will do my best.
Love your children enough to serve them and to listen to their needs, even if these tasks don’t feel especially productive or impressive.
Love yourself enough to take care of your own needs, even as so many other things are competing for your time.
And love God enough to give Him some of that precious time, trusting that He will help you manage everything else.