I really like lists.
Before trips I make lists, we keep a running grocery list, and my journals have always consisted of lists upon lists—gratitude, to-do items, prayer requests, essay and blog and poem ideas. I write them on post-it notes, on the backs of envelopes and scrap paper, in the margins of books, on graph paper I keep on a clipboard. If you look in my purse, books I have only half-read, my striped go-everywhere bag, back pockets of unwashed jeans, under the seat in the car, you’ll probably find some of my lists.
When I was pregnant the first time around, I went on a retreat with one of the women’s groups from our church, and the theme of the weekend was “Of This I Am Certain.” Prior to the retreat, we were encouraged to think about the things that are most important to us and, what’s more, the things we hold deeply and with certainty.
I made a list:
* The red sock will always turn pink if you wash it with your load of bleached whites. * It is always better to invite someone in, to share food, to listen, to cook from scratch. * Few things in life are as rewarding as freshly baked bread. * There will always be enough food at the potluck, so don’t hesitate to invite more into your home. * Exercise is never a bad idea. * Checking your e-mail will always take longer than the few minutes left on the oven timer. * Community is hard work. * Memorizing Scripture is always a good idea. * Recording what you are grateful for will make you more grateful. * Thank-you notes will never go out of style.
That’s it. And that’s the order the items came to me at the time. You’ll find the original list handwritten in the first pregnancy journal.
Maybe you can tell, but my train of thought has always been nonlinear (so less like a train and more like a… traffic jam), and I almost never number my lists—just bullet points, or check marks, or arrows. Actually, lots of arrows. And squiggles. And underlines and asterisks and usually multiple colors of ink, as I’ve gone back and added more items.
I’m really good at the brainstorming stage of the writing process, by the way.
When I was pregnant the second time around, I decided to write a second “Of This I Am Certain” list, without going back and reviewing the first. Only two years had passed, but I was curious what would strike me as worthy of being called “certain.” In that pregnancy journal, you’ll find these goodies:
* Hand-written notes are always a good idea, and making them personal is important—thank yous, condolences, encouragement, love. * Coffee is good to drink for social reasons, but tea is better. * An item's value and quality is more clear after it’s been handed down—that new leather couch might be fake leather but you wouldn’t know it until it flakes off. * Sitting, resting, reflecting, and making lists of gratitude, of prayers, is what mental health is. * Crying is okay. Never feel bad about it. * Having friends who are older than you, who have made it through, will get you through. * Keeping in touch with people is all your responsibility. If your friendships fade, blame yourself and do something about it. * Always invite someone to eat—there will be enough. * Making bread for other people is never a bad idea. * You shouldn’t write things down you don’t want other people to read. Ever. * You don’t need to clean up for guests, but organizing the clutter might make you feel better, let’s be honest. * There are always things you can do to help people. * Public libraries are great resources.
It’s now a year after I wrote this list, three years after the first one. Are these the certain things?
You’ll notice that neither time did I think to put religious belief on these lists.
Why is that, I wonder? It seems strange, considering I am a Sunday school teacher, have been in the pew all my life, even when it was a folding chair at youth group, have been ordained as a deacon. You know. I’ve got the street cred of Christianity.
And I am happy to confess the creeds, which are, of course, lists.
Does an “Of This I Am Certain” list need to include an “I believe” statement? Should it all be “I believe” statements?
Maybe the reason I didn’t include religious belief or faith issues here–didn’t even think to include them either time–is that I take the lists of religious belief for granted. That you’ll believe, too. That those are the easy things to believe.
The hard things to believe are the nitty-gritty people-in-your-home kinds of things, the dirt-on-your-floor kinds of things, the being-real-people-in-the-real-world kinds of things.
The being-hands-and-feet-of-Jesus kinds of things.
Which is really why we confess those other lists, right? We do these things because we believe those things.
At least, I hope you will do these things. Because they really are important.