Taylor: Turning ‘to do’ lists into prayers

Pray to let your worries rest in peace until the morning.

My daughter took a time management course for self-employed people a few years ago. She learned to do her preparation for the next day each night, before she went to bed.

She considered tomorrow’s schedule; she gathered the documents she would need; she organized them. Then she could sleep, knowing she was ready for the morning.

By some coincidence, my friend Bob Thompson applied a similar system. But he got his advice out of a book of Celtic blessings.

Bob used to wake up in the middle of the night, worrying. If the worry that actually woke him wasn’t serious enough to keep him awake for the rest of the night, his mind soon found something bigger to worry about.

In that book of Celtic blessings, Bob found an evening prayer that began: “Tonight, God of rest, as I lie down in bed, I rest. I rest my hopes, my fears, my longings, my thankfulness…” And then he could add, he said, “a whole litany of laying to rest all the things that are stirring me right now, good and bad. And I consciously lay them to rest for the night.”

That doesn’t actually get anything done, of course. But it helps Bob identify what he has to deal with when he wakes up, and often what he needs to do about it. “Then if I wake in the night,” Bob said, “I can tell myself that I have made the decision to lay everything to rest until the morning. And the issues usually go away,” he concluded, “at least for that night.”

Both practices strike me as resembling the “to do” lists that I make, almost obsessively. These days, I simply write a few notes on those little memo pads that charities keep sending me, hoping they’ll buy my loyalty. But for a while, while I was part owner of a publishing house, I developed a computer spreadsheet for my “to do” lists.

I graded the jobs by urgency and importance. Completing one major job might earn me 20 points for the day. Fussing away at 10 small tasks might take just as long, but only earn me one point each.

Obviously, my score at the end of each day depended on the points I had assigned to each task. I tried not to cheat—I just wanted to make sure I didn’t ignore the crucial jobs, because the little ones were easier to accomplish.

Until I heard Bob Thompson’s experience, I had never thought of a “to do” list as a form of prayer. But why not? It helps me identify my priorities. To recognize what’s important. To evaluate my own capabilities.

I don’t expect God to do any of those jobs for me. I don’t, and won’t, believe in a deity who diddles with reality to assist believers and impede unbelievers. But simply preparing that list in an attitude of prayer—rather than frustration—helps to put my mind into harmony with what AA calls “a power greater than myself.”

Perhaps I should re-name my “to do” lists as my prayer lists.