Friday, February 18, 2005

The Things I Don't Have To Do

“Have to’s” are downright draining. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I can’t take all the obligation and responsibility anymore. I would like a little time with some things I don’t have to do.

I mention this because I was making myself a grilled Swiss cheese on Publix homemade Italian bread when this thought sprang to mind: “Ahhh, the things I don’t have to do.” (yes, the “ahhh” came with it.)

Aren’t the finest things in life the things you don’t have to do? Think about how many things unshackled from their “have to” become, in and of themselves, perfectly desirable. I was gonna name a few, but you think of your own. OK, one in particular strikes me; washing dishes, especially on a cold day. Have you ever noticed what a fine thing this is to do, if like at our house, it’s somebody else’s job at the moment? Sometimes I just do it because I want to - the warm, soapy water with a scent reminiscent of bath gel creates a bubble bath for my hands. Why can’t we think of doing dishes as a bubble bath for our hands? It just seems like a good number of things would make perfectly fine pastimes if they didn’t sit on a “to do” list. And what about this stellar “chore”, washing a window, but I mean just doing it because you want to add sparkle to your view of a beautiful backyard?

Maybe we should abolish “to-do” lists and begin enjoying the work of our hands for the sheer pleasure of making a moment ours in some way, even if it is mundane at the core. Life is mundane in so many ways, yet it is so incredible. Why do we pass it with our noses in the air as if we deserve better, more extravagant things? What a waste of this short life.

I’ll tell you this: Kicking the butt of ritual and schedule will transform your thoughts, your direction, or your notion as to how things “have to” be done and the attitude you carry while you do them. I think this is so difficult for 9 to 5er’s, the compulsive and those consumed with thoughts of debt, obligation and deadline. I know because I have been and/or still am all of the above. Distractions like these have deceived me for the better part of my life, causing me to miss out on some of the purest, most wonderful pleasures there are.

So I’ve been trying to shake free of the “have to’s”. Though, to do it, I’ve had to want to. I’ve had to want it enough to be willing to make a deal (after deal, after deal) - trade-offs, and some days the trade offs have been bigger than others. I used to think I had to exchange a day’s pay in order to spend an afternoon on the back porch or on the steps at the beach. Frankly, that used to be out of the question for me, but the really good things eventually require this. No getting around it. Some good things require even more from us. And I’ve done that too.

I ended up handing over a reliable paycheck for a “daily bread” kind of trust in God. And on many occasions, when asked what I’m doing these days, I’ve struggled and searched the air above my head for an apropos job description. I’ve found my voice faltering when info that hints at my financial status is revealed, and you know what... I‘m learning that it’s all part of the deal. But I’m living; I’m creating a mission for my life and slowly figuring out a few things along the way. I’m seeing how God provides through people who love Him and through some pretty surprising situations too. Can’t say there isn’t a good measure of whining and insecurity that has come along with my “deal”, but I wouldn’t trade what I’ve been through for anything.

You see I wasn’t satisfied with just an afternoon off, and when you go all out and jump off a cliff, there is a certain amount of “effect” that comes with the “cause.” What goes up comes down. What comes down, lands with a thud. Stuff like that. But once I spit out the biggest chunks of dirt and got my arms and legs back in place, I was able to, well, live again, but differently. It’s taken 2 1/2 years into my trade-off for me to just sit on the back porch without reacting in a hyper-panic to my list tapping me on the shoulder. I finally did it though, last Friday. I sat there on the patio and looked at the blue saturated sky and breathed the more than the perfect air, and I didn’t think of “have to’s”. When I came in later, I found myself really wanting to do something simple, cook something, wash a dish, put in a load of laundry, something entirely unpretentious. Exactly the kind of thing I would find... on a list of all things.

The things you don’t have to do - how enchanting.

Not everyone has to quit their job and live with my “daily bread” mindset in order to get an hour on the back porch with things they don’t have to do. But if they find their way out there, it is quite possible that they will find a place inside themselves they didn’t even know was lost.

We all know that no matter how many items we check off, the list self-perpetuates and always remains about the same length. So I am brazenly turning my back on it more often, like I did Friday. Rudely, I’m ignoring it when I can. I find I’m getting better with practice, and once the list backs off, the life in the list lights up and looks more inviting. The items there in a row become “the things I don’t have to do”, and then they gain a whole new appeal. Yes, a little like reverse psychology.

It’s just plain good to let your heart coast sometimes. It’s tired of working like a dog. Despite how much you’re compelled to keep moving, always moving, what your heart really wants is to work together with your hands and feet and body and live a moment fully - listening, thinking, looking, resting, sensing what this is we’re doing everyday for 16 waking hours and why.

So today I’m doing what Napoleon Dynamite said he was going to do, “ Whatever I want! Gosh!”

Of course, Mr. Rogers, in stark contrast to Napoleon, reminded us... “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” It is pretty cool what happens when you check one out for an hour or two and tune out the list for a day. Forget the extravagant pleasures of life and notice the humble ones at your feet.

We figure we’ve got a lifetime to get it right, but “a lifetime” gets a little shorter everyday. And I have yet to see what all those lists are adding up to anyway.

So what’s your deal?


  1. Liz, take this one and send it off somewhere and see what comes of it. You've hit the nail on the head.

  2. Dear sis. Your writing continues to ...what can I say? Sleep deprived, I can not bring words to bear (a problem I had all weekend, which brings me to the purpose of this post). I had time, time, time, to remember this post on things I don't have to do as I eagerly volunteered for - you guessed it - dishwashing at the retreat this weekend. My instructions were to wash the dishes (maybe 1 pan, 1 cup, two ladles, 7 bowls, some flatware, and a couple plastic containers) meditatively while contemplating my chosen question. I was to work no faster than I could contemplate. It took about an hour and I almost didn't finish in time as, like you, I enjoyed the feel of the ceramic, thought of those who made it, how far it had traveled, those who had eaten from it, the foods it had held, the food I'd eaten from it; the water warmed my hands while a cool breeze blew in from the sunny window in front of me and my feet stayed warm in borrowed sockies. It was one of the highlights of the weekend and you made it richer. I felt as if we shared that hour. Thanks again.

  3. Mary, if we shared that dishwashing hour and it was made richer because of me in some way, it is only through your own part in my dishwashing past that this has come to be. Dishwashing was always something to complain about growing up, but it was also side by side with my big sis at the kitchen sink that I learned to count to 4 (at least that's all I can remember) in German. That was back in the day when we practiced those "railroad" songs or whatever they were all the time too. I guess that's what happens when you don't get a chance to win a piano on a game show and your family isn't all that musically inclined.

    So thanks for reading what I write and letting me know you appreciate it, and just remember, you've been a dishwashing inspiration.


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