TDT [Noun] Acronym for To-Do-Trauma.  Condition resulting in loss of sleep, sanity and perspective, often the result of stress inflicted by an over-full and over-long list of items to accomplish within a finite timeframe.

When a bunch of students came over the other day and installed themselves in my living room, I wasn’t expecting the incredulous “What the heck?!” that erupted from the calmer member of the four-person party.  He had just caught a glimpse of the three-page to-do list that has been my guide and tormentor for the past couple of weeks.  His next question was, “What kind of person tapes three pages together to make a list this long?”

See, I’m a feeling-based perfectionist.  By that, I mean that when I feel like it, I’m a perfectionist and when I don’t, well, take a look at my bedroom.  But on the day a couple weeks ago when the urgent items needing my attention were swirling around in my head in a cacophony of mental groans, I decided that order, conciseness and a teensy-tad of perfectionism were called for.  So when my to-do list reached the end of page one, I reached for the Scotch Tape and seamlessly added a page two.  And when page two ran out of space, I tacked on a page three.  The resulting list was (is) daunting.  The prospect of packing up and leaving for a full year away on June 16 is fuel to my manic fire—so much to do, so little time.  Sell car, get apartment ready for others to live in it, file taxes in two countries, create curriculums for whoever teaches my classes when I’m gone, shovel through the clutter of 17 years lived in the same small space.   When I’d gotten through the initial list of things-to-pack and junk-to-sort and heaps-to-donate-to-the-Red-Cross, I felt like I needed to add a few more banal items to the list, just to make sure they didn’t get lost in the shuffle: sleep at least 5 hours per night (check!), eat at least one time per day (check!), breathe in and out at regular intervals (check!).

On this May Day (which, in Germany, amounts to National Hiking Day), it seemed appropriate to take a moment to contemplate the little-known disorder named To-Do-Trauma.  (In order to allow myself that luxury, of course, I had to add “contemplate TDT” to the bottom of my list.)  It occurred to me, as I was transcribing the unchecked items from last week’s three-page extravaganza onto this week’s four-page version of the same, that few of the “do’s” have a direct bearing on how I truly aspire to live.  Yes, it’s important (and Biblical) to be responsible—to meet our deadlines, perform our duties and leave as small a mess as possible for others to clean up when we’ve gone.  But in the To-Do-List phases of our lives, when days aren’t just “too short”—they’re ridiculously stunted—it’s so easy to lose track of those Life Items that are infinitely more important than anything that can be accomplished with sturdy boxes, elbow grease and industrial strength vacuum cleaners!

Even Jesus, at the height of His ministry, placed a divinely ordered priority on the way He lived His life.  In a graduation address he wrote, Henri Nouwen makes that “order” clear, using the book of Luke as a basis for his address:  Jesus went to the mountain to commune with God, then He came down from the mountain to choose His disciples and commune with them, and then He went on to ministry.  (Hear Nouwen speak by clicking on this link:,_Communion_Community_Ministry.mp3)  The implication is clear: if the To-Do List that controls us prevents our Communion with God and our participation in Community (loving others, listening to others, caring for others), it holds too large a place in our lives.  The fact is—and we’ve all experienced this at some point—what needs to get done WILL get done!  It somehow always does.  Even if 90% of my time right now has to be dedicated to an endless series of tasks, it’s how I live the other 10% that makes the difference between list-dictated-alienation and list-conscious-communion.  That 10% matters to me—it matters to my fulfillment and my legacy.

So I’m going to be adding a couple of items to the top of my To-Do List.  They go something like this:

  • take time to be alone, meditate, pray and praise
  • make sure those I love know that I love them
  • notice those who need me and carve out enough hours to truly abide with them
  • be still—He is God.
  • work like a dog—but more like a loyal Golden Retriever than a rabid Pit Bull.  The moment any list completely deprives me of God-time and community-time, it gains ownership over my life.

I’ve seen Psalm 46:10 progressively shortened, and with each deletion of a word or two, it gains new meaning.  I’d like to replace my subconscious “Get it done!” mantra with this one in the weeks before June 16:  “Be still and know that I am God.  Be still and know that I am.  Be still and know.  Be still.”  (Psalm 46:10)


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