The Tyranny of “To Do”

“It’s About Time,”©Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2018 Lynn Abbott

It’s the dirty details that seem to plague my existence…

Dirty laundry.

Dirty dishes.

Dirty dog…it’s time for his bath.  Again.

Messy studio…

Muddy paint palette…

Seems like the daily list just gets done, and then, I must start all over again.   I’m sure you understand when I say that although I try to carve out time for dreaming, my life’s bucket list frequently gets swallowed up by the day’s duties.

Perhaps, that is the appeal of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.  After all, being a grown-up requires attention to the necessary yet frequently boring task of simple survival.  It isn’t always fun … and it definitely isn’t a game.

To be sure, in my experience, growing up requires a lot of dish washing.  And quite frankly, I’d rather commandeer Hook’s galleon with Peter Pan.

That’s probably why I stack my days so full.  I’m determined that the details won’t bog me down.  I dream of pixie dust, soaring over London, and settling in Neverland.

That’s right.  If I could have my way, I’d never wash a dirty dish again.

So I build my days the way I used to build blocks. The tower grows tall… my daily “to do” mounts higher and higher.

And just as when my big brother used to tease and pull a block from the center of my construction,  the unforeseen catches me off guard.

That’s right.  It all comes tumbling.

More often than I’d like to admit, my days fall apart with those shattered building blocks.

And in those moments, I feel a little like Charlie Brown staring at blue clouds after Lucy has pulled the football for the um-teenth time.

Life’s bucket list frequently gets displaced by the day’s duties.

It’s the little disasters that rattle me most.  In fact, for me,  little things frequently spell big trouble.

When the plates are stacked, it’s that “one more thing” that tips the balance:  plans crash.

I collect the broken pieces.

Sometimes, life is like that.  Daily details bury us.  We don’t have time for the unexpected events or criticism.  We stagger under the weight of the ever-accumulating small stuff.

To this, one biblical gal would likely add a hearty “Amen!”   In fact, as I’ve studied the life of Abraham, I’ve concluded that she often gets a bad rap.

After all, Hagar had an enormous “to do” list.  And her job description was already full when Sarai and Abram added a new role to her resume…

Hagar earned her keep as Sarai’s lady in waiting.  Because Abram’s sheep and cattle business flourished, Sarai could afford to have a maid.

And so Hagar certainly would have performed a great many jobs around Sarai’s household.  After all, a nomadic life isn’t easy.

But I imagine that Hagar’s mama probably encouraged Hagar to work for the wealthy man. With staccato rhythm, she may have advised, “It’s a good position.  You should take it.  A wealthy employer enables  job security.”

The Biblical record doesn’t tell us exactly how many years Hagar initially served, but we do know that Abram and Sarai had already lived in Canaan for ten years when Hagar is first mentioned.

Since we are told that Hagar was Egyptian, it seems likely that she joined Abraham and Sarah while they sojourned in Egypt, (Genesis 12: 10; 16:1).

After Egypt, Abram, Sarai and their nephew Lot had settled in the Dead Sea region around the city of Sodom;  thus, Hagar was a very long way from home.

Her life depended on the grace of her master and mistress.  Friends and family couldn’t help her.  If she were unhappy, there was no quick bus trip home.

I’m sure Hagar considered all of this when Sarai proposed her wild idea of providing Abram an heir with Hagar’s help. In addition to all her work as a servant in the household, Hagar would also become a surrogate mother.

Yes, her employers asked too much.  But Hagar was stuck.  People didn’t say “no” to the rich, powerful, and beautiful Sarai. And obviously Abram couldn’t refuse his wife.  He agreed to the plan, and Hagar was required to add new duties to her already long list.

Genesis says that when Hagar became pregnant, she “began to despise her mistress.”  Given the circumstances as well as a heavy workload, she had some reason for resentment.

Her employers asked too much.

Sarai obviously hadn’t considered her plans well. While insisting on the surrogate scheme, Sarai  failed to recognize Hagar’s humanity.  Although Hagar served Sarai, Hagar also had hopes and dreams.

In addition, as a servant, the pregnant Hagar would have continued to serve her mistress.  Exhausted? Stressed?  I suspect she was. And the circumstances of her pregnancy didn’t make things easy.

It isn’t surprising, then, that jealousy and resentment emerged on both sides.  Tensions began to build as Hagar’s pregnancy progressed. Little things festered.

Then, Sarai made her move. She pulled a critical piece from Hagar’s tower.

“Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering.  I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me…'” (Gen. 16:5).

Checkmate.

Actually, I must give Abram credit; he responded with incredible wisdom.  He didn’t argue or attempt to place blame.  He avoided taking sides in the women’s daily disputes.  He simply gave his wife permission to handle the situation.

Given that freedom, Sarai took strong action:  “Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her,”(Gen. 16:6).

Hagar crumbled.

But Hagar’s story reveals that Abba cares about our accumulating stress and often resulting mess.

He sees.

He knows.

He loves.

When the slow drip, drip of that irritating kitchen faucet finally spills over and becomes a rapidly rising flood, Abba gives grace.

That’s right. During that dark hour in Hagar’s life, Abba showed up in a big way.

He didn’t chastise, blame or lecture.  Instead, He asked, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”

During that dark hour in Hagar’s life, Abba showed up in a big way.

Of course, God knew the answer to the questions.  Yet, in asking, Abba recognizes Hagar’s misery and notes the practical concerns of her situation: she is a servant, pregnant and far from home.

There can be no doubt that God compassionately cared for Hagar.  Indeed, while He encouraged Hagar to return to her strained position with Sarai and Abraham, He did not leave Hagar without hope.

Even in the midst of the altogether daily stress, Abba made her a promise; God would not only provide for her but He would grant her dream as well.

Abba saw Hagar’s heartbreak.  And He is more than able to bring beauty from daily chaos. He blessed Hagar despite the mistakes of others.

For Hagar, Abba promised to make things right.  He said, “‘I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count,'” (Genesis 16:10).

And later, when Abraham succumbed to Sarah’s complaints and sent Hagar and Ishmael away, God provided for Hagar.

Indeed.  In the desert, when all her plans and life seemingly collapsed, Hagar met   El Roi, the “God who sees.”

He supplied even in the midst of chaos.

And yes, El Roi walks with us through the craziness that constitutes life’s daily difficulties.

Grace meets us in the desert.

When I consider Hagar, I recall Christ’s words, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26).

Hagar knew Abba’s loving care firsthand.  Her heavenly Father not only provided her daily bread, but He also blessed her dream.

Grace meets us in the desert.

For this reason, when my “to do” list grows astronomically, when my dreams overwhelm me, when an essential building block gets pulled from my best laid plans, I remember Hagar.  And I run to my heavenly Father who sees.

In fact, Abba has promised not only to provide my needs (Philippians 4:19) but also to bestow blessings (Psalm 67:7).  And His word never fails, (Isaiah 40:7).   Any doubt about it? Just ask Hagar.

True. You and I can’t see the future, and in life’s deserts, the present looks extremely bleak.  But faithful is He.

Without a doubt,  He makes all things beautiful in His time.

And Abba cares about every detail … our dreams as well as our daily bread.

“The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name will trust in you, for you LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you,”~ Psalm 9:9-10

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; His love endures forever,” ~I Chronicles 16:34